When I read about the IHF center Bali, the International Humanity Foundation education center, I was sold immediately because I had heard so many good things about Bali that in my mind it was almost equivalent to paradise. I had started looking for volunteering opportunities after graduation; I felt it was time to do something meaningful and interesting, and for that I wanted to go to a region of the world where I could get to know an entirely different culture and escape winter at the same time.
However, why would they need volunteers in paradise? It seems the western perception of Bali is very one-sided. Everyone thinks of incredible beaches for surfing and amazing coral reefs for scuba diving, but these are only part of the whole picture. Tourism is an important part of life in Bali, but it’s concentrated in certain areas which thus benefit economically but lose a lot of their character. Other areas, especially in the east of the island, are left out of the tourist industry, and the population there still lives a very simple life as rice farmers and fishermen. In these areas there are still beaches free of tourists, surf instructors and vendors.
Along the coast there are many luxury resorts even in the east, but guests tend to stay within their resorts, so it is not comparable at all to the tourist areas around Kuta in the south. Inland, the landscape is dominated by large volcanoes, and the very dense vegetation with rice paddies everywhere is only disrupted by creeks, roads and small villages. There are a lot of temples, and they are still used daily for offerings which usually consist of food nicely presented in a skillfully bound banana leaf with incense.
The IHF center Bali itself is located on a black sand beach that was formed in 1964 by the last eruption of the tallest volcano on the island, Mount Agung (the sacred mountain, every temple on Bali faces it). Behind the center, the rice paddies start and you can look up to Mount Agung which is covered in clouds most days.
The center is situated in between a muslim and a hindu village, which means that it is a meeting point for children of both religions and hence facilitates the process of inter-religious exchange and peaceful coexistence. The children come to the center in the afternoon for English, math and computer classes while attending public school in the morning. The children are in between 6 and 15 years old and eager to learn. They often come a little earlier to play at the center.
In addition to the free classes that the International Humanity Foundation and their donors provide, the IHF center Bali also finds donors to sponsor the children for public school (even though school is free, the cost for materials is often too much for families) and to offer support to their families. Individual classes often have a specific donor too, the kids make cards and posters for their sponsors to show their gratitude. Most of the six IHF centers across Indonesia, Kenya and Thailand do not only offer education but also children’s homes and orphanages. The Bali center does not need to be a children’s home, as orphaned kids around the center are taken care of by their own communities.
In closing, I can only recommend the experience of volunteering abroad as a teacher – for me, it was extremely rewarding to see how eager the children learn and how happy and care-free they are. The IHF has figured out a way of using the donated funds with high efficiency: because the entire organization is run by (unpaid) volunteers, virtually all the money goes towards education and the children in need and their education. You can apply to become a volunteer at ihfonline.org.