Greetings from Bali!

by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

The singing and chanting we heard falling asleep the first night is from a nearby Hindu temple.  This has happened each evening.  There is also morning chanting, which I’ve used as an indicator that it’s time to get up.  I’m reminded of the Muslim call to prayer, which was such a significant feature of our experience in Jordan at last year’s Round Square conference.

Bali1As it turns out, the folks at the Green School weren’t able to organize meaningful service work for us all.  Instead, we have an action-packed program of experiential activities.  We’ve made paper from bamboo leaves, created traditional Balinese votives, learned how to do Balinese dance, had a laughter yoga class, and made chocolate sauce from scratch.  We’ve learned how some Green School students got a law passed banning plastic bags in Bai and discussed consumerism.

Bali2We got a tour of the Green School our first day here.  The Green School has amazing architecture.  The ‘heart of the school’ is the largest bamboo building in the world.  The computer lab is on the second floor, the library on the third floor, and there are many art classrooms scattered around its edges.  That night, we went on a ‘night safari’ on the campus.  Our leader was able to find a tree frog, toad, praying mantis, chameleon, and snake by shining his flashlight around in the trees and bushes.

Bali3Yesterday we went on a subac walk through a nearby village and rice fields.  The hike started at Bali’s largest banyan tree.  The Athenian student group insisted on a photo under the tree in honor of the book they read in 9th grade, Under the Banyan Tree.  For a good part of the walk, we hiked along an irrigation canal.  The canal has a few tunnels that we walked—or in my case, crawled—through.  The Balinese irrigation system was developed 500 years ago.  It still works without any machinery and distributes water to people throughout the island.  It’s so amazing that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site a few years ago.  Interestingly, our side of the valley was owned by the village and had corn and rice fields.  The other side of the river had high-end hotels and expensive homes.

Bali4This morning was spent learning about sustainable agriculture—and working at it. The Green School grows about 35% of the food it consumes. We worked in the compost shed—they have a couple of cows, whose manure helps enrich the compost—and the plant nursery and gardens.  In the afternoon, the students were split into five groups of five students and each group had to build a raft.  They were given inner tubes, bamboo poles, and lashing materials.  Afterward, we floated for 60 minutes down a wide irrigation canal.  It was great fun and a wonderful way to see some more of Bali.  Two of the other teachers and I drifted behind the students in inner tubes.  After the students’ rafts had all passed but before I’d arrived, a half-dozen boys ripped off their clothes and jumped into the canal to swim and then playfully followed us downstream.

In addition to Athenians, there are students on this preconference trip from South Africa, Australia, Peru and Canada.  The Athenian students are doing a great job of making friends and taking initiative.  The head of an Australian school commented on their comfort sharing their opinions and taking leadership in a group.  Yesterday, the 60 students were split into two teams for an afternoon activity and Brian Li was selected the leader of one of the teams.  The Athenian students are having a great experience and representing Athenian beautifully.