BACK TO SCHOOL

An ex­plo­ration of the wild won­ders of eastern In­done­sia can now be paired with an un­for­get­table vol­un­teer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

DestinAsian - - GOOD TO GO BULLETIN - BY JAMES LOUIE

Few would dis­agree that Labuan Bajo—a fast­de­vel­op­ing port town on the western coast of the In­done­sian is­land of Flores—is in an achingly beau­ti­ful part of the world. Fiery sun­sets are a reg­u­lar sight over the phin­isi- filled har­bor, and on the is­lands be­yond lie the primeval land­scapes and equally primeval-look­ing crea­tures of Ko­modo Na­tional Park, with a kalei­do­scope of ma­rine life be­low the waves. But es­sen­tial ser­vices for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties have not kept pace with the on­go­ing boom in vis­i­tor num­bers and im­prove­ments in tourist in­fra­struc­ture.

En­ter Happy Hearts Fund, an NGO that Czech su­per­model Pe­tra Něm­cová founded in 2006 to re­build schools in disas­ter-stricken ar­eas. The char­ity stepped up to the plate that same year fol­low­ing a pow­er­ful earth­quake in Yo­gyakarta, and in 2013 cre­ated its first in­de­pen­dent chap­ter, Happy Hearts Fund In­done­sia. In March, the Jakarta-based chap­ter cel­e­brated its fifth an­niver­sary with the launch of the #IamChange cam­paign, which aims to re­build 200 schools across the prov­ince of East Nusa Teng­gara—of which Flores is a part—in the next five years. It’s an am­bi­tious goal that hopes to fill a gap in one of the least de­vel­oped of In­done­sia’s 34 prov­inces. Re­cent gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics state that al­most a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion here is un­der the age of 10, and Happy Hearts found that many kinder­gartens and early ed­u­ca­tion cen­ters were not built to be quake-re­sis­tant and did not have a toi­let and other san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties. Just as con­cern­ing was the wide­spread lack of desks, chairs, and ad­e­quate sta­tionery.

To help get the word out, Happy Hearts In­done­sia has re­cruited five celebrity cam­paign am­bas­sadors in­clud­ing Paul Foster, a Sin­ga­porean ac­tor and model of Bri­tish-Per­anakan de­scent. Fresh off a re­cent trip to re­build two schools in Labuan Bajo, he’s clear about the value of join­ing a vol­un­teer build as a mean­ing­ful add-on to an In­done­sian va­ca­tion. “You learn a lot about your­self—managing ex­pec­ta­tions and de­vel­op­ing skills when it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, team­work, and the ac­tual con­struc­tion el­e­ments in­volved.” But his work as both vol­un­teer and am­bas­sador is ul­ti­mately tied to the idea of leav­ing a legacy.

“We are help­ing the next gen­er­a­tion grow with the fo­cus of get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion in a safe en­vi­ron­ment,” Foster adds. “If we start with the chil­dren, we can hope­fully have enough im­pact to break the poverty cy­cle for as many of them as pos­si­ble, and give them a bet­ter shot at life.”

Happy Hearts Fund In­done­sia will be run­ning vol­un­teer­ing trips in Au­gust and Novem­ber. For more de­tails, visit hap­py­heartsin­done­sia.org.

Above, from left: Sin­ga­porean ac­tor and model Paul Foster on a vol­un­teer build with Happy Hearts Fund In­done­sia in Labuan Bajo; the view from Kelor Is­land, in­side Ko­modo Na­tional Park.

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