September 22, 2018

September 22, 2018


McDermott Scholar Helps Underprivileged Youths with Own Nonprofit

Nidhi Gotgi, staff writer of The Mercury — the student newspaper at UT Dallas — wrote this article.

Rebecca Tjahja

Rebecca Tjahja founded Truly Absolute Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to enhance the education of underprivileged children. (Photo by Jennifer Chi/The Mercury)

Before joining UT Dallas, Rebecca Tjahja turned a small volunteer opportunity into a full-scale nonprofit organization for underprivileged children.

Tjahja, a finance and information technology management freshman and McDermott Scholar, was inspired to start her own nonprofit after serving in her church’s goodwill program, Motel Ministry, in Anaheim, California. This is where she realized the adverse living situations of low-income families.

“I served them breakfast on Saturday mornings and played with the kids,” Tjahja said. “The more I played with the kids, I realized how bright they were, despite the condition they were in. After a while, I thought, ‘I can’t just sit here and serve them breakfast once a week.’ It just didn’t settle right with me.”

Surviving on food stamps and minimum wage, families she met often found themselves living in motels as temporary residents. As Tjahja interacted with the children in these families, she came to know their true potential and wanted to provide them with the same opportunities afforded to everyone else.

Tjahja started her own nonprofit organization, Truly Absolute Inc., four years later in 2012. The program aims to enhance the education of underprivileged children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the summer of 2010, Tjahja shadowed Handi Irawan, the CEO of Indonesia Frontier Consulting, to learn more about business practices. Upon returning to the United States, Tjahja combined her passion for helping children and interest in business to found her nonprofit.

I’m the type of person who never settles. I see their struggle and see how I can help them and constantly want to do more for them.

Rebecca Tjahja,
a finance and information technology management freshman and McDermott Scholar

With professional support from her mother, Anna Selamat, and creative feedback from her high school teacher-turned-mentor, Bryan West, Tjahja was able to launch an academic enrichment program that funds scholarships, develops the social and artistic skills of students, and emphasizes the importance of a college education.

Tjahja worked as the developer for Frontier Consulting’s social media platform and used those skills to advertise her cause and recruit dedicated members to help run Truly Absolute.

“It was like applying for a job almost,” Truly Absolute board member Sohan Daryanani said. “They had to fill out a list of qualifications, and we basically looked for people who had genuine and sincere feelings for our cause.”

Tjahja had prior leadership experience. In high school, she was the vice president of California’s Southern Section - Future Business Leaders of America. But as she adopted an administrative role in her organization, she found it increasingly challenging to distinguish between being a friend and being a leader to her peers.

“A personal struggle for me is just keeping grounded in my thoughts and who I’m working for,” she said. “Sometimes I get too goal-oriented, but when I go back and hands-on volunteer for those kids, it just brings me right back, and I realize, ‘OK, this is why I’m here.’”

Tjahja’s drive to help the children in Anaheim has led her to open branches of her organization in Indonesia and Cambodia, and she has set up a partnership with Latinas Aliadas, a group with similar goals in Mexico. A total of 300 kids have received the guidance of trained volunteers in schoolwork, character building and social skills.

The work of Truly Absolute’s volunteers has paid off. The children they have tutored and mentored have improved scholastically and have gained a sense of empowerment.

Tjahja remembers working with a young woman named Sierra who, despite being bullied for her autism,  earned an art scholarship to Fullerton College.

“Their confidence level, how they handle themselves and how they’ve matured goes to show the determining factors in what Rebecca’s trying to achieve,” said West, Tjahja’s mentor.

West said that people who do great things aren’t just motivated by external sources.

“It’s an internal thing,” he said. “She’s constantly seeking to challenge herself and prove things to herself, not to others. Most of her drive comes from within.”

At only 17 years old, Tjahja has been successful in balancing her campaign to help improve the education of underprivileged children and her own academic career. A McDermott Scholar and recently appointed Student Government senator, Tjahja said she prioritizes school above all else but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way. Tjahja has normal teenage experiences, such as going to concerts. West said that makes her approachable and able to empathize with the children who live in disadvantaged conditions.

“I’m the type of person who never settles,” Tjahja said. “I see their struggle and see how I can help them and constantly want to do more for them.”

Media Contact: Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]

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