After leaving China and before I returned to Warren, Ohio for the holidays and most importantly the Grand Re-Opening of the Robins Theatre, I knew I wanted to first travel to Vietnam and then on to Bali, Indonesia. Having been to Bali twice previously, I wanted to spend an extended period on this trip. But what would I do for nearly 4 months? Yes, I had friends coming to visit me! Yes, there is a lot to see. Yes, I wanted to take a side trip to Singapore. Yes, I had my Kenari House family, but I felt like I wanted to “do something” while I was there.
Okay, so what kind of “something” can I do? GTS…. Google That Shit! But first, I knew I better check immigration laws. A work visa was out of the question, but a social visa was a possibility and an extended stay visa even more doable. After more research on the social visa, being that I was living in BFE China, I would need to travel to the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing and most likely need to spend 5 to 7 days. As an American citizen living abroad, the task was a bit more difficult than applying in my home country. I would have to find a sponsor in Bali, they would have to write a letter and then I had all the hoops to jump through. Since I didn’t have “something” to do yet, finding a sponsor was, well, not likely. A little more GTS and I learned how to go about an extended stay visa. As a US citizen, I had 30 days visa-free without a fee. I found out that upon arrival if I paid $35 for a visa on arrival, I could extend it for another 30 days at the immigration office in Denpasar. The free visa cannot be extended. This would mean I had to make 3 trips to the immigration office and more hoops, but, if I used a visa agency in Ubud, for a fee, of course, they would jump all the hoops and my visa would be extended for another 30 days. Since I also wanted to go to Singapore for a weekend, I just had to go before my 60 days were up. Then because I had left the country, when I returned to Bali, I could go through the whole cycle again and easy peasy, I had my 120 days in Bali. Just for the record and if anyone is interested for future travel to Bali, it is 120 days, not 4 months. They count days, so if a month has 31 and you leave Bali on that 31st or 61st day, you will be fined 1,000,000 rupiahs for overstaying your visa. It is 1,000,000 rupiahs fine for each day you overstay. Yes, they check because I know people who had to pay the fine. They don’t take immigration lightly in Indonesia.
Now I knew how I could stay for 120 days, but I still didn’t have “something” to do, it was back to GTS. Since I had spent the past 4 years teaching English, I started with teaching opportunities. Of course, without a work visa, I would have to volunteer my time. That is how I found Yayasan Widya Guna in Bedulu, Bali. It was a mere 15 minutes down the road, by car or scooter, from Kenari House.
Yayasan Widya Guna is an Indonesian non-profit organization whose focus is their children’s learning center. It serves Balinese children who come from unfortunate situations. They have taken in orphans and provided them with food, shelter and an education. They support children with all ranges of physical and/or mental disabilities, including but not limited to; downs, autism and cerebral palsy. They also offer English lessons to the village children after their regular school day is over, free of charge. Their mission is to: Educate the underprivileged Balinese children to be independent and bring them a better future with their own knowledge, culture and skills. I decided I had found my “something”. I contacted the Yayasan and they welcomed me to volunteer and sent me all the information to get started. I decided I would give them 6 weeks of my stay in Bali. This left me plenty of time to entertain my guests, visit Singapore and just enjoy Bali.
I spent the end of July and all of August at Kenari House. It was during August that my guests from the USA came to join me at Kenari House and discover Bali. On Sunday, September 1, 2019, I left Kenari House and moved to Ketut Sadia Homestay which is a 2-minute walk from the Yayasan. Ketut Sadia is the founder of the school. He encourages volunteers to use his homestay. Just like at Kenari House, I paid for a room in the homestay. By using the homestay of the school, the monies you pay for accommodation directly support the school. Also, in exchange for your volunteer time, the homestay provides 3 meals a day at no additional cost.
I was the only volunteer at the homestay when I arrived. This is because many of the volunteers leave the area and explore Bali and the surrounding islands on the weekends. Our volunteer hours were Monday – Thursday and from 10 am until noon and from 1 to 3 pm, unless you were teaching English to the Village kids then you worked from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. I spent 1 week of my 6 teaching the English class. Finishing at 3 or 4 on a Thursday makes for a nice long weekend. Being it was my 3rd time in Bali and I would have 6 weeks free after my volunteering time, I often chose to stay in Bedulu and enjoy the solitude of the weekends. By Sunday evening, most of the volunteers had returned from their adventures. We had “kids” from the Netherlands, Germany, China and Australia when I arrived. I say “kids” because they were all mostly between 21 and 25 years old. There is a constant turnover of volunteers at the Yayasan. Some come for 1 week, some 2, others 3 to 6 months. I met a lot of great people during my 6 weeks and became good friends with several of those “kids”. I also learned as we sat around and chatted that first evening that many of the volunteers were students and this was fulfilling an internship requirement, many of them in Physiotherapy. They also filled me in on the ins and outs of a typical day and a bit about some of the students.
I’m not sure if it was because of my age or I just got lucky, but the rooms at the homestay were all doubles or triples. I had my room to myself for the entire 6 weeks. In the mornings, I was usually the first one up…ha…imagine that…me who loves to sleep. Well, it wasn’t exactly the wee hours of the morning. Breakfast was served at 9 and we didn’t have to be at the Yayasan until 10. So, I was usually on my porch around 8:30 so I could sip my coffee and get ready for the day.
Day 1…. I walk to the Yayasan with the other volunteers at about 9:55. It really is no more than a 5-minute walk. The kiddos (students) immediately noticed a new face…me! I was bombarded with hugs and “what’s your name”? By now it was time to get started with our day. Every day begins with 30 minutes of meditation. WOW! I can’t tell you how great this was. I honestly think it made a difference in not only the kids but the volunteers as well.
After meditation, its time to head to the classroom. I was assigned to what I later found out they called “the zoo”. It was the largest and most active class. Each class has a local Balinese teacher and then us volunteers. The number of volunteers changes from week to week. All I can say is by 12:00, I was exhausted. Not only day 1, but every day after also. From 10:30 until noon Monday-Thursday is spent in the classroom with a 15-minute snack break about 11:15. While the classroom sessions are going on, some of the children are also receiving physical therapy.
Many of the children receive therapy every day. Along with the volunteers who are doing their internship, the Yayasan also has Balinese therapists on staff. We also had 2 deaf children that were learning sign language.
After the morning session, we headed to the homestay for lunch and a much-needed rest. As a side-note, the other “younger” volunteers got worn-out too. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging working with these children. But more than anything, it was very rewarding. The morning sessions rarely changed, but afternoons were different every day. Monday afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts. Often making things to sell in the small gift shop.
Tuesday afternoons were music. A Balinese volunteer brings a keyboard and some rhythm instruments, and the afternoon is spent singing, dancing and having fun. I think it is the kid’s favorite day of the week. Wednesdays are yoga. Again, a volunteer comes to the Yayasan, the kids get the yoga mats and practice yoga. After 1 hour of yoga, the last hour is spent dancing. The volunteers don’t work on Fridays, but Fridays are when the local teachers help them learn traditional Balinese dances.
They also have several older students at the Yayasan. They prepare the morning snacks; they assist with preparing lunch and spend time working in the garden. The Yayasan has a large garden a few minutes’ walk from the property. Here they grow herbs and vegetables to be used in the preparation of the meals. There are also many fruit trees; papaya, banana, mango, guava and avocado on the property. Everything grown is used at the school or at the homestay. After I left, I found out they were going to open a café so the students could learn not only to prepare food but wait on customers and take money. They want to teach the students to be as self-sufficient as possible. The older students are also responsible for the daily offerings that are an important part of Balinese culture. One of the older boys also taught me how to make incense sticks which they sell in their gift shop.
You will often see parents hanging out at the Yayasan. They assist with clean-up and general maintenance of the property along with any other needed tasks. I really felt like part of a big extended family during my volunteer time. It was hard not to get attached to some of the kids, parents and staff, and I must admit, I had a couple favorites. It was a wonderful, rewarding experience and I’m glad I found my “something to do” for 6 weeks of my time in Bali.
I’m going to end with two sayings that were painted on the outside of two of the buildings:
We are all from the same seed, growing to the same sun. Together our love will color the world.
Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.