So the journey begins checking into Sydney Airport with 127kg of baggage consisting of 12 surfboards, donated clothes, educational supplies and of course personal items for the whole family. We are off to the Mentawai Islands to open the new and only English School in collaboration with A Liquid Future and joining forces with Waves For Water distributing water filters and tanks in two villages in the region.
After about 13hrs of travelling and transiting in both Denpasar and Jakarta, we finally arrive into Padang into the welcoming arms and smiling face of Ayen our Padang ground crew coordinator. We have also now joined up with the rest of the crew comprising of young grommet Winter Vincent (10) and his family, as well as Christian Briggs from Waves For Water, who has personally delivered 100 water filters all the way from Jersey in the USA.
Winter instigated Surf to School Day encouraging other kids to help make a difference by hosting a gold coin donation Mufti Day. This is his second fundraising project to raise funds for the much loved people of the Mentawai, with his first project singlehandedly raising over USD$3,000 and being asked to be an Ambassador for Waves for Waters.
Also on board is our International Operations Manager, Lars all the way from The Canary Islands, as well as John and Norbert who have volunteered their time to be involved in this amazing trip and experience.
After a short night’s sleep at The Mercure Hotel we are back in reception at 6am for an early morning departure on the local Mentawai Fast Ferry. 3.5hrs later we arrive into Tuapaijet the capital of the Mentawai Islands. I can sense paradise is now close and after a 10min boat ride we finally get to our base for the next 7 days – Aloita Resort and Spa! Paradise is the only word that can describe this part of the world and the past 24hs travelling is a distant memory, as I dive into the crystal clear water and the boys hit the surf.
The day has finally arrived to celebrate all the hard work Lizzy Murray, Managing Director of A Liquid Future, has done to make the English School a reality. She has two great volunteer teachers Tom and Karen join the team, who have spent the past 8 years teaching in an International School in Bali, along with Local Coordinator Un who is an amazing attribute to the non-profit organisation located right by the beach in the Mapadegat Village.
As we disembark the boat and make our way up the beach with the donated surfboards, we are met by hordes of kids enjoying the beach activities as part of the open day celebrations. The excitement is growing as the preparations are underway for the official opening ceremony taking place later that evening. The classroom is all ready for the first English lesson with all the educational posters on the wall for the eager students to start learning.
A sudden outburst of excitement explodes and the kids go crazy running towards the beach. In the Western World you would think an ice-cream truck had arrived or Apple were giving away iPads, but here in the simple village of Mapadegat it was all about a game of tug of war and new soccer balls!!
As the sun goes down the celebrations begin with local music and dances on the makeshift stage. The whole community has turned up to support the opening and be part of this memorable occasion being the first English School in the Mentawai Islands. After speeches and cutting of the ribbon by the Minster of Tourism, the real celebration begins with cake, bintangs, dancing and loud techno music which continues into the night.
Being early season the surf forecast isn’t great but between Kali (9) and Hurley sponsored Winter (10) as well as the more matured surfers with their long boards and short boards they all find something to keep them satisfied. For us non-surfers with younger kids, we are happy with early morning yoga sessions with the best views in the world, snorkeling in front of the resort, cruising on the SUP’s and experiencing amazing massages in the Aloita Spa.
When you are as remote as you possibly can in the Mentawai Islands, you learn that nothing is confirmed until it actually happens. You can make a plan, but if suddenly you get a monsoonal storm or showers or all the boats are out, then you’ll be delayed or it won’t actually eventuate. This happened the day of our first implementation in Cahn’s Village. Cahn has lived in the Mentawai for about 8 years and is married to a local lady, so the village we are going to is where her family live and Cahn is going to be the translator. We were all set to leave with buckets and filters when a sudden downpour occurred, and looked set for the afternoon. The day had been arranged and organized with the Chief of the village so they were all expecting us. This was our first implementation so everyone was excited and eager to get out there and make a difference. We held off for about an hour before deciding to make the 30min boat ride. Luck was on our side and by the time we hit the other side of the island it was sunshine all round.
Pukayarat is only accessible by boat so as you can imagine life is a little different to how we know it and extremely simple. Seeing these local kids with the biggest smiles, kicking a ball around and hitting an old tyre with a stick is a world away from the Northern Beaches lifestyle that our children know. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the schools that got involved with Surf to School Day, the village of Pukayarat received 30 water filters and 3 x 2000L tanks. One filter will provide clean water for up to 100 people and lasts 5-10 years at a cost of $50 per filter.
Returning on the boat that afternoon, you could tell by the smiles on our faces we all had a sense of achievement and happiness seeing everything finally come to fruition!! . The locals were over the moon we had come to their village, and as a sign of appreciation the Chief presented Jamie with a whale skull, which now proudly hangs in the ‘Liquid Lounge’ at Aloita!
The next day we did another trip back over to Mapadegat to see how the classes were progressing at the School and to train the locals in the village how to use and maintain the water filters. The first week of teaching is coming to an end and they have over 150 students on the register from age 6 to 56! The response from the locals has been overwhelming and continues to grow as word spreads about the amazing work the school is doing.
So with heavy hearts our time in the Mentawai has come to an end and it’s time for the long journey home. Trips like these really connect people and reinforce what they consider important. Besides the amazing surf and idyllic location, to be able to help make a difference in this part of the world in such a short time frame makes you also realize what you could achieve over a longer period of time.
If volunteerism or teaching English is something of interest to you, or you could offer support in a sponsorship or fundraising way, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so you can also be part of this amazing journey of development for the Mentawai people!