Welcome to the Jungle!
Hello and welcome to the FIRST EVER Bukit Lawang Trust blog!
Every week we aim to provide updates on what’s going on at our centre and a general insight into what life here in North Sumatra is like for our volunteers.
We’ve had an exciting week this week, with new volunteer Emma joining us from Germany on Saturday morning. After an afternoon recuperating from travelling, we headed out together to explore Bukit Lawang village.
For most people, their first reaction to Bukit Lawang is complete awe. I know the first time that I headed into town I really felt that this place was too good to be true. Living here is truly incredible. Almost everyone you pass wants to chat to you. The river, swollen with rain, provides endless entertainment to locals and tourists alike. In mild currents it’s fun to challenge yourself to swim across. On more peaceful days, it’s a great place to wash or simply hang out!
There is a constant low hum of activity in Bukit Lawang, with more shops, restaurants, guesthouses and bars than I ever expected in rural Indonesia. There is life absolutely everywhere, from the Orangutans in the jungle and the Monkeys on the rooftops, to the insects which constantly chatter, and the array of various cats and dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes which roam the streets.
On Emma’s second day here, Tri and Fitri, two of our incredible staff here at the Trust, took Emma and me to a traditional Indonesian market at Landak river. Here, you buy food and drink with wooden tokens rather than money and the entire set up is plastic free. We ate sitting at tables in the river itself and swam after Fitri introduced us to our first fried banana treats. Later that evening, we had the privilege of attending the birthday party of one of our close partners at the Trust. The people of Bukit Lawang really know how to throw a good party! One of my favourite things about living here is that people are always happy to whip out the guitar and break into song. I also love the enthusiasm of everyone to try out new music – we all often end up reading the lyrics to songs not in our own language and keenly trying to sing along anyway!
If we volunteered anywhere other than the Trust, it would perhaps be hard to tear ourselves away from the soul of the village when the weekend is over.
This week, I personally have been spending some time in our Kindergarten classes, trying to acquaint myself better with the Indonesian national curriculum which our teachers here deliver. I spent Monday and Tuesday with the Little Stars class, who are generally aged 4 or 5. On Monday, the focus was Indonesian nationality, followed by a conservation lesson, which took the form of a group litter pick. Hopefully if I spend enough time in these classes, my own Bahasa will improve along with the knowledge of our youngest students! The kids love the litter pick, it’s a great chance for them to get out and explore their village, while doing some real good in their community. We’re also very lucky that many of the mothers help out with this activity, as 60 excited children charging around with binbags near a river seems like a health and safety nightmare from an European perspective! We’re so grateful that the mothers are happy to help keep the children safe during this outing. The afternoon English class saw the children from Bukit Lawang undertaking their lesson on body parts. while I was not in this lesson myself, I could hear very enthusiastic renditions of “head, shoulders, knees and toes!!!” from the Office! On Monday evening, I led a rather tame aerobics class in comparison to those usually carried out by our Personal Trainer/ Head of Conservation Sam, yet my legs still ache today!
On Tuesday, I spent my second day in Kindergarten. This time the lesson was numbers. I can now count to five in Bahasa, thank you Ida! Every morning our little stars class also brush their teeth at school, which is a crucial habit for the children here to learn as studies have shown that many Indonesian children develop poor self esteem as a result of poorly cared for teeth. We’re hoping to introduce more of a focus on dental hygiene into their curriculum, as like all children, their love of sugary snacks often defeats our toothbrushing attempts! In the afternoon, Tri and Emma took the afternoon class from Bohorok, focused on the topic of ‘family’.
Wednesday morning brought another aerobics class, although nowhere near as intense as the ones Head of Conservation Sam runs. I think the mums who attended were a little disappointed not to be as exhausted as normal! Emma and I then headed out to buy some supplies from the market – we have decided that we need to improve our cooking skills, but finding vegetables we recognised at the market was a little challenging. In the afternoon, we had the large class from Kendit village and so we split into two separate classes to ensure that the younger students didn’t feel left behind, and the older ones didn’t feel held back. Emma and I made pasta – my first Western meal of the month!
Thursday in Kindergarten is a day focused on reading, catered to the demands of the Indonesian national curriculum. The little stars class really enjoyed this lesson, the focus of which was being a good citizen. After break time, we then moved onto a crafts. I never knew how tricky threading beads onto bracelets could be! Thursday afternoons are very busy for us at the moment, with Landbau students coming in for their afternoon lesson, followed by a Days for Girls workshop, quickly followed by Yoga. This week was our first Days for Girls workshop since Sam and I have been here at the Trust and I was a little apprehensive about helping to deliver alongside Tri – especially as we had over 30 women come to the session! Fortunately, all the women who attended were (as with most people here in Bukit Lawang) incredibly friendly and soon helped me to relax. There was lots of laughter throughout the session as Tri and me led a brief talk on female anatomy, the monthly cycle, reproduction, consent and safe sex, followed by a demonstration of how to put on and care for your kit. Fitri squeezing into the smallest sized kit caused much hilarity! These workshops are vital in a community where these topics are rarely discussed, and we led an anonymous questions session at the end.
The end of the week as usual began with Kindergarten’s sports lesson – or more of a dance lesson when led by Butet! In the afternoon, I led the teenage class in their lesson on family. I love teaching this class as their so enthusiastic about learning and their level of English is improving rapidly, allowing our conversations to get longer each week. We finished our lesson a little early today, to allow a Days for Girls workshop with the girls in our teenage class, followed by a distribution of the kits. While the girls were still a little shy about some of the topics, there was actually less giggling among this group than their had been among their older counterparts the day before! After this, Sam, Emma and I headed for a quick ‘local shower’ in the river, before heading back to the Trust to try out the oven we found in storage.
Terima kasih banyak for reading and I hope you’ll join us next week when our lovely volunteer Emma will be writing for us!
From all of us here at the Bukit Lawang Trust, See you next week!
Rosie - Head of Education and Manager