Testimony by Ken To, SGM volunteer August – September 2016

In August-September 2016 we were honoured to welcome to our school, Ken Santoso; a dedicated and passionate volunteer from Hong Kong. You can read about Ken’s experiences in his thoughtful testimony below.

Volunteering at Sekolah Gunung Merapi

August – September 2016

By Ken To, Hong Kong

Volunteering at Sekolah Gunung Merapi (the school of Mount Merapi) for two months was a fruitful and inspiring experience. I had the opportunity to work with the local community based on the slopes of Mount Merapi, one of the most active and dangerous volcanoes in Indonesia.

Despite the highest level of disaster warning imposed by authorities following the major eruptions of Mount Merapi in 2010, many villagers chose to return to their homes due to various social factors and economic pressure. From a more positive perspective, Mount Merapi has grown to become a booming tourist destination in recent years. A number of villagers have become professional guides of volcano tours showing local and international tourists alike the remains of the eruptions. This has tremendously helped the local community to enhance their standard of living and live better lives.

Situated at around 500 feet above sea level, Sekolah Gunung Merapi sits right in front of Mount Merapi. Formerly a public elementary school, it was renovated to serve as a new non-profit school, dedicated to serve and empower the local community through education.

During my volunteering, I had the opportunity to help with the free English classes offered for elementary school students after their normal school hours. The classes aim to teach basic English words and grammar to the students, through reading, writing, listening and speaking, plus interactive activities and games. We, as teachers, would do everything possible to make the classes fun and enjoyable to ensure the students to return for more classes, which is testament to the quality of classes and a huge motivation to us.

The most inspiring experience to me was to see how enthusiastics the students were about learning and obtaining knowledge. The students were always interested, curious and happy as they learned. Their levels of English may vary but their goal remains the same – to improve their English language skills.

The school also houses a library with hundreds of books donated by various organisations and individuals from around the world. It serves as a hub for students to read books, plays games and hang out after their normal school hours, instead of wandering in the streets or idling at home. It is also a place for them to meet guests and volunteers from other countries. In this way, they can build and boost their confidence in communicating with foreigners and widen their horizons.

In addition to classes for children, Sekolah Gunung Merapi also offers free English classes for adults who are keen to improve their English language skills. Many of these adult students work as tour guides at Mount Merapi or they intend to become tour guides in the future. The English classes help equip them with the skills and confidence needed for their career development, thereby contributing to the tourism industry at Mount Merapi.

Volunteering for Sekolah Gunung Merapi reminded me of my previous volunteering experience in Banda Aceh in 2008, when I had the opportunity to work with the local community devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. These disaster-stricken communities often exhibit an incredible level of courage, bravery and strength as they face the challenges of disasters. Natural disasters cannot be prevented, but efforts can be made to minimise the impact of future disasters, while we can bring to these communities an abundance of care, support as well as hope.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Sekolah Gunung Merapi for giving me this precious opportunity to volunteer at the school. I was profoundly inspired by their passion to selflessly serve the local community. My heartfelt thanks also go to all those who contributed to the good cause by donating various items to the school, such as books, toys and stationery.

All the support is greatly appreciated.

An independent charity project, Sekolah Gunung Merapi requires our support, be it donating, volunteering, or simply helping to spread the news around the world. For more information about the school, please visit its website: https://sekolahgunungmerapi.wordpress.com.

As a non-profit school, we depend on the hardwork and enthusiasm of our volunteer team. We are always in search for new learning facilitators, educational mentors and library guardians. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at our school, please do get in touch with some information about what skills you can offer and how long you are planning to be in Indonesia.

Ken in action!image

Ken’s last day: surprise party!image

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