Giving Back in Bali, One Lesson at a Time | The Jakarta Globe

Gianyar, Bali. “Simon says touch your nose!” Greg Forthuber tells his group of nine students. Some of the students quickly touch their noses, but several others fail to follow the instruction as they try to figure out what a “nose” is. But despite having to sit out the rest of the game, the students still cheer on throughout.

On this particular afternoon, the students at the Slukat Learning Center are playing a game of Simon Says to improve their English. But English is not the only subject taught at the SLC, which has about 150 students from low-income families between the ages of 8 and 18.

The center also provides courses in computing, recycling, organic gardening, yoga and traditional Balinese dance.
“And all of the students take part in the programs free of charge,” says I Gusti Agung Rai, who founded SLC with his wife.

The SLC is in Keramas village in Gianyar, about 30 kilometers from Denpasar, the provincial capital. The center was founded in 2007, when Agung’s family and a group of friends from the United States started giving free English lessons to underprivileged children in Gianyar.


To this day, the students’ parents typically work as brick makers, farmhands and security guards, while a few are low-ranking civil servants.

“In Jakarta, you can easily find classes teaching English or other subjects,” says Iga Ayu Mas Pramitasari, the SLC secretary and Agung’s daughter.

“But in Gianyar, in this kampung? No. Especially not for underprivileged children.”

She says the center represents a new model of education that combines local needs with foreign teaching methods. The computer classes, for instance, are sponsored by Accenture, an international technology consulting firm. The school maintains a Web site at

The curriculum is custom designed specifically for the students in Slukat, developed and sponsored by the Australia Business Community, while the teachers are all volunteers, some of them from overseas.

“The challenge here in the kampung is to build character,” says Agung, a former official with the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK).

“I believe that to be a success you need to have good intelligence and emotional stability, as well as spirituality.”

He says his ambition is to help children in his neighborhood achieve their goals by teaching them the skills they might not get at regular schools.

Through the programs, offered twice a week in the afternoons, he hopes students learn respect and appreciation for others, as well as how to be more committed and disciplined

Agung says he wants to see children from Gianyar dream big because he believes they can achieve their goals.

“Believe it or not, many of these students haven’t even traveled as far as Denpasar,” he says. “We’re working to find the pearls, and I see many of them here.”

So how do students develop respect and discipline?

Ayu says they learn discipline before even entering the classroom. The first class starts at 3:30 p.m. and if students are late they aren’t let in.

Slukat also has an organic garden and recycling program called Clean and Green Slukat.

Students are asked to pick up plastic waste they find on their way to the center, to be recycled later. Each month, the student who collects the most waste gets a reward, a small gift such as a book or photo frame. “But the point is we show appreciation for their efforts,” Ayu says.

In the organic garden, the students plant tomatoes and corn. They monitor the plants’ growth and write reports about it. “Environmental studies teach them to be responsible for the vegetables they plant,” Ayu says.

The center also stresses the importance of honesty through a so-called integrity store at the SLC canteen, where the students pick out their own food and drinks and deposit the money in a box. No cashiers are on hand to check the payment, so the onus is on the students to pay the right amount.

Ayu says the teachers are proud of the students for making so much progress.

Yunda Chandra Dewi, 12, a sixth-grader from a state elementary school in Keramas, told the Jakarta Globe that she was happy studying at the SLC, where she has been going for the past two-and-a-half years.

“I can now speak a little English,” she says. “I’m happy to learn many things here.”

Kadek Tomi Kencana Putra, 19, one of the first students to join the SLC, said he was very thankful.

“I now have lots of self-confidence,” he says. “I used to think I couldn’t achieve [big] goals because of my financial circumstances, but the SLC taught me not to stop studying or trying.”

The learning process goes both ways with the students’ enthusiasm also rubbing off on the volunteers, who are mostly travelers passing through the island.

Leonie Gresser, a volunteer from Germany, said the students were very open-minded and interested in different cultures.

“Whenever I ask them about their traditions and customs, they ask me ‘How is it in Germany?’ ” she says. “The most interesting and fascinating topic for me was ‘Family,’ with the advanced class. I learned a lot about family life in Bali, which differs in many ways from family life in Germany.”