An exploration of the wild wonders of eastern Indonesia can now be paired with an unforgettable volunteering experience.
Few would disagree that Labuan Bajo—a fast-developing port town on the western coast of the Indonesian island of Flores—is in an achingly beautiful part of the world. Fiery sunsets are a regular sight over the phinisi-filled harbor, and on the islands beyond lie the primeval landscapes and equally primeval-looking creatures of Komodo National Park, with a kaleidoscope of marine life below the waves. But essential services for local communities have not kept pace with the ongoing boom in visitor numbers and improvements in tourist infrastructure.
Enter Happy Hearts Fund, an NGO that Czech supermodel Petra Němcová founded in 2006 to rebuild schools in disaster-stricken areas. The charity stepped up to the plate that same year following a powerful earthquake in Yogyakarta, and in 2013 created its first independent chapter, Happy Hearts Fund Indonesia. In March, the Jakarta-based chapter celebrated its fifth anniversary with the launch of the #IamChange campaign, which aims to rebuild 200 schools across the province of East Nusa Tenggara—of which Flores is a part—in the next five years.
It’s an ambitious goal that hopes to fill a gap in one of the least developed of Indonesia’s 34 provinces. Recent government statistics state that almost a quarter of the population here is under the age of 10, and Happy Hearts found that many kindergartens and early education centers were not built to be quake-resistant and did not have a toilet and other sanitation facilities. Just as concerning was the widespread lack of desks, chairs, and adequate stationery.
To help get the word out, Happy Hearts Indonesia has recruited five celebrity campaign ambassadors including Paul Foster, a Singaporean actor and model of British-Peranakan descent. Fresh off a recent trip to rebuild two schools in Labuan Bajo, he’s clear about the value of joining a volunteer build as a meaningful add-on to an Indonesian vacation. “You learn a lot about yourself—managing expectations and developing skills when it comes to communication, teamwork, and the actual construction elements involved.” But his work as both volunteer and ambassador is ultimately tied to the idea of leaving a legacy.
“We are helping the next generation grow with the focus of getting an education in a safe environment,” Foster adds. “If we start with the children, we can hopefully have enough impact to break the poverty cycle for as many of them as possible, and give them a better shot at life.”
Happy Hearts Fund Indonesia will be running volunteering trips in August and November.
More information here.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Back to School”).