Kirsti Ross recently paid a visit to the East Bali Poverty Project and filed this report.
Nengah Sasih doesn't know how old she is. At a guess, she might be seven or eight. In her remote mountain village, they don't keep records. Until recently, life was too hard for families to worry about such things.
When Nengah was born, malnutrition was endemic in Pengalusan, so was iodine deficiency. The sixty-four families of this scattered hamlet high on the slopes of Mt Agung had no roads, no electricity, no school, and no health facilities. Nengah's future looked as bleak as the past. Now, for her and fifty-five other children in this scattered hamlet, a whole world of possibility is opening up.
When East Bali Poverty Project (EBPP) began to work with the isolated hamlets that make up Desa Ban, their first question was "What would help you most?"
"Education for our children," was the unanimous response. In 1999 the first school opened in Dusun Bunga with a curriculum specially designed by EBPP to meet these children's needs. A year later, with funding from Bali Dynasty Resort, classes were set up in Pengalusan.
At start-up, most of the children were ill. Grubby and undernourished, they hardly had the energy to learn. Yet it didn't take long for the nutritious meals, milk, vitamin and mineral supplements EBPP provided to kick in. Soon those once-scrawny, sickly children were bright-eyed and intensely curious. Ever since, they've put their hearts into expanding the boundaries of their world. They're learning not just to read, write and count, but nutrition and hygiene to keep themselves well. They're growing vegetables and fruits previously unknown in organic gardens they've made themselves. They're also learning to express themselves through art.
Until a couple of weeks ago, the only place for classes was the bale banjar, the open-sided community meeting centre. Temporary partitions of flimsy bamboo divided it into four minuscule classrooms. Children crammed elbow to elbow and teachers had to shout. When the rains blew in, pencils tore into the soggy paper of their exercise books. When the sun burned down, those on the edges baked and everyone blinked at the glare on the blackboards. Nengah and her schoolmates didn't care. For the first time in their lives they were getting proper nourishment, physically and mentally, and they ate it up. All they minded were the days when the bale banjar was needed for a ceremony or a meeting and school had to close.
Then help came from the other side of the world as a village in the Netherlands stepped in. The Community of Oppenhuizen en Uitwellingerga donated funds to cover material costs for a purpose-built learning centre. Ketut Arthana, EBPP's volunteer architect, designed the building. EBPP's field team lent further organization and support and with their 4 WD Ford Ranger, brought in all the materials – sand, building blocks, timber and roofing, and even water. In July last year, the villagers started work on the foundations. Last week, they finished painting the floors.
With four proper classrooms, a library and a teacher's room, a kitchen and a store, out of school hours the building will double as a training centre for adults. Glowing with excitement, Nengah and her schoolmates welcomed David Booth, founder and chairman of EBPP, to celebrate the opening of their new building on January 4th. He almost didn't make it, for in this season the rains are torrential, and even EBPP's Ford Ranger struggled to cope, but somehow he got there in time. The children cheered when he promised new uniforms - t-shirts and shorts specially made for them as a gift from Sandra Tierney, a committed American donor - for they're popping out of their old ones. In every way, the children of Pengalusan are growing fast.
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