Bathing in a private pool at a luxury villa is one way to experience a holiday destination, but sometimes travelling with kids around the world needs to be about more than just pampering and indulgence. Carolyn Soemarjono decided to show her daughter, Leah (then 13), and her friend a different side to Bali beyond the beaches by taking her to visit underprivileged school children. This is her story of how to teach kids about poverty in other parts of the world. 

Why did you choose to support the charity Yayasan Kemanusiaan Ibu Pertiwi (YKIP)

We had already visited Bali a number of times, including for our wedding, and absolutely loved the people and the culture. We wanted to find a way to give back to the local community versus only lining the pockets of the hotel and restaurant owners that we frequented. 

So I went to Bali for 2 weeks with the main purpose of personally meeting and evaluating charities that we could do more with than just send a cheque.  The YKIP Kids Kembali program completely fit the bill. It’s a program that helps keep kids in school by finding sponsors to cover essential school costs such as schoolbooks, uniforms and shoes. Without this support, many Balinese children simply cannot afford to go to school. In addition, the YKIP group enables sponsors to visit the children and also provides additional methods of support if they wish – such as enabling sports days or buying books for school libraries (which are sadly lacking). 

What did you do while you were there?

The Kids Kembali team picked us up from our hotel and drove us to one of our sponsored child’s hom. It was exciting – if not humbling – to see a “real” Balinese home. Families do certainly live and stay together as is commonly described in books and tourist info. And this one was no exception with each nuclear family living in one room within the family compound. Our sponsored child, Made, shared this one room, with one mattress on the floor, one light bulb and one desk with her brother and both parents. 

Made was obviously nervous about meeting us, but she seemed happy with our simple gifts of drawing paper, coloured pencils and a skipping rope.  Made showed us around the family compound and also the room where her immediate family all slept together. Leah and her friend (fortunately) managed to hide their shock at the simple and basic home life the family had. 

What did you expect Leah to learn from the experience? 

Leah has grown up in Singapore and hence lived quite a sheltered life. I expected her to get a better understanding of what life was like for other children in the world. 

How did Leah actually react?

Leah and her friend (who coincidently has an Indonesian mother) reacted so warmly and sympathetically to the family and their situation. Leah had been learning Indonesian at school so she was happy to be able to put her language skills into real life use by communicating with the family. I could literally see their eyes open to the different environment and take it all in. 

What do you think she got out of it?

I think Leah, who was already a very caring child, developed an even greater sense of the world’s needs and an appreciation that the “world” wasn’t very far away.

What do you think she learnt? 

I believe Leah learnt about poverty for the first time. Watching it on TV is certainly not the same as seeing and experiencing it with your own eyes. 

How has the experience changed Leah?

I believe the experience broadened Leah’s understanding of wealth, poverty, family, culture and charity. I also believe it has contributed to Leah’s “no frills” approach to possessions. In the years since this visit, she has rarely asked for unnecessary clothes, gadgets or shoes.

At what age is appropriate to start exposing children to these kinds of experiences? 

Whilst Leah was 13 and I found that was a good age for her to fully comprehend and appreciate the experience, I do believe that younger children (from the age of 8 to 10) could benefit from these types of experiences. 

To read the suitcases&strollers interview with Carolyn’s daughter, Leah Thompson, about her perspective of the experience, click here

To read more about why you and your family should sponsor a child, read this story by the winner of MasterChef Australia Julie Goodwin on suitcases&strollers