|Yoan Mei (center) shares stories with schoolchildren in Pantaran Village, West Sulawesi. ©UNICEF / 2017|
Visiting Mamuju, a city in West Sulawesi, was an exciting opportunity for me. I was lucky to get to join the UNICEF team and Masagena, a local NGO, on a visit to Pantaraan Village where a “One-Roof School” (SATAP) has been built.
Supported jointly by UNICEF and Masagena, the SATAP schools combine primary education (grades 1-6) and junior secondary education (grades 7-9) in one compound. The aim is to make the transition to secondary education both physically easier and financially more feasible for poor students living in remote and isolated areas.
Getting to this particular SATAP, however, was no walk in the park: The road was littered with sharp rocks and pocked by potholes. The sun burned with searing heat.
When we arrived, the students greeted us in red-and-white uniforms singing a song, “Selamat Datang Kakak.” I was so happy to see their smiling faces I had to hold back tears.
Caca, a cheerful little girl, was one of those smiling faces. She ran to me and took my hand. “Come play with us!” she said.
I enjoyed being with the students. We drew, made origami and wrote down some of our dreams. Caca says she wants to be a doctor.
After school, Caca fills buckets with well water carries them home uphill. Though murky with mud, the family uses the water for all its needs – to bathe, cook, and even to drink.
Despite her young age, Caca has the air of someone much more mature in years. “I come to the well twice a day;
after school and after my Quran class,” she said. I was speechless and couldn’t think of anything to do
except to help her carry one of the containers up the hill.
|Caca hauls water up a hill to her home ©UNICEF / 2015|
Before long I was tired. I looked up and Caca had paused and was grinning, full of energy: She nearly ran up the hill! I made a vow then and there not to take so much for granted – especially something as important as access to water. It was an eye-opener to see how much effort it took for Caca and her family to meet such a basic human need.
A child as young as Caca should not be burdened with providing water for her family. “But I’ve seen it a hundred times and cried about it a hundred times too,” said Pak Peter from Masagena. “We’re here to make sure these kids can still get a proper education and fulfill their dreams.”
My experience opened my eyes: I need to do more to ensure children like Caca have a better life.
Thank you, Caca, for touching our hearts. Your joy is our inspiration, and as you are reaching for your dreams, keep your smile and stay happy.