Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Saying goodbye to our Host Partner in Bali

Our goal at Developing World Connections is always to serve those most in need. When I first visited Bali in 2009 and toured the orphanages run by our Host Partner Widhya Asih, there was much work to do to make the centers a better place for children to live. Over the past couple of years, their organization has been very successful with other partnerships and very much has changed at the orphanages. Now, we see beautiful new buildings replacing the very worst of the orphanages, and we see the success of so many well thought out programs that are benefiting children and staff.

Although we realize that Widhya Asih will have a continued need to raise sufficient funds to operate their facilities, to our us and volunteers, it appears that their organization is very successful and compared to other countries we work in, the need does not seem as great at Widhya Asih. At several of our other project locations, most children do not even have opportunity to attend school and many are dying at a very young age from disease or malnutrition. They do not have the same opportunity that the fortunate children of Widhya Asih do have.

Because it is necessary for us to continue to focus our energy where the needs are greatest, we have decided it is timely for us to discontinue our partnership with Widhya Asih. This is not a reflection of poor partner relations, but rather that we must contribute where the needs are the greatest. Working with Widhya Asih has been a great pleasure. Our volunteers have enjoyed immensely the time they’ve had in Bali and with the children at the orphanages. Our volunteers have completed various projects, including building a retaining wall around Orphanage II, installing soccer field goal posts, constructing an animal feed facility, helping with construction of the Bangli orphanage, and installing computers and a server system. Our work has created a positive difference in the lives of over 450 children who receive an education, proper nutrition, and safe accommodations from Widhya Asih.

We sincerely thank Widhya Asih for the opportunity to work with them and for the experience provided to our volunteers. We will continue to monitor their work and wish them continued success in the future.

Wayne McRann
Developing World Connections Founder and President
December 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 20: Volunteering in Bangli brings a new sense of purpose

The Widhya Asih Foundation is a collection of 7 different orphanages and one office location spread out across the entire island of Bali. Since they are so spread out, we often start our days waking up early for breakfast and then heading out to one of the sites which can be anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours away. I have found this to be a great way to see the whole island even if it is only from a car window as we pass through towns. I would hardly call these drives relaxing though, as these roads have some of the craziest drivers I have ever seen. One of the locations we went to today, Bangli, is still a construction site. They have 25 kids at a temporary site nearby which is an old restaurant that contains two large dorm rooms. The plan is to have the new site up by June and they also would like to at least double the amount of kids they can take in as well. Bangli has quickly gathered a reputation among our group for being the most challenging site you can visit. As much as Bangli is physically exhausting, it is just as much mentally exhausting.

It can be so hard on you because throughout the other orphanages we have been working on the actual site where the children are staying. So no matter how much physical labor we are put through each day, we can all look forward to the breaks where we can hang out with the kids. We can spend time getting to know them, helping them practice English or even going out to a field to play soccer. At Bangli, however, there isn’t any of this - just straight work – and hard work.

At the site there are some workers who point out what they need us to do. The last few days, we’ve carried tile and dirt to the second story of the structure in 95 degree heat. We also learned how to mix concrete….by hand. Since the labor here is so cheap, about $4 per person per day, there is no reason for anyone to buy anything like a belt sander or cement mixer – they have the people do it themselves. This also meant that we were learning to do all these things by hand ourselves as well.

During one of our water breaks, I decided to walk around the place and check it out. In one of the rooms, I came across some pieces of ply wood leaning upright against each other. When I peeked inside, I discovered a pillow and blanket covering the dirt. Not only do these workers only get paid $4 a day to work construction for 8 hours in the heat, they also have to live onsite at night as security guards to keep their supplies protected. We found out later that everyone there does this year round. They move from site to site building houses and live onsite while they are there. It is kind of like being homeless except they have something to do during the day, and at $4 a day, it is a very small step up from living out on the streets.

In another room we come across a baby…yes, an infant. Lying on a piece of wood crying in the middle of the construction site. Her mother was in the shower at the time and her father was working and wasn’t allowed to take a break to tend to his child for even a minute. That for me was when it really hit home. It wasn’t just adult men living here as they work on site, it was families. This has redefined the words poor and needy for me.

Suddenly the break ends and I find myself with a new sense of purpose. The afternoon gets a little bit easier for me to get through because if I am able to do anything at all to help these guys then I am going to do it. If carrying four bags up a flight of stairs at a time instead of three means that these families can get a little extra time off, then that is what needs to be done.

I have really appreciated the time I have had getting to know the other board members and now we all have one major thing that will bond us together…..Bangli.

Bill McCluskey
Softchoice Board Member and DWC Participant
Bali, April 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 19: Learning the secret to happiness

I must say the team has done well this past two weeks. We have cold showers each day - something we have all come to appreciate - but honestly when we arrived most of us were grossed out by the conditions. Several toilets don't work - one leaks onto the floor! Our lodgings are functional but nothing to write home about but we have come to appreciate a safe bed to sleep in after a hard days work. But we chose this experience for a reason.

Eating rice and noodles, tempeh, fish or fried chicken - we realize that we are lucky compared to a big chunk of the population but if we are honest we are used to better.

So, here we sit. We expect better. But to see life from the vantage point we have gotten over the past few weeks is incredible. We live privileged lives in North America! To a person we have had our own moments of deep insight. We have become more grateful for our own situation in life.

But, we are taught by the people we meet - over and over again - that the secret to a happy life is not the physical surroundings we live in. We often feel lonely in North America but people here have a smile on their face - they know that life is not an individual sport - human connections give life meaning!

Funny how we learn things from two weeks of cold showers!

Nick Foster
Softchoice Employee and DWC Team Leader
Bali, April 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19: What's the measure of a good life?

How do you measure if you have a good life, or if you’re happy? If you asked most North American’s that question, their answers would be all across the board.  Perhaps it’s the ability to buy a new car, or graduate from high school or college.  Maybe it’s a new house or that boat you always dreamed of.

If you asked me that question, I would probably tell you that I want to make enough money to be comfortable, to go on a nice vacation once a year, and put my kids through college – just like my parents did for me.

Ask that same question to a girl from the Untal Untal orphanage and she would tell you something entirely different. I bet it’s not something materialistic like a new car or shiny boat. She’ll likely answer that it’s the ability to simply go to school and not have to live day to day, not knowing when or where her next meal will come from.

Getting to know Anita...

14 year old Anita is one of those girls. I was fortunate to get know Anita while at Untal Untal. Anita’s family lives north of Bali but couldn’t afford to send her to school.  Her parents did what they had to and put her in the orphanage so that she would have the chance of a better life. She loves school and wants to be a doctor or pastor one day.  She lights up immediately when I ask her if she likes it at the orphanage; she says yes, she has lots of friends.  I ask her if she gets to see her parents regularly but she says no and doesn’t know when she’ll get to see them again.

Bill Taylor sponsors several girls from the orphanage.  One girl he sponsors was so malnourished when they found her that they only gave her one month to live. Thankfully, she fully recovered because of the orphanage. She is now the star dancer and musician at Untal Untal.

My wife and I are going to sponsor a girl.  Yatti the Sponsor coordinator at Wiydya Asih was telling me about a girl whose father sold her to a hotel to work and she had been working there for almost two years when they found her.

I can’t imagine a life like that in North America… living away from my parents or making the decision as a parent to send my child off to a place where I may never see him or her again.  I can’t imagine finding a girl on the street who is about to die simply because she has no food.  I can’t imagine for a second, selling my child to a hotel because it was my only option to help my family to survive.

Every girl we have spoken to has a similar story, and more than willing to share. They speak of it merely as a normal part of life…which is seems to be in Bali. What impresses me the most about them, however, is how nice, outgoing and happy they are.  You can’t even tell the hard lives they live or rather the hard lives they once had.

Now, if you asked me what I think would make these girls happy – I believe they would simply want what any other 8-14 year old wants in Bali: the chance to survive and the chance to simply be a Teenager.

James Kessenich
Softchoice Employee and DWC Participant
Bali, April 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 17: Teaching Word to Exel

Laptop deployment day at Blimbingsari - I learned the true meaning of potential. Sitting doing some typing lessons in Word with a boy named Exel (for real, he's the one in bright green in the photos on the rights), it took just once each, despite the language barrier, for this six year old to learn Caps Lock, Backspace, Enter, and changing the font. They were SO excited to explore these new tools, they could not look away - and yet, when we had to shut them down for the day, they gently closed the laptops, and said thank you. I wouldn't be surprised if Exel wrote his first bit of code this evening...

Nicole Elliott
Softchoice Employee and DWC Participant
Bali, April 2012

April 17: Helping Balinese be kids

Bali has a way of wowing you with the beautiful scenery and the facade that you’re exposed to traveling around the countryside. Not everyone seems poor. In fact, poverty is not as in your face as I expected. As we drove down the roads, we saw small, road-side family businesses, service shops for scooters, and stores selling building supplies and wood carvings.

But we soon realized it’s easy to be fooled. By looking a bit harder – and asking a few more questions, we found what many people don’t see behind the buildings on the strip. We saw dirt paths going through the fields to little shacks where the poorest of the poor live. There is no way to get here by car – only by walking or riding a bike. We noticed children walking out from the fields to the strip, holding platters of fruit to sell on the main road. They bathed in the dirty, field run-off that flows by their shack, and would wait at stop signs to beg for money from passing motorists. One particular image sticks in my mind most was of a little girl holding a baby at the side of the road while begging for money. This left a mark on me, and made me wonder why we were here and how we could ever help…

Last week as we sat at Untal Untal, scraping paint off the walls in the extreme heat, soaked with sweat and just counting down the minutes until we were finished, I heard the sounds of two little boys roaring with laughter while playing a game with Popsicle sticks. It was such a beautiful sound…that of kids just being kids…not having to beg for their next meal or work in the fields to support their family. It’s when I realized… this is why we are here…to help them. To support the amazing people and orphanages that are helping get these children out of their horrible situations. They’re giving them the chance to grow up as kids, to go to school and to make something of their lives.

Untal Untal, the other orphanages, and organizations like Developing World Connections are making a huge difference and we’re fortunate that we get to be a part of it.

Jason van Ravenswaay
Softchoice Employee and DWC Participant
Bali, April 2012

April 16: Delievering the gift of sight

If you had to prioritize your list of life’s concerns, where would you place your personal health on that list? For many, it’s most likely somewhere near the top. Unfortunately, for many of the Balinese people, life presents so many other concerns that health usually falls to the bottom.

We kept this in mind when we thought about coming to Bali.  In addition to the ”Future for 500” campaign, our hope was to reach out the local community in any way possible. Hearing that many of the people don’t have the means to keep their eye sight healthy, we brought with us, several tens of pairs of donated, used, eye glasses and eye charts, in the hopes of helping even just a few.

Angel – a girl from the Utal Utal orphanage – was one of those few we were so lucky to meet, and who was so amazed by our donation.  At 16 years old, she has never worn glasses in her life but clearly she needed them. She had difficulty reading from a distance, but like most of the people at Untal Untal, she doesn’t have the means to purchase glasses, even though her eyesight is deteriorating. I wondered how this girl was able to read the black board in the classroom every day.

After trying on many pairs and going through exercises to find the perfect pair, Angel’s eyes lit up. She smiled shyly as the glasses brought her eyes to 20/20 vision! And, even though it seems a bit awkward to be one of the few wearing glasses at the orphanage, she was so happy to be able to see clearly. I told her to make sure she wore them as much as possible. She nodded hurriedly and disappeared in to the hallway with a smile on her face and the glasses clutched firmly in her hand.

Angel wasn’t the only one though. Several of the women and girls went through the same exercises to try the glasses until they found a pair that met their needs. After finding their matches, the woman and girls were so grateful and happy, a couple of them excitedly dashed outside to grab their husbands – who work in the same orphanage – to show them how well they were now able to see!

We were so happy to experience how much happiness that these eye glasses brought to seven individuals at Untal Untal. But, it’s only one of the several more orphanages yet to visit, so we hope to find more “Angels” that need our help as we continue our efforts in reaching out to the local communities.

Hubert Sinniah
Softchoice Employee and DWC Participant
Bali, April 2012