A couple of weeks ago, Putra was invited by Habitat for Humanity to document their volunteers helping to paint and build houses for people in need in a small village in Sentul, on the outskirts of Jakarta. We were picked up at 4.30am while the skies were still dark and the roads free from traffic, and little Samudra was still asleep in my arms. Arriving in a small hillside village as the sun rose, we walked up the dirt track, past goats bleeting and chickens running around and lots of curious little kids coming to peer at us while keeping their distance as they were all still a little shy at that time. We had to wait a couple of hours for the volunteers to arrive, so in the meantime, I took Samudra around and we looked inside the beautifully decorated classrooms of the primary school and met the teachers, and some of the students who proudly showed us their classrooms.
Finally the volunteers arrived, all of whom were students of international schools around Jakarta and a few teachers, and they assembled under the tent shade on chairs in the middle of the school grounds. They had entertainment and competitions and one student won an iphone, and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I noticed one strange thing, that all the locals in the village stood on the outskirts and were not invited to join in the fun. The kids and parents lined the benches and ground surrounding it but were not really involved in any of the activities. The volunteers then spent an hour painting walls and digging foundations for new homes to be built, I was told that the professionals would come and finish the half finished painted buildings at a later time as well as construct the houses. I spent the day watching Samudra being entertained by and in turn entertaing, all the local kids, being carried around by small children and women, and having a great time. We actually missed half the event as we were busy having fun laughing and exploring the village, before he fell asleep in exhaustion into my arms again.
I am sure their intentions were good, but for future, if people want to hold events in remote villages to do something positive for the community, then remember to actually include the community in your event. Perhaps the students would have been better off to actually spend time with the local people and speak to them also, rather than coming and going with no interactions with the people they were supposedly helping. That’s just my thoughts anyway.
A huge thank you to the volunteers who actually chose to go there as part of their extra curriculum activities, but especially thank you to all the local children and adults who welcomed us to their village and kept Samudra and I entertained with their curiosity and kindness.