Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Tale of a Teacher on the Two Way Street that is Tourism

Tourism is a Two Way Street (Padangbai Bali Indonesia March 2014)

This woman's name is Niwh Mirawati. The other people in the photo are tourists just back from a snorkelling trip off a nearby beach. Of course when I made this photo, I hadn't yet met Mirawati, but I did meet her later in my stay at Padangbai in Bali.

At the time I made the photo (a sweltering day of mid 30c temperatures and high humidity) I just assumed she was just one of the many street vendors who ply their trade in this busy diving and snorkeling mecca that attracts tourists from around the world. As for the photo: at the time I felt that it neatly encapsulated much of what I was observing in Bali: Masses of tourists, primarily there for short vacations and bent on self-indulgence, who seemed to on the whole remain completely unaffected by the culture or the reality of life for the people of the island. So often I saw tourists not notice or acknowledge anything outside themselves (unless they were shopping!). Little did I know at the time the full meaning of this image.

Several times over a couple of weeks, Mirawati approached us, offering small statues, wrist bands, and other crafts for sale. One afternoon as we sat at a warang (the name for a local cafe) she approached us and, once again, said "It's for the school". Up to this point I had only wondered vaguely about that particular part of her sales pitch. But, on this day, I asked her what she meant. So, she told me, and this is her story.

Mirawati is an elementary (primary) school teacher. Along with a colleague (Nikadek Mingguwati) she spends school vacation times on the street selling handicrafts in order to raise money that goes to help poor children buy uniforms, books and other supplies thus enabling them to attend school. Oh, the money raised also pays school fees for these children.

"School is not free in our country," Mirawati explained. "We raise money so that smart children even if they are poor can go to school to be educated." She went on to tell us that she hopes one day school will be free for all children.

Many of us (I wonder, how many though) know that being a school teacher means a lot more than just standing in front of a class. Teachers everywhere are engaged in all kinds of extra-curricular activities to support the children in their charge and the schools they teach in. It is a sad but true fact of life in our money mad world that schools and education generally are way down on the budget priorities of most governments.

So, as long as we place such a low priority on education, and as long as we continue to crave pleasure (and the material trappings that go along with it) at all costs, then I suppose teachers will not only continue to have their efforts under-valued and under-rewarded, but they will be forced to continue to put in more effort, time and energy than we should reasonably demand of them.

Tourism, in this situation, really is a two way street: teachers selling goods on the street to rich tourists to pay for the education of children while at home most of those tourists and their children get a relatively free education only valued to the extent that it makes them "employable". This post is not about posing questions about "what would the poor children of Bali do without the tourists?"; It's more about highlighting the dedication, commitment and passion of teachers everywhere and these teachers in particular. It is also about pointing out the injustice of allowing the exploitation of these virtues, while at the same time perusing more short-term (and short-sighted) agenda.

PS: I have tried to be accurate with the spelling of the names in this post. The notes I have are sketchy and I apologise for any mistakes.

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