by Bárbara Gil Suarez-Barcena, Voluntourist, IHF Bali
Silvia, my roommate and (after only two weeks of knowing eachother) a good friend, just finished reading a neuroscience article. “Emotions!” She says looking at me so excited, jumping up and down. “Emotions! That is the essential element for learning.”
I am preparing for my upcoming English class whilst she continuous speaking, “Without emotion there cannot be attention, and therefore neither learning nor memory.”
Yes, move my head and say “I probably remember emotionally charged events better than boring ones.” She still looks so enthusiastic, has a glow in her eyes, “You only can learn what you love…”
And I hear the rest as if they were the whispers of outside, mingling with the sound of the waves of the sea and the rolling of the palms “…something new, that means something, as if it were the first time you see it… the joy of learning”.
Time has come, the students are waiting for me upstairs, in the biggest classroom of IHF Bali. I say bye to Silvia, leave her with her emotions. Each step is a thought: I miss the food, I miss the clean clothes, I miss the hot water, I miss the soft linens … Before coming I had envisioned Bali as a paradise. I was not expecting the polluted beaches and unpredictable traffic jams. One more step — the last one. I arrive.
And then, suddenly, one by one, I see these children, so cute and expressive, anxiously waiting. I see happiness in their eyes, and immediately feel better. How could I have been so superficial five seconds ago? These children in front of me are the future of Bali. They will be the ones to bring their country back to its glory. Paradise is not corrupted. Education and knowledge are fundamental in making everyone aware of their rights. The poverty I see is a result of our irresponsible behavior — our demands for luxurious and superficial things.
I come from a different reality than the children before me. I was fortunate in my youth to study in classes where each student had their own books and new school material every year. As I progressed in my studies, laptops and tablets became more common in class. I take a look at the children in front of me. All they have is a pen, a notebook, and a big smile that I am not used to seeing in a classroom setting.
I’ve been talking for a while, and judging by their faces, they seem to be finding this class difficult. And then it happens, outside a rooster sings, I break the chalk against the board and at the same time a gecko climbs on the ceiling. There is a heavy pause in the air. Time eternalizes in their eyes, as if every minute counts. I would like to pass all my knowledge to them, do you understand how important knowledge could be? Arming a child with education will prevent them of the injustices of globalization, so that they can hold to their destiny and protect their country from unethical tourism that seems to be the spout of control in Bali.
So what you do you expect, Bárbara? I ask myself. The only thing you have to teach them today is the simple past, and tomorrow another new volunteer will teach them the past continuous and so on. All must do their part, we do this all together. It is not education by educating. So I ask a stupid question to myself, am I up to this challenge? And then one of them laughs, and then the one besides him, and eventually all the students are laughing. Suddenly I’m laughing also, and I realize that I am the one who is learning from them: their smiles, their eyes innocent and sweetness teach me to love life, love this moment, love them too much. They are giving me back my emotions.
We are not as big as we believe ourselves to be. Indeed we are small, but together we can be unstoppable. We need new volunteers every week, to do their bit, to join the infectious laughs. But more than anything, we need people coming here. To live without their commodities (and soon forget them), have a bath in the clean eyes of these children, and see for themselves what it means when 75% of the population is poor.
If you knew these children as we have in these two weeks, Yogi, so smart, Prema, always dancing, Dewi, always saying something to make everyone laugh, Putu, so shy when you ask something but always with the correct answer, and Karran who gives most of her attention to understanding us and our culture than the past tenses, you would see why I have so much affection for them.
Just love them as we have learned to do, just see them with my eyes — everyone so different, so special, with their features and characters — you will understand (as I’ve already done) Silvia’s words:
You only can learn what you love.