Conversations without words. Not quite certain how this would pan out, Andrew Wijaya’s foray into the remote village of Bengkala, Indonesia, where an unusually high number of deaf people live, ultimately allowed him to experience a way of life that espoused simplicity and humility.
The mechanical engineering undergraduate was part of a group of 15 Pioneer House (PH) residents who embarked on a four-day trip to Northern Bali. Coming from different countries including exchange students from China and Canada, communication with the villagers quickly proved to be a challenge even for Andrew who is Indonesian himself. For close to six generations, a large proportion of Bengkala’s population has been born deaf, and people there have accustomed to this phenomenon by developing Kata Kolok, a local sign language which even hearing people learn in order to converse with their deaf friends and family members.
Yet, the seemingly impenetrable communication barrier between them and the villagers began to dissolve when Andrew and the others began picking up Kata Kolok. “We were able to communicate better through sign language than by speaking,” he recollects. “It’s very explanatory in nature and easily interpretable.”
With a basic ability to interact, they were better equipped to accomplish the task they flew there for. As part of PH’s initiative to cultivate social responsibility, residents are given opportunities to partake in overseas community involvement projects that seek to create sustainable solutions for the local people. For Andrew’s group, their objective was to ascertain the core challenges of the villagers where water and sanitation were identified as the main issues. These insights gathered will be then studied by another project team to create solutions that will address these needs.
Being a part of this experience was a chance for Andrew and his mates to respect differences and appreciate diversity, not just with the villagers but amongst themselves too. With members majoring in vastly different fields of study, the ideas that came up during discussions were wider but sometimes sparked debates. It was having a good sense of tolerance and flexibility, according to Andrew, that helped the group deal with the differences in opinions. Roughing it out in a place with little electricity and little cars, the collective openness they had also allowed the team adapt to the cultural and living differences well.
Andrew fondly recalls the villagers’ friendliness and generosity, and says it was from them he understood the concept of frugality better. He reflects: “They only make ten dollars a week from their agricultural produce but are able to survive because they are self-sustainable. Having stayed at PH for a year now, I’ve learnt that there’s so much more to sustainable living than just going green. And while frugality means to conserve more, it also means paying it forward to enhance our society beyond PH. Just like the villagers of Bengkala, a lot that they do for us, they do it without expecting any rewards in return.”