Sunday, August 26, 2007

Balinese Children's Foundation

On Words

Balinese Children’s Education Foundation


Central Bali Dennis and Nancy Colbert’s Balinese Children’s Education Foundation is making a difference one school at a time.

The grandparents of five visited Bali for the first time in 2000 to see Nancy’s sister Christina Welty who had recently moved to a village north of Ubud. They were struck by the kindness of the island’s people and once back in their Northern California home, decided that they had to try to help them.

With humble ambitions, they started their non-profit foundation with the hope of just building an elementary school library to encourage reading. Dennis, in a written interview, says about the beginning, “Nancy and I have always loved being with children, always very interested in their education, as well as knowing how the love of reading can enhance a child’s education.”

Nancy, a former elementary school teacher, and Dennis, a retired business executive, wanted to find a school in need of a library and, just as importantly, one with which the Colberts could forge a bond.

Dennis says, “Having a connection in some way to the school really helps with the overall communication and receptiveness to looking at new learning techniques.”

Returning to Bali in early 2005, Dennis searched for such a school. He visited a number of elementary schools before selecting one in Kalabang Moding. “The connection in this school,” he says, “is through the local village families that live in the villages near my sister-in-law’s house; we got to know them and they in turn went with us to the school to introduce us to the headmaster and teachers.”

The library is located in a building off the school’s main wing which had not been “painted or maintained in any way for 20 years.” The foundation started with the basics: getting the building’s inside and out painted, the floor retiled, a new ceiling installed, the leaky roof repaired, and new books purchased.

Then with the library completed, the foundation found it hard to ignore that the school needed much more than a simple library. The school still needed to be modernized and cleaned up.

To meet the first goal, they added five desktop computers, a printer and a computer teacher to teach all of the grades and teachers in after-school classes. All of the teachers participated and learned the basics of word processing and creating spreadsheets. Currently, the foundation is preparing a computer education program whereby the local inhabitants can earn a computer proficiency certificate.

Then, in May 2006, the foundation started a recycling program to help clear away the plastic and trash that littered the school grounds. They found a recycling business in Ubud to provide recycling bags and a weekly pick up service at the school.

Next came perhaps the biggest challenge of all, educating the students, teachers and locals as to how recycling would improve their health and their collective environment.

The foundation posted charts around the school detailing how long plastic takes to decompose. A two-page Indonesian flyer explaining the benefits of recycling and the health dangers associated with burning plastic was distributed to the students. The students in turn used these to educate their families.

Then with the recycling program in place they held a school assembly, where the entire recycling program was discussed and, following which, everyone went straight to work cleaning up the area. Dennis is proud of the program’s success, “In our subsequent visits to the school, usually every three to four months, we have found the grounds very clean and a real pride in the neat grounds.”

Dennis says that all of this assistance has been deeply appreciated, “We found that our work was also a motivational thing for the headmaster and teachers, as they poured concrete for new pathways, improved the gardens and showed a new enthusiasm for their basic job, teaching the children.”

Infused with the spirit of success from its first school, the foundation began the search for a second in late 2006. Assisted by the local Rotary club, an elementary school in Belang-Singapadu was located. This village turned out to be the home of Ganesha Book Store manager, Made Rohani. The foundation had been purchasing most of its books at Ganesha at a discount, so the foundation was fortunate to once again have secured that connection that is so important to its work.

On the foundation’s visit to the school, Dennis says it found, “One of the wings just needed painting. The other wing…was in terrible shape; one of the rooms could not be used because of the leaking roof, floors had many holes, windows and doors broken…The school also had an unused building that could be repaired and used as a learning center.”

Following a meeting with the village school committee the heavy construction was started in January 2007. Utilizing the skills of the local villagers, the classrooms, learning center and library were repaired and painted.

In April of this year, Dennis, Nancy and Nancy’s sister Susan returned and turned the school grounds into an educational project by having the students design the grounds and select the plants that would landscape the area.

Always a businessman, Dennis has been able to measure success at the two schools of about 135 students each, “When we were in Bali in April 2007, the library checkout system for the two schools showed that the books had been checked over 1,000 times over the last three months, which [is] way beyond anything we had expected.”

“We are now working on obtaining government statistics on how our two schools have done in the past few years, in terms of testing results, number of sixth grade graduates… to compare to current results.”

With the two schools thriving, the foundation is now ready to expand its reach.

Dennis reports, “Once again, with the success we have had having a connection to the schools we have selected, I am going to look at three schools in September, that have been attended by Balinese that have worked for us on various jobs in Bali and for my sister-in-law, and now have children attending these schools. If the schools need libraries, recycling programs and some repair work, we will do all three.”

By working school-by-school, forgoing contractors and using the labor of local inhabitants as much as possible the foundation keeps costs down to a minimum. Dennis says, “The advantage someone would have in donating to our foundation is that I personally oversee 100% of the funds and disburse them myself, so it guarantees that 100% of the money goes to help the children.”

“I handle all payments directly to people I hire,” he continues. “With as many as possible from the local village to do the work at the school, and do not use contractors for the work. I found that this ensures that the money gets to the right people.”

The foundation says that a library usually costs between US$600 and $2,000 depending upon how much building repair is required. Computers are up to $3000, while ongoing training expenses are about $1,000 per year.

Thus far, the foundation’s work has been funded by the Colberts, an Indonesian businessman in Jakarta, and the sale of products from Bali that are sold in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Colberts say, “All proceeds from the sales go to the Foundation and then back to Bali schools.”

Registered with the National Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, American citizens are able to make tax deductible contributions to the foundation. If you have any questions regarding the Balinese Children’s Education Foundation please contact Dennis Colbert at

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

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