Gently Elsie reaches for the hand of her visitor. It encloses the top of the small, ring, and middle fingers. Then she brings the stranger’s hand to her forehead, bowing her head a little. The girl’s skin is warm. She pushes her hand down again. And lets go.
Elsie is an orphan. Together with 60 other children the nine-year-old lives in a home on the edge of Klungkung, a small town with some 170,000 inhabitants located in the southeast of Bali, 30 kilometers away from the capital Denpansar. Visiting an orphanage is one of the “Alila Experiences”, a selection of activities for hotel visitors bringing them close to the life and people of Bali.
It is not only Elsie who welcomes us so warmly and openly. All the other children seem to be happy about their guests as well, each one comes to say his or her special “hello”. We are glad to have brought some presents along: pens, painting magazines, books, sweets. Elsie has taken our hands again. She wants to show us around personally, together with headmaster X X and Oki, one of the smiling staff at Alila with his own personal connection to Kungklung.
The orphanage has two large bedrooms for boys, two for girls, divided by age. There is a playroom and a reading room, a room with old computers and one for homework and studies. For guests and care workers there are rooms on top floor, with a lovely view over Bali and everything one needs for a long term stay. And there is not one single sad face among the children.
We visit the orphanage on our way from Alila Manggis to Alila Ubud. From the south east coast to the interior of the country, from sea-view to jungle. A contrast of environments to accompany the contrasting emotions of visiting children handed the most desperate of starts in life but given an opportunity to rise above that through love, warmth, support and a collective effort to rebalance their lives and set them on the path to future prosperity. You cannot escape the feelings of sadness at the children’s plight but this is countered by the obvious joy they displayed in showing us their home, how they live and who they share their new lives with. An orphanage that leaves a feeling of being uplifted, full of hope and love. Not what is expected.
Our tour continued at the hand of this little girl, leading us by the rooms of her home, to be asked again and again with her smile to look here or there, to let her and the other children show their favorite book, their sleeping place. So far from the tourist mile, so close to people on Bali. What a great and different way to discover the country – and especially its people.
Thanks to Oki, who takes care of the Alila Local Experiences. He himself was brought up in the orphanage at the edge of Klungkung and talks about his time there with obvious affection. Am embodiment that for the children in this orphanage a future is possible. That future could be working in a hotel whose management stress the importance of supporting local projects. About 80 percent of Alila hotels’ employees come from Bali, he says.
When we leave the orphanage again after about two hours, Oki accompanies us outside. Gently he reaches for our hands, says his special “Thank you”.