Normally if someone asks me if I want to work a full weekend I most likely would find an excuse and politely decline if possible. But during my internship at Happy Hearts Indonesia I have quickly learned that “working on a weekend” often is synonym to “having an adventure”. So of course when I was invited to join our Team to host the first public volunteer trip for the #iamchange campaign I was more than excited to work on a weekend. And the location wasn’t too bad either: We were going to Flores!
A few weeks later the time had finally come and I was on a plane to Nusa Tenggara Timur, passing countless volcanoes and islands. We arrived in Labuan Bajo Friday afternoon and made our way to our accommodation just outside the small town Labuan Bajo has grown into over the past years. After we got settled we met up with our volunteers to get to know each other and to give them a short briefing on what to expect for the next two days. For both days, Saturday and Sunday, we will be doing construction work on two schools in the same village about half an hour from Labuan Bajo. When we got back to our hotel our two “special” volunteers have arrived as well. For this trip our ambassadors Mike Lewis and Paul Foster were joining us. While Paul already had some construction experience from his trip to Sumba last year with Happy Hearts Indonesia, it was the first school build for Mike.
The next morning we got up at 6am, had breakfast at 7am and arrived at the project site just before 9am. Before we started with the build there was a welcoming ceremony with the elders of the village followed by a few words from Happy Hearts Indonesia CEO Sylvia as well as Paul and Mike. As this was the first school to be rebuild on Flores, it was a special construction day for everyone. And the students of the schools were also quite excited by our visit and gathered around to see what was going on. For SD Inpres Munting Kajang we were doing the flooring, meaning that we had to mix the cement, carry it inside the classroom and spread it out evenly.
While the volunteers and ambassadors started with the flooring work, I visited the children in the other school building. We had a little Bahasa Inggris lesson and afterwards learned a song together. All of them were incredibly open and welcoming and I was completely overwhelmed. My camera was a big hit with them and although we probably took a dozen selfies they could just not get enough of taking pictures with me or just posing by themselves. When I showed them the pictures on my camera screen they completely cracked up and could not stop laughing. I was amazed by so much joy and how sweet they were. They were far from shy, wanted to sit next to me and talk to me. Before the trip everyone had told me “…wait until you meet the kids and it will be worth all the hard work and preparation” and I could not agree more! Those smiles, the laughter and joy just melt your heart instantly and completely win you over within seconds.
Shortly before lunch, Paul and Mike decided to take a break from construction work and spend some time with the kids as well. They brought out a Frisbee and football and the boys jumped right in to play with them while the girls were a little shy at the beginning and rather stood by the sidelines and watched. But after a while they joined in as well and played Frisbee with our incredible volunteers. After everyone got tired from playing and running around in the sun, we took a break and decided that it was time for lunch.
Afterwards I joined the construction crew and helped carrying in the mixed cement and spreading it out on the classroom floor. We finished the floor for the classroom at around 3pm and honestly none of us could have lasted much longer. On our way back I soaked in the landscape around Labuan Bajo and reflected on this first day of building.
Although the project site is only half an hour to an hour out of Labuan Bajo the conditions there don’t feel like a place close to a major tourist destination. The roads are rough and remind me how much support is needed. Flores belongs to the Indonesian region of NTT, which is the third poorest province in the country. Out of the three main islands of this region, Flores is the most popular travel destination and Labuan Bajo is offering a broad range of activities for travelers and divers from all over the world with a fast developing town. But this is barely noticeable in the village we visited. Although some areas are changing due to increased tourism, the conditions for the students and their schools are often not improving along with it.
The children I met that day were so eager to learn and became educated but often, like in their case, the schools are lacking sufficient facilities and the communities do not have access to the funds necessary to improve the situation themselves. For some schools this means a lack of educational and stationery materials, for others it is safe walls, toilets or even a school building at all that are missing. One thing is certain, support is needed and by rebuilding safe and resilient schools, we are getting one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty.
If you want to join us in making a change for children and communities in NTT to overcome poverty through better education and facilities, you can help by making a donation here.
Written by: Anni