A huge welcome banner hanging in the village square, a marching band of adorable kindergarten children playing as we stepped into the school, the school’s sidewalks crowded with students and teachers applauding our arrival – these are the first sweet memories that Team iHeartbeat (insaniah Heartbeat) has of Al-Ishlah Boarding School and Orphanage.
The two weeks that followed were filled with many eventful activities and precious moments so much so that trying to describe all that we experienced, felt and learned over the two weeks into these pages would be an impossible feat; but one that we will attempt nonetheless.
As we explored the school on our first day, we were blown away by the beauty of the place. Located in a valley, the school has a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and a vast open sky unobstructed by tall buildings and bright lights – sky that reminded us of the magnificence of Allah’s creations, as it glitters with billions of beautiful stars every night, and bursts into colour every day.
The next day, and every day that followed, we began our day at 2.30am (Indonesia time). Every morning without fail, the Al-Ishlah Boarding School and Orphanage community wakes up at this blessed hour for Tahajjud prayers. Then, as the day progresses, every call for prayer is promptly and diligently answered by both the students and teachers of Al-Ishlah in congregation – something that shamed us as we reflected on how in the rush for worldly gains we sometimes put our prayers until the very last minute.
Over the two weeks in Bondowoso, Indonesia, the team puts in our best efforts to impart as much knowledge as we could to the school through various educational programmes catered for the different levels. We held English and Art lessons for the primary school students, Information Technology (IT) classes and dialogues with the undergraduates as well as pedagogical lessons for the teachers. We also put in our time and efforts to carry out events outside of the classrooms, such as a Learning Trail and a School’s Sports Day.
The students and the teachers of Al-Ishlah were a pleasure to work with and an inspiration to be around. Their eagerness to learn from us made every second of prior planning that we did worth our efforts. They were so enthusiastic to learn that they even sought us out in the house we stayed in for the first week for additional English tuition2. They also insisted that we sleep in their dormitories so that they could spend more time with us and eventually, in the second week of our stay there, we moved in.
Aside from imparting what knowledge we had to the school population, we also did what we could to improve their school facilities by providing donations and lending a helping hand to build an ablution area, paved walkways from the ablution area to the mosque, as well as a covered walkway between the female dormitories and the mosque. With the donations we collected in Singapore, we also extended what little help we could to the people in the surrounding village by buying and distributing basic necessities such as rice, sugar and oil to them.
As we spent our days with the students, teachers and villagers of Bondowoso, we observed that despite their sparse living conditions, they never once uttered a word of complaint; and so, as we taught what we knew and gave what we could, we realised that they were also giving something back to us. They taught us to appreciate and to always thank Allah s.w.t for what we have.
Every day at Al-Ishlah thus serves as a reminder for us how it is not money that makes us rich. Rather, richness can be found in simplicity and having Allah s.w.t in our lives. These people have not the luxuries that we have in Singapore yet they are so contented with their lives and so at peace with themselves – something we sometimes find hard to achieve because we are always chasing after worldly things like wealth or success and forgetting that it is He who gave it to us and He who can just as easily take it back from us – because they put their whole faith in Allah s.w.t through prayer and in constant remembrance of Allah s.w.t.
To sum up our two weeks in Bondowoso, what each of Team iHeartbeat’s 23 members came to realise was: “if you have much, give of your wealth, if you have little, give of your heart”. The school community in Al-Ishlah and the people living in the surrounding villages in Bondowoso did not have much to offer us in terms of material wealth. However, they made up for it by giving us two weeks filled with much love, laughter and kindness – precious moments that no amount of money can ever buy. On our side, we gave what we could to the school in terms of education, donations, school equipment and food gifts. However, we came to realise that what the villagers, children and undergraduates appreciated most were the love we gave them as we taught them and carried out our various activities with them, as well as the sincerity that we showed in getting to know them, spend time with them and make a difference in their lives; however small it may be and however short a time we spent there. We gave them our hearts and they, in return, gave us theirs and that was what made our overseas expedition an experience never to be forgotten.