By Rui Xu, Voluntourist at IHF Bali Center
My first week of work study volunteering at IHF Bali center has come to an end. Living in a small Indonesian village proved to be even more difficult than I thought! The level of underdevelopment is far worse than anything I have ever experienced.
However, the volunteering life here has totally delivered my expectations. I chose to come to a third-world country to see the difficulty and potential of the economic and social development in one of the poorest places, and Bali in particular because I was interested in the potentially huge economic inequality on an island thriving with tourism and traveler-oriented services – so far, Bali and IHF have delivered all my expectations. I have complained about and learnt to accept the inconvenient living conditions and the often malfunctioning wifi. I have biked up the mountains on a recruitment trip and seen for myself the kind of mistrust the locals have in a US-based NGO like us. I have been constantly surprised by the local kids’ excitement upon seeing a foreigner and their lovely ‘hello’s and ‘good morning’s.
More than everything, I am deeply touched by some kids’ eager for knowledge and passion for English learning under an incomplete and shockingly corrupt public education system. This makes me realize that the free education provided by IHF Bali is working against the social norm and that we have a long way to go to prove our legitimacy and credibility. When we talk about NGOs and volunteering work in the US and other developed nations, we focus on the generosity of the donors and the sophisticated process of recruiting qualified volunteers, yet we have often forgotten the importance of reaching out to the locals and working our way best into the cultural and religious traditions in the area we work in. These traditions, however little merit they may have, are far more powerful in a country like Indonesia than our optimistic western ideology of free education, democracy, equality, and individual merits.
NGOs like IHF have been branded as great ‘international’ effort to relieve poverty and provide education opportunities, nevertheless we all need change to realize that the overarching goal of our work is to serve the ‘local’ community, to benefit the ‘locals’, and through a long and hard time to influence the ‘local’ values in a positive way. And this is the hard part: to establish our trustworthiness in a remote Indonesian village and to get them to accept our values and good intentions, however ridiculous and unrealistic they might seem to an Indonesian person.