Heaven has a conscience

Trip Start Dec 29, 2010
Trip End Dec 05, 2011

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Monday, July 18, 2011

A big part of Nihiwatu's philosophy is ensuring that the hotel is fully eco-friendly and sustainable and that money is ploughed back into the local community. This is done partly by employing local staff (97 %are locals) and partly through the Sumba Foundation which is a charity set up to fund specific projects. The main focus is to provide water to villages nearby, as most people still have to walk anything up to 3 or 4km to find water, and when they do it is rarely reliably clean. Another big project is the funding of malaria clinics and the distribution of mosquito nets. They are also doing alot to try to improve farming techniques, slowly trying to improve the diet of locals (currently very deficient in protein) and helping to reduce the number of severely malnourished kids.

We wanted to get a good understanding of the issues and so we took a few mornings out of Brads surfing schedule to get into the community. Jamie, Zach and I went to visit a village where we were invited inside a typical Sumbanese house, made entirely of bamboo. The animals (pigs, chickens and dogs) lived under the house, the people lived above, and stored inside the tall distinctive chimney was any surplus food. The children took it all in, watching the grandmother cook on a fire in the middle of the house, and inspecting the various 'bedrooms' which were really just bamboo cots with woven mats on top, and a mosquito net draped above.

Next stop was the market. Another chance to come into close contact with Sumbanese ordinary people, many of whom had red gums from chewing bettel leaves and few teeth left. A slightly scary sight to our sheltered 5 and 6 year olds! But all the locals were very friendly, smiling and patting the children on the heads. They coped very well with it, although Zach in particular was very keen to get back to the hotel. The market was a real contrast from the market the kids had seen in Ubud. This one sold essentials to the local population and it was blatantly obvious how little food or produce people had to sell.

I was really proud of how well the children dealt with the morning and they enjoyed recounting what they had learnt to Brad, who had stayed behind with a cold-ridden Benjamin. Jamie drew a super picture of a Sumbanese house,complete with fire, storage baskets and buffalo horns on the walls (reminders of dead ancestors).

Our subsequent trips were to see a water well project, and a visit to a local school. The wells are being constructed with money donated via a couple of fundraising events in the US and also by guests who visit the hotel. A clean, reliable source of water is obviously the first step towards addressing some of the other problems in such a poor country.

The visit to the school was fantastic and a real experience for us all. We visited the first grade class, full of 5 and 6 year olds, who had literally started school 2 days before. We handed out plain paper and crayons and our kids sat down amongst about 60 Sumbanese kids to do some colouring. Initially the Sumbanese kids had no idea what to do - they rarely have the opportunity to draw - and so we told our kids to show them how to draw a house. Of course ours drew a classic English house with 4 windows and a door, and many of the Sumbanese kids copied them. But as confidence grew they started drawing their own houses, complete with animals, palm trees, intricate flowers etc. What amazed us was that many of these children had never drawn before yet their pencil control was fantastic, in many cases much better than a 5 year old in the UK. Ka'ale, who came with us from the Sumba Foundation, suggested that it may have been because the children do a lot of weaving at home, and work such as basket making which helps to hone their fine motor skills.

After the children had finished their pictures we went to meet another foundation member who has set up a school lunch programme to give the school children 2 nutritious meals each week. Walking over was a mission - we were mobbed by tons of children, and Jamie and Zach started to feel much more overwhelmed. But back in the safety of the car they confidently high-fived lots of children through the open windows and shouted 'da' (bye) as we slowly drove away. Another great lesson for us all as to how little these children have: very few children wore shoes, many looked visibly unwell, and lots were clearly undernourished.

We left promising to give some money towards one of the projects, and the children understood that with just a small amount of pocket money they could give these children pens and pencils for school for a whole year.
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