A few weeks ago we interviewed Marsel, a good friend and Flores local, who owns and runs a Bali tour company, introducing travellers to the beautiful islands of Flores. Marsel told us about his local primary school that needs new tables and chairs for its 120 students. The primary school takes children from five surrounding villages, with many students walking a two-hour round-trip to get to and from school.
The school and villages are remote, inaccessible by car, and not easily reached by motorbike either for that matter. During wet season, the only way in or out is by foot. During medical emergencies, for example for pregnant women or if someone is sick, they rely on community members to carry them on the one hour journey along the rough path to the main road. There they can get the ‘taxi truck’ to drive them another bumpy hour and half to the nearest hospital. It makes you wonder how many babies have been born en-route.
Last week, the team from The Voice of Flores were in Labuan Bajo, launching our new magazine. While there, we also visited Marsel’s school and village, and it was such a huge privilege to be able to make a contribution on behalf of The Voice of Flores towards the school’s new furniture.
Our adventure started early, as our group including Marsel, his family Robi and Iren, and me, headed off at 6am to begin the long journey to the school. It’s a three-hour trip there with much of the road only suitable for trail bikes. It’s bumpy and rocky and in some places completely eroded by the rain, years of heavy traffic and lack of road maintenance or repairs.
We made lots of stops along the way, for coffee and breaks from the bumpy roads, plus there were so many opportunities for spectacular photos. But finally we made it to the meeting point at a village near the school. The truck was there as were so many of the students and people from the village, as everyone came out to see what was going on. The truck was unloaded, and the students all carried several chairs each on their heads as they walked an hour to the school. At this point, the road is inaccessible to the truck so people transport is the only option, and it’s worth noting that some of these kids were as young as seven years old.
We arrived at the school and I’m not embarrassed to admit, I had tears and a lump in my throat when I saw the whole school had come out to greet us, immaculate in their uniforms and traditional clothes. They performed a welcome dance and ceremony that was truly beautiful – the joy on the kids faces as they danced, and the giggles as they snuck a peak at this tall Western woman, made my day. Pak Roni and Ibu Yati were gracious hosts and I can’t thank them enough for inviting me into their school, they will all be in my heart forever.
We were invited to lunch and I sat and listened as Marsel and the school leaders discussed important matters, like the state of the roads, the environment, and of course the kids needs at school. I am very proud to be part of The Voice of Flores team who were able to contribute to the new tables and chairs, and we have also committed to assisting with new books and pencils for the kids. All of this new and much needed equipment will arrive at the school via the ‘taxi truck’ and be carried to the school again by the same smiling children.
Most households in these villages do not have any fresh running water. During wet season this is manageable, but after six months without rain, water runs low and someone from each house must walk up to 5kms every day balancing a pole and heavy containers across their head or shoulders to fill with fresh water. In the heat, over what could be described as a very rocky and steep path at best. I’ve never had to consider how the condition of a road or lack of running water could threaten my health and safety, but in these villages, this is the reality. Safe drinking water, roads and electricity are services we often take for granted in cities and towns. A lack of electricity for a few hours or longer, is more of an inconvenience than a permanent way of life. However here in these villages, the majority of homes have no electricity at all and those that do, only have electricity for a few hours a day.
I have been very fortunate to have met and worked with some truly incredible and passionate people, and spending this time with Marsel at his school, gave me an insight into his commitment to help the villages he calls home. Already feeling emotional about my visit, the school then said it had been an honour to meet me, and presented me with a stunning Manggarai sarong. Through Marsel’s translation and my tears, I told them that the honour was in fact all mine, and they would be forever in my thoughts. I’m not sure if my tears embarrassed Marsel but I didn’t have time to ask, before we were back on the bumpy road and trail bike ride to Marsel’s home.
Ignasius and Margereta, Marsel’s parents, couldn’t have made me feel more welcome, and invited us to stay and share a meal with the whole family. Despite the language barrier, it was so lovely to listen to their stories and learn more about villages like this where people live on the land and have a deep respect for the environment upon which their livelihood and health depend. Sadly, a lack of time meant that we couldn’t stay as long as we would have liked, but I would certainly love to visit and stay longer next time. I want to say a huge thank you to Marsel’s family for being so wonderful and taking me into their home.
The day was life changing for me, meeting such beautiful people and learning about a way of life so different to my own. The landscape was breathtaking, and unlike anything else I have ever seen. The coast and blue ocean of Labuan Bajo giving way to rice terraces as far as the eye can see, and then thick green jungle, offering welcome relief from the heat. Wild monkeys ran around us, we rode through creeks and rivers, and some of the steep roads had me just holding on, closing my eyes and hoping for the best. Flores is truly a magical and spectacular place and you simply MUST visit, but be prepared to fall in love hard and never want to leave.
Marsel is passionate about his home villages having safer roads and clean water for everyone. Education for the children is also a priority, as not all of the students will have the opportunity to go onto higher education. Only a few are selected to carry on with their education, and the whole village supports them by contributing to their care and study in Labuan Bajo. Asia Land and Sea, the parent company to The Voice of Flores, is committed to helping the villages and communities in Flores with education, school assistance and sustainable tourism programs, and they have just employed a full-time environmental manager and pledged to buy a rubbish truck. If you want to learn more about how you can help Marsel and these villages obtain safer roads and clean water, please email us on email@example.com