How many 18-year-olds can say, “I spent the summer volunteering in Indonesia, teaching English to 4th graders?” This one can. It was an incredible three-week experience at the Education and Community Work in Bali project, in which I soaked in the Balinese culture and opened my heart to a group of the kindest children I’ve ever known.
The first week was set up as an orientation, so that incoming volunteers could see the main tourist sites and adjust to the new environment. We saw temples, a traditional Legong dance show, cooked Indonesian fare, and painted batiks.
In the evenings I got to spend time with young people from countries all over the world – Guatemala, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Slovakia, to name a few. The weekends were prime time to take trips to neighboring cities; I stayed in Ubud and Kuta. Others took the ferry to neighboring islands like Lombok or the Gilis. It’s so inexpensive to eat and rent a room in Bali that traveling around is a joy. If you need to get anywhere, you can either saddle up and walk or haggle with a taxi.
That’s not to say that it was all sunshine and rainbows; the climate was hot, there was a lot of walking, and language barriers often frustrated basic communication.
But the look on my students’ faces when they got the hang of a new English word was priceless. While the sights and sounds of Bali are intoxicating, the real treat is rolling up your sleeves and doing some good in the world. This project has a real positive impact – namely, giving kids a leg up in getting a job later in Indonesia’s growing tourism industry. If they can speak English, it will be easier for them to make money for themselves. On my last day, I told my students to study hard so that some day I might come back and speak to them in English fluently.
I can only hope that in the time I spent with them I appropriately stressed the importance of English in their lives.