By Elizabeth Henzell
For The Bali Times
UBUD ~ The Helen Flavel English Learning Centre in Singaraja is a foundation that offers people the opportunity to pay the school fees of children whose parents find it extremely difficult. I have two sponsor children, Kadek and Suka Marinani, and last Saturday while my daughters, Isobella and Margaux, were visiting during their mid-year university break, we made the trip to Singaraja to see the children and their family.
The trip takes two and a half to three hours and while I love visiting the children, I hate the drive, even with my favourite driver, Made Mertiasa, who can get me there without the horrible feeling of motion sickness.
Isobella was in a similar frame of mind as we drove along and was having a whinge about the time eating into their relaxation time. As I was exactly the same at her age, I should have kept a civil tongue in my head but instead I said words to the effect that my children were selfish pains in the neck and we travelled the rest of the trip with poor Made trying to make light conversation to lift the heavy silence. Ugh!
Nothing I could have said anyway would have prepared my girls for the Helen Flavel English Learning Centre and meeting the children and their family. The centre would rival any preschool early learning centres in Australia with the thought that has gone into it. It is worth every second of the winding road that leads to Singaraja and in no time at all the girls went from being annoyed with me to being absolutely over the moon with meeting Kadek, his little sister Suka Mariani and their parents.
There was lots of excitement as Kadek led my girls down the dusty path to their Spartan house in a tiny village on the outskirts of Singaraja. The family now has two beautiful puppies, Yogi and Mogi. Part of the curriculum at the Helen Flavel Centre is about animal welfare and the puppies had their own bowls with water.
While we were admiring the puppies, another one came into the yard, but this one had none of the attributes of the other two. It was thin, with no hair, due to scabies. No one shooed it away and we gave it some of the dog food I always have on hand for situations such as this. It would have to come back to BAWA – Bali Animal Welfare Association – in Ubud but we would organise that later. Luckily I also travel with a cat carry-cage, which was certainly big enough for this tiny puppy.
Next stop: the shops! The children and their mother, Ibu Made, came and while she and I did the grocery shopping – rice and all the spices, cleaning supplies, etc. – my girls went off with the children to buy the clothes. One outfit each is the usual plan but at one stage Margaux came over and said something about “pink shoes for school.” However, being engrossed in dried fish and candlenuts, I just said, “Yes, yes. I’ll check in a minute.” Ibu Made went over to pick something for herself as I finalised the groceries.
By the time I had finished, they were back with their items, all well-chosen and paid for. Isobella and Margaux had decided that this was to be their contribution, and anyway, they said, it was the most fun shopping they’ve had in their lifetimes. Both Kadek and Suka Mariani were smiles from ear to ear. They had the coolest new outfits and also, on the advice of John, the centre’s deputy director, they now had beautiful traditional outfits for the ceremonies that are such an important part of Balinese life. They had bought an outfit each for the children’s parents, towels and other day-to-day items that we take for granted but which many families in Singaraja regard as luxuries. Their thoughtfulness was touching.
The long trip home would be via BAWA to drop off the puppy. We had decided to call her Lana, after Lana Turner, because, I told my girls, after the BAWA staff have finished with her, she would be scabies-free and beautiful.
The next day, Sunday, my girls joined me at BAWA. Even with the added problem this week of a broken water pump, making cleaning the puppy runs and cages difficult, it was amazing to see them roll up their sleeves and work alongside the BAWA staff.
Their final job for the day was cleaning the kittens’ cages. Not a difficult one after the puppy runs. That done and we relaxed by sitting in the kitten area as they played all around us.
My daughters, though still studying – Isobella medicine and Margaux chemical engineering and biomedical science – are already community-minded. They are really nice people and I am so proud to call them “my girls.”
The Helen Flavel Foundation (www.helenflavelfoundation.org) and BAWA (www.bawabali.com/v1) are in need of your generosity. And if you have time, come and visit BAWA – you may be surprised how much joy you can get doing something for Bali’s own treasures.