You can spend countless hours online or at little tour operators along the streets trying to find great activities and sights to see when travelling to a new place. But sometimes, the best things happen completely unplanned and unexpectedly. Such has been the case with this trip in Bali.
On the first night I was here I met an Australian woman, Michelle, at a bar and ended up talking a bit with her. She lives here, teaches English and volunteers at an orphanage. I asked if there was a possibility of me helping volunteer at either of the places, and she said absolutely. So a couple days later, she and I met to go to the orphanage. On the way, we stopped at a big grocery store and bought 100lbs of rice, a bunch of crates of eggs (I’d say 8 or 10 dozen), a big bucket of ice cream and boxes of ice cream cones and brought them to the orphanage.
The woman that runs the orphanage is also Australian, and a really great lady. Since the government doesn’t fund orphanages, she runs it with volunteer workers and private donations, mostly of food, clothing and toiletries; she doesn’t really ask for cash. She has 56 kids living there (40 boys and 16 girls), ranging in age from a baby about 4 months old to 19- and 20-year olds. Most are between 4 and 15, I’d say. Most are from families where the parents are too poor to care for them, or the parents have died. There are several with far more tragic backgrounds… Two of the boys have similar backgrounds, where their fathers killed their mom and siblings in front of them. In one case the father then killed himself and the boy was there by himself; the other one the father was put in prison for life so the surviving boy was put in the orphanage.
The kids showed me around the buildings, the rooms where they sleep, bathrooms/showers, laundry area, etc. Everything is very clean, well-maintained and orderly (makes my house look like a mess!). The rooms are full of bunk beds, but not overly crowded, and there’s a closet with a shelf/drawer for each person to have a few clothes. There is no air conditioning in any of the buildings, just a ceiling fan and windows. I was pouring sweat just being in the rooms, so I can’t imagine sleeping there but I think they’re much more climatized to the heat and humidity than I am.
They have a big room with a bookshelf of books, with benches around the sides of the room where they have reading time, and another room with a couple of computers and an art area with easels, paints, etc. I was there during reading time, so spent some time reading English books with the kids. The kids were amazing — all of them smiling and laughing, all coming up and playing with me, having me help them practice English, incredibly polite and well mannered. We were only there for an afternoon, but it was a really incredible experience for me.
Michelle asked if I’d be willing to go back later in the week to help paint some of the exteriors of the buildings, as they’re in pretty bad need of paint. We returned yesterday with paint brushes and rollers, and spent the afternoon painting the exterior of the main building. A couple of the younger boys helped us paint as well, although by the end of the afternoon they seemed to have almost as much paint in their hair and all over them as what got painted on the walls! But it was another awesome day and so much more rewarding than just another day at the beach or sightseeing.
As I’ve said to many people, travelling to see new places is only half of the fun; it’s the people that you meet that really make it an amazing experience, and I’m so glad to have met Michelle here and gotten connected with the orphanage.