I remember being this age. I thought I knew everything. I knew that I knew more than everyone else, at least. I felt like the world was waiting for me. My boys, my friends, were the only thing that was important to me.
Man…I knew nothing back then.
These girls, and the boy in the background, all attend a school that is run by the Bala Keselamatan (Salvation Army). They are a few of the more than 2000 students who attend the school in Palu, Sulawesi. It is a remarkable school, but what’s more remarkable are the students.
Beautiful, curious, enthusiastic, and energetic, their stories will inspire and break hearts. Many of them do not live with their parents. The reason? Their parents know that an education is important, but living in rural Palu with little means to a good education has left parents with one option – send their children to Palu to live and learn. Many of these children rarely see their parents.
They choose an education over family. That is a choice I’m glad I don’t have to make.
I was in Palu, Sulawesi, Indonesia, for the last two and a half days. I was looking at opportunities for service for my 10th grade students. I got to visit two schools, an orphanage, a couple of churches, and a nursing academy. The photo above was taken at one of the schools.
Yes, that is chicken wire acting as a window. Yes, that is a corrugated steel roof. Yes, those slats letting in daylight are the wall of the Kelas Satu (1st grade) classroom. Yes, students come here daily from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm, and they’re grateful and enthusiastic for the education they get.
If you work in a place like I work (a highrise-housed, private, international school), or where I worked in Canada, or where friends of mine work in America, let me assure you…it is as bad as you can imagine to be a student in a rural school in Indonesia. It is like this all over South Asia, Asia, the Middle East, most places. Not every school is like this, but there are schools like this everywhere. The problem isn’t reading Three Cups of Tea and donating to your local educational charity. It also does not require all of you reading this to drop whatever job you have and come roaring over to Indonesia intent on saving the day.
The problem is that there is no one solution. No single fix-it approach. These students need teachers. The schools need financial help. The people need to believe that education is important. The world needs to wake up and start investing in the things that matter, the future of their children, not what fills their gas tanks or funds wars or…
…to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. “
So said Mark Twain, and I agree. I think that there are other agents for the fatality of negative human attributes, like education and education. And I should be clear – some people can travel the world looking for McDonald’s restaurants and Macy’s stores and Holiday Inn hotels. They can avoid all the culture and ethnicity and find North America everywhere they go, complaining that no one speaks English. Sadly, I’ve been around some of those people as I’ve traveled around South Asia.
I’ve also had the pleasure of traveling with and around people who are looking for a better understanding of the world and its people. It may be, though, that it’s the attitude of the traveler that will determine whether prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness are fatally eradicated. Mark Twain, from what I’ve read, seemed to be the kind of man who was willing to challenge himself as well as others. Some people, sad people, do not have any desire to upend their tiny understanding of the world.
I take a twenty minute walk to work each day. I am going to show you my walk to work, but it’ll take a few days. It’ll also take quite a few photos. Here’s the first part. We live in an apartment complex that’s part of a much larger complex of condominiums and townhouses. We’ve got lots of security. You’ll see them soon.
We walk past our security gate and some really nice guards every morning. I used to walk with headphones in my ears all the time, but I hear, “Selamat pagi,” so often in the morning that I keep my headphones out until I’m well on my way up the hill away from home.
We’re past security and on the way to school, and so are a lot of other people. Our school is a couple of kilometers away, but another school, an Indonesian National school, is located right outside our Villas. From what I understand, this education is free, and so many students and families want their children educated that they send them to a school that is so overpopulated that they run two schools in one – one that starts at 6:30 and another that starts at 12:30. I feel hope and sadness at the same time.
I don’t know if you can see them, but the bajaj drivers are waiting for my wife and children, who drive to school, and then I start up the hill. Once I crest the hill, the rest of the walk is easy. Flower shops on the left, miscellany on the right.