In 2015 we found ourselves living on a teeny tiny island in the middle of the sea. Our island was part of West Waigeo in the Raja Ampat Archipelago, about as far west as West Papua gets, and the nearby villages were extremely isolated. As a result, the education system struggled. It was difficult to find teachers willing to live in the conditions offered by poor fishing villages, schools were rundown, and resources of all kinds were extremely limited.
I wanted to help and thought I might have something to offer so I asked the teachers what they needed and their response was immediate – books.
It’s very hard to teach literacy when the children have nothing to read.
I wasn’t working at the time, and I didn’t know when I would be working again, so I wasn’t in a position to start buying huge amounts of books. I decided, instead, to ask my friends and family for help. I have a lot of people in my life who are passionate about education and I knew if I reached out to my people it wouldn’t be long before I could build a collection of books for the school.
There were 80 students at that first village school so I rounded up to 100 and contacted my friends and colleagues in Bali asking them to donate books. That initial request went out at the end of February, 2016. The #100BOOKSproject was born.
As time passed I saw that I had many more people in my life, outside Indonesia, who also wanted to contribute to this project. I started getting donations from the UK and Australia and I created a GoFund me page to handle monetary donations. Books and money kept coming in and soon we started a library collection in a second village.
Teachers started requesting other items – activity books, wall charts, stationary - so I expanded my campaign to collect these items also.
At the end of that year, 2016, we left West Papua and moved to another teeny tiny island, this time at the gateway to the Komodo Marine Park. I visited a neighbouring village to see if their school, like the schools I had visited in Raja Ampat, needed books. They did, but I learned that they also needed much more. Due to poor salary and poor living conditions the village was having a difficult time keeping teachers. As a result, the government was threatening to close the school down -something the villagers did not want to happen.
I was reluctant to give resources to a school that had no one to take care of them, and I was devastated by the living conditions faced by the teacher, so I decided that before I could think about starting a library collection I had to help the teacher. Once again, I reached out to friends and family to help me build a house for her. And, incredibly, we did it. The project was sponsored by Atlas Pearls who provided all the logistical support and skilled labour for the build and we raised money to buy the building materials and furnish the house.
I was shocked to learn about the poor salary and living conditions faced by many teachers in remote Indonesia. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t given it much thought until I was staring it in the face. It has changed the way I think about the support I offer because I know that in order for children to learn well they don’t just need resources, they need teachers to guide them. As well as sending books to the schools I now also offer teachers care packages containing things like towels and sarongs, canned fruit and vegetables, tea, first aid supplies and hygiene items.
I never expected that this project would amount to anything more than collecting a pile of books for one remote village school but I’m so completely inspired by all the supporters, and I love how this project has evolved and how it continues to do so. The project is nearing its second birthday and so far we have distributed 1500 books to 4 different schools helping hundreds of students and their teachers. I’m really excited to see where it will take me this year.
To learn more about the project and how you can contribute check out the website. (www.100BOOKSproject.org).Cath