An organization as big as the Putera Sampoerna Foundation (PSF) started off with an initial mandate to build an international-standard high school for financially disadvantaged children. Now, PSF takes pride in its countless number of achievements, including sending some of its 25 of 30 students to top U.S. universities under its student assistance programmes. "These are kids who used to ride an eight-hour boat just to get to the closest town to attend the academy. Now, they are like any other local American college kids with jeans and sneakers, riding on their bikes," Michelle explains with pride
The PSF currently operates Akademi Siswa Bangsa International (Sampoerna Academy) and Universitas Siswa Bangsa International (Sampoerna University) and collects funds from major organizational donors to finance its nobels activities and has striven to provide the best education for its students. The foundation has been in operation for approximately 12 years. Michelle was asked to take charge of the foundation by her father while she was living in Singapore. "My father told me about the project. To be honest, all the sensationalism I had seen on the news at that time, in 1997, didn't make me want to return to Jakarta. So he asked me to step on the ground and smell the air. And if I didn't like it, I could leave. I also told him that if I did this for him, I didn't want to be known as the Red Cross because I would follow international norms. He agreed, and I came back," she explains.
The project turned out to be more expensive than what was initially forecasted. However, the team at Sampoerna did their very best to make sure it was well underway. In the process, Michelle and her father decided to provide assitance for the less fortunate. "My father was an ardent believer what if we provided student assistance for the needy, they would always remember where the assitance come from. And in turn, they would eventually give back to others," Michelle says.
"The first couple of years, we just had the intention of giving back to disadvantaged families and children. But the more we learned about the problems and the more we dug deeper into them, the more we understood the crux of the matter. Now, I can truly say this job is my passion, a duty and a responsibility. I have allowed myself to be so wrapped up in it, in that it is difficult for the team and I to remove ourselves out of it. So this is where we are 12 years later." Despite operational complexities, such as increasing manpower and expenses, PSF decided to take the lead in running its own programmes. One of the main challenges the foundation faced and is still facing revolves around raising funds. However, with the blessed position the Sampoerna family has, PSF hasn't had to go through a very rough phase. "My father has pledged US$100 million every year over the course of 10 years since the foundation came into being. However, the funds will eventually run out if others don't start contributing or joining us in this mission. But we'll see when we cross that bridge. To date, the largest funds being pumped into the foundation have been from multinational companies because culturally, they are used to philanthrophy," she explains.
PSF's noble efforts have come to fruition, and this can be seen from the success of its graduates, one of whom is Fitriyanty Fachuruddin, now a student at West Virginia University studying International Business. "Even though I was exposed to different people and cultures at ASBI Malang, going to the U.S. was something completely different. It was definitely a culture shock in terms of language because I was taught in British English at the academy in Jakarta. Nevertheless, the two years I've had so far have been extremely rewarding, and I am glad that I took up this opportunity," Fitry says.
Fitry is one of the 27 students who received the opportunity to study in the U.S. despite their personal hardships at home. She hails from Malang and was a student at ASBI Malang. Having been seperated from her father due to work priorities, Fitry is with the United Nations upon completing her degree. Another example of success produced by ASBI is M. Sokhi, who had the privilege of joining the University of Indonesia's Faculty of Law by default due to his remarkable scores at ASBI Malang. Living by the motto, "Learn Today, Lead Tomorrow", M. Sokhi, 20, was born and raised in Pasuruan, a city in East Java. His father is a pedicab driver. "My parents never received education, neither did my two brothers. So I feel blessed to have been given this chance. Even though I don't study in the United States, I am ever so grateful that now I study at one of Indonesia's best universities. This is because of the Sampoerna Foundation," says the inspirational young man. The foundation prides itself on its ability to send its students to study in U.S. universities upon the completion of their senior high school programme at the Sampoerna Academy. Texas Tech University, West Virginia University, and University of Minnesota, and the University of Hawaii Manoa are among the higher-learning institutions that work closely with PSF.
The foundation also provides student loans for students to study in leading Indonesian universities. Apart from its exceptional academic teachings, ASBI also focuses on various different areas in child development. Its project in this are is called "Learn to Live" programme. "We're moving forward -- maybe not at the pace we hope for, but we are getting to where we've always wanted to be," Michelle concludes.