Thursday, December 29, 2011

When you write it online, it never goes away...

Lesson of the Day: You can't always believe it just because it's written online. 

I remember a particularly fascinating lecture in graduate school in which a professor of mine talked about the importance of teaching students the difference between truth and dressed up fiction when introducing technology into the classroom. His lecture had to do with the fact that anyone can publish just about anything online and make it seem legit. His example was a convincing website that featured the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

These days with the popularity of Facebook, Yelp, and other social media, I might add to this lesson that what you post online never disappears. This came up for us in Bali when we would read about a supposedly wonderful orphanage or organization for children that just wasn't living up to its reputation. For example, an orphanage just 12 kilometers North of Kuta called Wisma Anak Anak Harapan, or Hope Children's Home. This is a place that had received rave reviews from people who had visited or volunteered and met the now deceased couple that ran the place. Just a highlight of what we read: "We felt so at home there and could feel the love surrounding them which was reflected in the happy children. The place itself is very old and rundown but exceptionally clean... we were most impressed by this place and left reluctantly after 2 hours." The problem is, well intentioned folks write rave reviews online and sometimes even create websites to inspire people to donate or visit, but then they don't ever visit again or follow up. This means that sometimes for us high expectations = a hard fall. 

From what I gather, in the mid 90's Hope Children's Home was still run by Father Reverend Daniel and his wife, whom the children called mother. They were a humble and loving, though aging couple that started an orphanage after he retired as a priest in the late 70s. At the time the children were well looked after and happy which caused them to get a lot of online attention and praise. This in turn led to a stream of donations from both churches and individuals. Somewhere between then and now they passed and the orphanage is now in the hands of their less selfless daughter Rev. Ni Nyoman Trisnawath, and you'd be hardpressed to find the carefree happy children written about online. The donations, however, don't seem to be. We saw a lot of televisions in what was the staff and Ni Nyoman Trisnawath's family quarters, a very modern bus (something no other orphanage we visited would spend so much money on), and other luxurious expenditures all framed by shabby clothed children. What was definitely worst of all was that while we did our performance for the children, most of them were secretly watching by peeking through the upstairs railings that they were supposed to be repainting. Nyoman told us that a church-group of 40 people was going to be visiting the following day and staying in the upstairs quarter (which they rented out to raise money) for a few days. This, she explained, was why most of the 100+ children present were painting, mopping, or doing other home repairs instead of watching our scheduled performance.

The hardest part of visiting an orphanage like this is convincing yourself to leave without trying to take the children home with you. For me, this was particularly hard because of a beautiful 5 year-old named Ulan. This little girl never once cracked a smile though our comedy circus show. She had just a faint hint of sparkle in the corner of each eye which turned out to be tears just waiting to spring. After we'd finished performing I found her tucked into a corner of the hallway outside her room silently crying and being largely ignored by children and adults alike. I sat with her as she cried into my shoulder until falling asleep in my arms-- and when she woke up she went right back to sobbing. All the while, my heart was breaking because I couldn't ask her to tell me what was wrong. Their website claims: "We want all of our children to receive a good education as well as a happy and safe place to grow... [while striving to ensure] all children achieve physical, emotional and spiritual growth." One can only hope that in a place that takes in and cares for orphans there would be an environment of compassion and open dialogue, but when Ulan had finally calmed down enough to get up from her corner I realized this was hoping for too much here. When I asked Nyoman why Ulan might be upset, she snapped at the child in Indonesian, told her to go play, and told me it was nothing.

This is one in a long line of difficulties we encountered regarding how to know where to do good. This orphanage has a website encouraging you to send monetary donations, and when you visit it becomes very obvious that people do. However, how are they to know that their money is not necessarily benefiting the right people under the Hope Children's Home roof? How does one decide where to send their money if they can't actually visit first? Who is out there writing about what it's really like behind the walls of the facade?

Though our overall experience of Anak Anak Harapan was overwhelmingly sad and disappointing, 
we did meet some beautiful children with whom we had a few minutes of circus fun.
I can't help but share a few of the moments that were captured on film.

1 comment:

  1. A hard lesson to learn, but I suppose it's good to remember. I'm glad you were able to touch a few children's hearts and imaginations - such a frustrating child should have to live that way. And I know so many have it much worse too. Glad you guys could still do a show and work with some of the kids though.