From having grown up in Jakarta, Indonesia for most of my life, I had been privy to the hardships befalling those who existed right outside my car window, beggars with arms outstretched, hoping for spare change or children dancing on the streets, the soles of their feet rubbing against the concrete. With time, disillusion overcame me, convincing me that there was little I could do to alleviate the unfair conditions that plagued them or to combat the injustices endemic in Indonesian society. Corruption has become far too commonplace in my home country; even to get the simplest tasks done, bribery proves to be a necessity. The disparity between the haves and the have-nots is etched clear as day; extravagant mansions coexist with slums, the thin boundaries between the two created by a rickety plastic barrier. Upon coming to Santa Clara, I began to question this skepticism that had prevented me from acting upon what I saw everyday. Through the Ignatian Center, I received the Donovan Fellowship with $1500 of funding to volunteer at the Narayan Seva Children’s Home in Singaraja, Bali, Indonesia. The Children’s Home was founded by two missionaries from the Ananda Marga organization and provides shelter, food and education for the disadvantaged youth of northern Bali whilst also emphasizing the importance of spirituality in their personal growth through vegetarian diet, yoga and meditation practices. While there, I taught seventy-two children ranging from six to eighteen years old English, mathematics and art, implementing the Paintbrush Diplomacy exchange to foster cross-cultural dialogue through the arts.
When I think of my time at Narayan Seva, snapshots of the children come rushing back, demanding to be noticed, to be remembered. I see sleepy-eyed Siwa looking up at me, grabbing my hand in his small outstretched one, and swinging it side to side as we traipse around the compound, pausing occasionally to look up at the blanket of stars above us. One of the first children who shyly sat by me, I remember him on the very first day I arrived. I remember how sadly he recounted his story to me, his eyes downcast. Despite the tremendous loss he faced not too long ago, with his father’s death and his mother’s absence throughout his life, he wipes the tears from his eyes and trudges forward. I remember him, as the days rolled on, fighting with the younger girls to hold my hand, unaffected by their taunts and stubborn in his resolve. I see him drawing in a remote corner of the meditation hall, eyebrows creased in concentration as his hands furiously work their way on a blank sheet of paper. Whenever I came too close, his palms would fly up over his masterpiece, exclaiming that he'd show it to me later. And when it was finally fit for public viewing, he would bashfully hand it to me, writing in his careful script, "Untuk Kak Kyra” (For Sister Kyra). And when I giggle with delight, I see his eyes crinkling into a broad smile, his two front teeth peeking out at me like a hare the way mine had as a child.
I see Mahadev leaping from the stairs of the meditation hall, his eyes widening in recognition when I roll down the car window and call out his name. With his ever-present red cap placed firmly on his head, he puts down his ukelele and comes running to me, alerting the others that I have finally returned. And in another snippet, I see him focused, his hands gripping the grantang (a xylophone-like instrument) mallets, flying over the keys to create a beautiful melody. I see him poring over multiplications, sometimes pausing to add to the doodles he has on the side of his notebook. And I remember how eagerly he would hit my two hands in our elaborate version of a high-five, laughing whenever he made a mistake.
These are but meager portraits I can offer of the children who were kind enough to welcome me with open arms, who came clamoring towards me without even knowing who I was, just so eager to meet another friendly face. While I initially believed there was little I could do for these children, I realized that bearing witness to their plight is one action I have the ability to make.
Interested in learning more about Narayan Seva’s Children Home? http://www.narayanaseva.com/
Interested in sponsoring a Narayan Seva child? Contact Kyra Sjarif at email@example.com