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Battye Family’s Travel Diary

Monday, 11 Mar 2013

Location: Indonesia

MapThe Children’s Home
by Susan

So the thing is, we’re not in Kansas anymore. 84 kids live here at Narayan Seva Children’s Home, half because their parents are dead and half because they have a single parent who cannot afford to feed them. They are as young as two and as old as nineteen; boys and girls who want to grow up to be pilots and doctors and artists and most of all, teachers.

In class, we discover many are from the same two villages, Pakisan and Unggahan, both set high in the surrounding mountainside and wracked with poverty. Suman, a student in our class 5 group, came to the children’s home from Pakisan where his father encouraged him to sit for the better part of the day with the local men drinking arak, a fermented wine made from rice or palms. Suman is only 12. His future prospects have improved now that he’s living at Narayan Seva. John asks him, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Suman?” “You can call me President, Papa John!”

As volunteers, we live down the road in one room roughly the size of a suburban walk-in closet. All four of us sleep in one sheet less bed. There is a sink in the corner and an open-air bathroom with a cold-water shower. The whole arrangement is better than we expected. It is hot here in Sawan, on Bali’s infrequently traveled north coast. It is so hot that thick beads of sweat line our upper lip when sitting still in the shade.

We teach each morning and afternoon and eat what the children eat, a vegetarian diet of rice or noodles, vegetables, and sometimes tofu or tempeh. Two cooks prepare the food for the entire home over wood fires in an open-air kitchen while we eat on benches nearby. They earn 90 dollars a month for full time work and are paid by a German donor. In the afternoons and evenings, after perhaps our third cold shower of the day, we teach the children card games, schoolyard chants and songs. The pace of life has suddenly become slow and simple and peaceful and in this space, small things become great sources of gratitude – a fresh rambutan plucked from the tree, a fan pushing thick air at bedtime, a small child’s voice, “Play again, please?”

The Didis find it hard to turn anyone away so there are too many children for the sleeping spaces. The boys sleep six per twin bunk, three children up and three down. They have started construction on a boy’s dormitory but halt each time money runs out and start again when donations come in. While we are there, they are creating a driveway, mostly to stop the erosion of the land during the almost daily deluge of rain. Someone donates materials and the skills of one mason but the bulk of the work is done by one of the Didis and the older children – mixing by hand, laying out blocks, pouring concrete from an old wheelbarrow, and then using rusted re-bar to carve drawings into each square of wet material before it dries. When they are done, we see a sun, a rocket, a volcano and a word spelled out in small shards of broken tile. “Mama Sue-san, Mama Sue-san! How do you spell WELCOME?”

As I write this, I am sitting on the floor as the class 10 and 11 students work on a book project we gave them. A small boy has been playing at my feet for hours with only a plastic tube and the crayon and scrap of paper I gave him. He grins at me from time to time, his front four baby teeth brown and rotted away. Outside motorbikes pass by and I see an ancient woman shuffle slowly along the street, collecting plastic to recycle for money. When she smiles at me, I count two betel stained teeth.

It is easier here to live in the moment and to focus only on the next small segment of time, in this case a lunch of rice and vegetables and the inevitable sight of Emily with a deck of cards in her hand, children flocking to her like geese, “Play again, Sister?”