Week Without Walls

I returned home late Thursday night after 5 days with 9th graders at Loola Resort on Bintan, Indonesia.  The trip was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.  A couple of years ago when my sister Megan returned from Outdoor Ed, we all made fun of her for saying that it was exhausting to be nice for a couple of days straight, but now, I might sort of understand her claim. It was exhausting to be needed and to be in teacher mode for a whole week. Though I was staying in a villa with the other teachers away from the kids, we were with them from breakfast until bedtime every day. And in that time, I was a cheerleader and coach and counselor and coordinator and all the other hats worn by a chaperone.

Though the entire 9th grade was on the trip, we had 2 several travel groups due to a school policy. So on Sunday morning, I left with 3 other chaperones and 33 students. The following day, the other 4 chaperones and the rest of the kids retraced our exact steps. The 3 other chaperones that I travelled with were amazing. Alison is one of my closest friends here, and I knew Bill fairly well after serving on the principal search committee with him, but I didn’t know Lisa, our trip leader, much before the trip. I soon learned that we were a pretty good team. They were all encouraging and concerned about students, and we dealt well with twisted ankles, insect bites, and minor scrapes and bruises. I felt extremely confident in our collective ability to rush kids through 3 immigration checkpoints on our long days of travel, and I was impressed with the familial atmosphere we were able to create for the kids.

Sunday was a long travel day with a narrow window between a flight into Singapore and a ferry ride to Bintan. Lisa sweet-talked an immigration official into opening a special line for us and the resort had sent a woman to usher us to our bus and hand us pre-purchased ferry tickets and completed immigration forms for Indonesia.  These 2 occurrences are the only reason we made the final ferry of the day and caught our buses to Loola even though our flight had been delayed almost an hour. Upon arrival, the kids settled into their dorms and then we all met on a low-ropes obstacle course before dinner. By lights out that night, we were all pretty excited to sleep.

On Monday, we started the day with part 1 of our community service project. We were building 3 waste water filtration gardens.  It was an awesome project that gave three local families (6 if you count the 3 completed by the other group) a working septic system. Overtime, Loola hopes to help all the local families in order to drastically improve the quality of water in the area. An Australian company that was in the region to help with typhoon relief taught the staff of Loola how to install these systems earlier this year, and now travel groups (like us) can pay for the supplies and provide the labor to make the projects happen. I thought it was an awesome opportunity for the kids.  They got to learn about how to prevent waste from contaminating water; they got to learn engineering and masonry skills; they got to do some hard physical labor; and over the course of 2 days, they got to see the project through to the end. The Loola staff had pre-dug the pits that we would use to assemble to barrels and pipes of the system, but the kids got to construct the tank, shovel in the gravel and sand, plant the banana trees, and construct the brick wall around the garden. It was awesome.


Our work site. l loved the pink house we were building the garden for, and the compact yard meant that we didn’t have to haul our wheelbarrows as far as the other sites.


My students worked hard despite being unfamiliar with manual labor. I was really proud of them.


This was the dream team in the pit. They did a great job keeping up with the leveling. This was the very start before we even installed the pipes.


The students found it difficult to shovel the gravel, so they devised this hilarious plan where a couple of them would sit atop the pile and kick it onto the shovels. I adored their problem solving skills.


After a bit of pipe construction.


Teaching the kids how to haul water from the well was hilarious. They really couldn’t believe that water didn’t just come from a faucet.

Monday afternoon our students were climbing coconut trees and jumping off a bamboo pole suspended between the tops of 2 coconut trees.  I did both activities, but I didn’t make it to the top of the tree I was trying to climb because the holds were so far apart and the height was so high.  It was safe because we were harnessed in and had a belayer to catch us if we fell, but I really don’t like heights much. After all our time up in trees, we headed down to the beach for dragon boat races which of course the shorter teacher boat won with ease since the student had no idea how to turn or row.  Sadly, my camera battery died and I didn’t get many pictures of the day, but I got a few. The other group arrived during our races, and the kids were wild with excitement to be reunited with the rest of their classmates. It is true that Alison and I were excited for Clare and Rita to join us in our “villa,” so it is hard to see the student response as unreasonable. This excitement did translate into more difficulty getting the students to turn in for the night, but in the end, tiredness and the heat won them over to the side of sleep.


Starting to climb the trees.


Climbing. The small roof in the center back is the barbecue pit where they cooked our dinner one night, and the large roof on the right is the pavilion where we ate our meals, and it is attached to the boys’ dorm.


A kid on the sky walk. I am not sure how to rotate the photo.


So close to the top!


Being lowered down from the top of the tree. The blue buildings in the background were staff housing and the kitchen.


Looking up to watch the kids provided some spectacular views.


I love that in this shot you can see the Sky Walk and the coconut tree climbing.


Coming down the tree.

The rest of our adventures still to come….



  1. This seemed like a really great trip. Would be great if the schools here would do trips to help people, I’m sure there are places they could do some. Some people from my church have been going to West Virginia. Lot of people living in the Applachias are very low income. Take care and hope you are all recovered from you trip.


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