Our adventurer Paul talks about his experience building two classrooms for a school in Bali and his wife Karen tells us all about what it was like to teach the Balinese children and what they all learned about their experiences!
After one week of cultural activities the family and I are ready to begin the volunteer programmes we signed up for. We are excited and nervous but want to get on with it. I’m doing a construction project to build new classrooms for a school and Karen and the girls are teaching English to a class of eighteen 9-year-old kids.
I’ll kick off with the construction project, building two classrooms at a Balinese school…
We do afternoons to avoid a clash with normal school lessons and I’m disappointed initially to not be doing fuller days, however after a few days of hard work I’m thankful for the time to recuperate! There are about 15 of us with a pretty even male to female ratio with 75% of people under 25 (I am the oldest). The work is arduous as there is no machinery to help, meaning everything is done by hand. All the work is pretty much done by the group itself with the help of one local coordinator to tell us what to do and one 65 year old local worker with building skills (although he only joins in week two).
The bare bones of the classroom are built so the work during my 2 weeks involves; moving dirt and rubbish off site to level surfaces and generally tidy up, moving sand dumped outside onto the site so that we can use it, mixing concrete and laying the floors with concrete, mixing plaster and plastering the outside walls, mixing cement and plastering cement for the outside layer of the classroom ready for painting.
The experience is amazing and although it’s hard work in the heat and humidity, it’s just what I was looking for to take me out of my comfort zone. I’m happy doing anything that is boring or tough and realise that I have the stamina and enthusiasm to keep going and set an example. I’m really happy to take instruction and learn from others during my time as this was also just what I was after.
The group are wonderful and I make friends, everyone contributes and everyone is definitely there to work. If anything there is a general frustration we can’t do more. During my time I get some nice comments about how positive I am and how I made a contribution which is really heartwarming. The construction project is less immediately rewarding than other projects as it takes a long time to build classrooms and most of us won’t be there to see it finished, however I will make sure that I see the however I will make sure that I see the finished pictures and will share in the celebration in spirit when the children and volunteers get together to have a party / feast to open the two new classrooms. I didn’t really want to leave with the job not done so although I’m very happy with what I’ve done, I’ll bear that in mind for the future.
So, now it’s over to Karen, who will tell us about the teaching aspect...
With experience of teaching in the UK I was more prepared than most volunteers but it was still daunting to be given a class of Balinese children, knowing nothing about their knowledge of English, routines or expectations. With the help of my teenage daughters we muddled through the first day, gauging their understanding so we could plan how and what to teach them in the coming weeks.
The children? As bright and lively as any I’ve met; but also so keen to learn, warm and caring. The school had no resources such as pens or paper or even soap in the bathroom; Many of the children had holes in their clothes, and were extremely lucky if they had a pencil case. However, as the days went by, we forged an incredible bond with our class; many of the quieter girls would solely seek out my company but generally the connection between the children and our girls was fantastic; making jokes, arm wrestling and enthusiastically including them in their playground games.
I hope we made a small difference while we were there. It’s imperative for these children to learn English as the only way for them to move away from hand-to-mouth farming in rural communities is to engage in tourism.
I am so glad to have shared this experience with my daughters aged 14 and 16. Will it change their lives? Realistically probably not, because we’ll go home and they will become reabsorbed in their familiar lives. However, I do believe that some greater understanding will stay with them, including the knowledge that we have more in common than not, and that we can really touch the lives of others.
So with a heavy heart we wave goodbye to our projects, the children and the friends we’ve made. It’s a weird feeling as we don’t want to go but are ready to leave at the same time... now for some R&R in Bali before the flight to Australia.