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Battye Family’s Travel Diary

Friday, 08 Mar 2013

Location: Indonesia

MapHow to Teach in Bali (or Treat Every Kid Like They Are Yours)
By John

The first part of this trip was all about learning – experiencing the culture on Gili Trawanan and traveling by pony cart, taking classes in Ubud and asking a million questions about the complicated world of Balinese life and Hinduism. Through much of it, there were the tourist issues, “Cheap, cheap. Special morning price, just for you.”
We toured the incredible K-12 Green School made of bamboo, made original pieces of silver jewelry and batik, cooked nine authentic Balinese dishes and ate them appreciatively, spent time in a real family’s compound, and took a 24K bike ride which allowed us the chance to drink Luwak coffee (don’t ask) and join in a rice harvest, threshing with the natives. We said yes to just about everything.

The orphanage experience awaited us and after a twisting and turning four-hour ride over the mountains that divide Bali North to South, we turned left and there, just ahead, was the blue sign that announced Narayan Seva above a stone wall with a rusty old gate. A young girl, perhaps 12 ran down with a big welcoming smile and pushed open the gate enthusiastically. My eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t immediately say why- maybe it was that we were really wanted. My kids always tease me about these tears- but this girl who clearly was watching and waiting for us was someone whose heart was soaring to see us. She beckoned us in.

This was the beginning of an experience full engagement as teachers, friends, learners, cultural ambassadors, and relationship builders. In two words, it was living love. We immersed in a community that ran by a disciplined guiding wisdom emanating from the Neo-humanist tradition and run by two Didis, nuns in a sense, who dedicate their lives to the selfless care of others. They draw no paycheck. They do not marry.

With 84 kids and very little help, you’d think it would evolve into a scene from Lord of the Flies, but it doesn’t. Highly structured days in which the older kids take responsibility for the various necessities of life, a chart that outlines kids’ jobs and daily chores, a six-day school week with lots of homework and a focus on a healthy diet and lots of meditation and yoga seem to keep things in balance. There’s no laundry service here. Kids take their bucket of clothes in the hot afternoon time to the showers, where they hand wash their clothes. All kids share in the tasks of cleaning, sweeping, cutting vegetables, and working in the garden.

Discipline, in the form of public accountability at the nightly meeting, is meted out by the oldest kids. After meditation we saw how this worked. An older girl called kids out from the circle and spoke to them about their transgression. The room was hushed. On this day some high school girls had fallen asleep during the middle of the day. After being gently chastised, they had to do a dozen squats right there in front of everyone before returning to the circle. The whole thing was done with a mix of seriousness and good humor.

During the meditation hour, I heard the strong, confident voices of kids singing out joyfully in their expression of love for Babanam, the spiritual center of their faith. Kids raised their hands high, clapped to the rhythms, or danced. There was no judgment or self-consciousness that I could discern. Kids then settled into a quiet meditation. Five quiet lines of children sitting Indian style on the floor. Geckos cried out occasionally with their silly sound. No one flinched. That first night the kids introduced themselves to us, one by one. “Hello, my name is Saprova, I am in Class 10. My hobbies are yoga and dancing.”

During teaching time, we used cooperative learning strategies often to the delight of the kids. These engaged them in meaningful and accountable ways, and made it easy for the better English speakers to help the less able ones, something they love to do. We prepared to connect them with American kids through a book project. Each kid made a booklet artfully decorated called All About Me. In between classes we interacted with the kids by playing games, helping with homework, teaching and singing fun interactive English songs. Card games were a hit. One afternoon the girls of both countries spent two hours sharing all the hand-clapping games they could think of. It was quite a treat.

The kids called me Papa John or Br-r-r-other John, with a rolled r. The teenage boys and girls always were always friendly, respectful and polite. The kids took care of us, anticipating our needs and wants- Yogini would remind me about the coffee water being hot, Prem about our afternoon soccer game, Mira about a small treat of half a boiled potato available in the kitchen. I smiled with my mouth and my eyes and said “Hello” to every kid, whether I knew them or not, whether I remembered them or not.
The week ended with a renewed sense of mission, our projects were completed and the accountability was obvious to all. Our stack of handmade Indonesian books was ready to share with American kids and take those first steps in making a real connection.

On the last night of our time together they had a goodbye celebration for us. The Battye family got to support the kids in singing some of the famous songs that took the compound by storm. They were so happy and proud. The kids in the audience laughed and clapped. Leaving was hard, the time too short. We vowed to ourselves to return…to this incredible community of learners who we’d quickly become so attached to. Next year…