Journey to Rote – Day 3: The Unexpected Teacher

9 April 2015

I woke up after a restful night sleep and I was pleased that the mosquito repellent cream that I brought didn’t have to do its job. One thing that made me worry before leaving for this trip was malaria. It’s still famous in eastern part of Indonesia and several of sources mentioned that travelers should be prepared for this. So, I had imagined that the mosquitoes in Rote would have a ball with me as their main course. Thank’s God that it didn’t happen ^_^.

After breakfast, I walked to SDN Keoen with Margaret & Tike – my foster sisters. It was a sunny morning and the great light made my job easier in taking pictures of the school & its members.

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The school building was in good condition. A lot of people imagined that a public elementary school in remote area such as Rote would be in a bad shape. Well as you can see, the school building at Keoen was in good shape. It’s not perfect, it needs little touch up here and there but in general, this building was way much better that what most people imagined. Actually, it’s even better than the first school I was visited for Kelas Inspirasi in Jakarta.

When I arrived that morning, the students were helping their teachers by picking up the dead leaves and other garbage from the school yard and disposed them at the back of the school. Some senior students were cleaning up their classroom. It’s interesting to see because in my old school, we did the cleaning up at the end of the day and the morning cleaning was done by school janitors. Here, in Keoen, all the students were working together to keep their school clean.

DSCF2126 DSCF2129After that, there’s a morning assembly. All the students and teachers were gathered at the school yard. They began the morning assembly with singing church songs and praying Our Father. FYI, the majority of Rote citizen were Christians.

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There were supposed to be 5 volunteer teachers for Rote Mengajar at SDN Keoen but that morning, only 3 were present: Danny Wetangterah (wore red/orange t-shirt in the picture above), Sinto Malelak (the policemen) and Uki Bulkis (the lady who wore blue shirt and purple head cover).

After the assembly, the children went to their classroom and we had a quick meeting with the school principal and teachers. We discussed on the teaching rooster and the duration for each class. Each volunteer teacher would spend about 40 minutes in each class starting with Uki at class 1, Sinto at class 2 and Danny at class 3. Children in class 4 – 5 – 6 would have to wait and study on their own for the first 40 minutes.

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When the class began, I also began my job as paparazzi. I followed Uki to Class 1. Uki was a lecturer at Unitersitas Terbuka in Kupang. She usually deals with adults but she’s capable in handling the 6 – 7 years old students too. She brought a pink carton filled with pictures of various professions. She showed it to the students to let them know there are a lot of types of professions they can choose, other than the ones they already knew then (police, teacher, soldier, doctor).


From past experience, teaching Class 1 could be a traumatic experience…..kekekeke……I won’t be surprise to find crying children or children lying on the floor during the lesson. But I didn’t found them in this school. They sat quietly and listened your every word with eyes full of wonder.

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Teaching tip form Uki: when dealing with children, you have to be firm and discipline. Another tip form her: taught the children interesting song to sing and danced while singing.

DSCF2191 DSCF2192After that, I moved to Class 2. I wanted to know how Sinto, the policeman, handled the children and I couldn’t contain my smiles. He was educating the children about the different types of police work. He asked the children this question: how do you call the police who work on the street? And the children answered: Street policemen! Kekekeke.

While teaching, Sinto noticed that some children sat under the morning sun and then he helped them move their chairs to sit on the other side of the class, so they wouldn’t feel too hot. I love seeing the happy expression on the kids’ face when Sinto moved their chairs.

DSCF2195After that, he continued by showing the children his driving license and he told them to remind their parents to drive their motorcycle safely by turning on the headlight. At the end of the class, I took their pictures. Look at the funny poses of the children:

DSCF2198 DSCF2203As a policeman, Sinto adapted very well to his role as a teacher for that day. He told me, after the school ended, that he was forced to think fast while he stood there in front of the children. He racked his brain to make the class more interesting. He said, in Class 3, he offered money (IDR 5k) to students who could recite Pancasila perfectly. By the time he arrived in Class 5, the children knew about this and he had to give them more than IDR 40k because they memorize it beforehand. Kekekeke. He learnt a hard lesson that day that offering money was not a good motivator to get the children to learn. Despite that, I told him that as the day went by, his expression was getting more relax and it showed that he enjoyed spending the day teaching.

This was how he posed for picture in the morning, when he just came to the school:


And this was his expression after teaching several classes:


kekekeke….I think he would come back again to meet with the teachers and the students after this event because his post was in Pantai Baru, only few KM from the school.

My next target was Om Danny. He has a school in Kupang. His school specialized in Multi Media. He teaches teenagers who had spent time at correctional center to have the confidence in taking pictures and videos. What he did inside the classroom at SDN Keoen was amazing. He told the kids that they’re going to take pictures of the President of Indonesia. He asked them to role play as the President and then he taught one the kids who were role-playing as the photographers on how to use his DSLR. The children loved it and I loved taking pictures of their excited expressions.

DSCF2218 DSCF2166 DSCF2174Look at how this kid handled the DSLR:



Around 10 AM, another volunteer teacher from Rote came. Her name was: Mince Paembunan. She worked at the Minister of Forestry. She came with her daughter who sat quietly while she taught the children at SDN Keoen about illegal logging in the forests owned by the government.


Around 11 AM, there were 2 guests who came to SDN Keoen. They were Citra, one of the volunteer teachers from Indonesia Mengajar, and Sonia. They came as the representatives from Rote Mengajar committee and I told them that there were 2 classes without teacher because one of the volunteer didn’t came. I jokingly said that they could teach those classes and they did. Whoaaaa…..

Citra showed pictures in her phone to the children at Class 5 and told them stories & history. From her and Sonia, I learnt how to make people smile while taking their pictures. They taught me this, when the pose was ready, called out….” Bun…” and the rest would shout ” Cis….” (Buncis = a type of bean). “Cis” is pronounced in the same was as ‘Cheese”. Interesting ^_^


As the noon approached, I thought my job as the paparazzi was almost ended but Mr Malesi, the teacher who picked me up the day before, asked me to teach in one of the vacant classes. At first, I tried to convince him….and myself….that my job was “just” taking pictures. But then, I thought, what could I share with these children? Then, I went to get something from my bag and went to Class 5.

In the class, I showed them a book. It’s a book that I printed as a souvenir for my hosting family in Rote, filled with the pictures I took while I was traveling to Microstates around Europe last year. I told the stories of the places that I visited: about the castles in San Marino that was build on top of the hills, about the castle in Liechtenstein where the royal family lives, about the collections inside Vatican Museum and about other cities such as Rome, Assisi, Salzburg. I told them that someday, they have to go to those places and see them with their own eyes.

I shared these stories to the students in Class 5 & 6, the seniors. I wished that hearing these stories would sparked interest in them to study harder, to know more about other places in the world. I was amazed at how focused they were when listening to my stories. I have hope that they would still remember the stories, well at least, for the next 3 months ^_^.

We ended that day by taking group selfie under the blinding sun:


The time that I spent in Rote, at SDN Keoen, although it’s only for few hours, taught me something important that no matter how small, there’s always something that you can share to others. When I came in Rote, I thought that all that I had to do was taking pictures. I never expected that I also had to stand in front of the class and sharing my stories to the children too.

It wasn’t only me who became the unexpected teacher at that school that day but I think, when we open ourselves to new experiences by saying: “Yes, I’ll help. Yes, I’ll share”, then we’ll get richer. I believe that what we shared won’t be lost because who knows, someday, the seeds of inspirations that we planted that day will bloom.

Btw, for those who are curious about my stories of Microstates, you’ll find them in my other blog:


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