When a series of connections are made, miracles can happen! This is a story about how SeaTrek and Smile Foundation made it.
By Jeni Kardinal – SeaTrek Conservation Officer
The van is here to pick me up. I’m the first passenger onboard and we are heading to the Smile foundation’s Smile House. I’m beyond excited this day is really happening! As we wind our way through the maze of tiny streets, called ‘jalan tikus’ or ‘rat roads’. I remember how it all began four years ago.
How it All Started
I recall hearing Mary Northmore, founder of the Smile Foundation of Bali, saying “we have a difficult time finding people in remote areas, especially Eastern Indonesia.” I knew immediately that SeaTrek could be the link they were looking for. SeaTrek already brings books, water filters, and school supplies to remote areas and this would be a perfect addition.
The van arrives at the Smile House and I’m greeted by Anastasia, one of SeaTrek’s tour leaders who is also excited to be joining us on this special day! She had been to the Smile House before, along with Nita, Narto, and Dion.
They came to see where patients are housed before and after cleft and cranial-facial surgeries. Most patients could be treated for free An opportunity of a lifetime to many. They left with brochures to pass out to remote villages along SeaTrek’s sailing routes.
But in 2020 Covid hit, and we did not return to the villages for another two years. However, the message had not been forgotten on the remote island of Sula by a very special woman named Sofy. She worked for the Tourist department and was our local guide.
I sat next to her in the van on the way to the Chocolate Factory with SeaTrek guest and tour leaders on board. Sofy asked, “was it still possible for children to be treated for cleft disabilities for free?” I messaged Mary immediately who confirmed, yes it was!
Sofy made it her mission to find as many children as possible. She drove to villages around the island where she kept getting stuck in the mud on her motorbike. She said, “if nobody helps these children, then who will?” The locals pulled her bike out of the mud, and she continued on.
Before long, she had a list of 19 people who needed help. She sent photos of all the patients to the Smile Foundation and they chose the first five who would be flown to Bali and treated for free.
I sat next to Sofy again but this time in a Van in Bali. Now, our roles reversed and I was now going to be her guide along with the first five patients accompanied by a family member and Anastasia. They had never left the island of Sula before and were in for a treat! It was the end of their two week stay at the Smile house and their first surgeries.
Meet Our Friends From the Islands of Sula
I wanted to learn more about each person on the drive there:
Atong was (22) years old, he had never attended school for fear of being bullied. His time was spent either fishing or at home. He thought he would live with his condition for the rest of his life, a life hidden in the shadows but jumped at the opportunity to come into the light.
Aloan (27) had a cleft lip and his (8) year old daughter Wili, a cleft palate. He is a clove farmer, and his daughter likes to play games.
Lifa (12) is in the 6th grade and loves to play sports. She plays left wing on the football (soccer) field and can’t wait to get back to school to show her friends how she looks after her surgery!
Hariani (14) also enjoys sports and plays volleyball and football (soccer). She was enjoyed flying for the first time and excited to be on a new adventure.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Bali Bird Park, a young woman greets us as we approach. We have all been given free tickets from the owner of the Bird Park. Nick graciously set up a VIP tour for the kids and family members who have traveled so far to come to Bali. He has even included lunch, drinks, a 4D film on bird migration, and souvenirs for all the kids for free.
Thanks to Bali Bird Park, SeaTrek and Smile Foundation
It takes a series of connections to make magic happen. And when it does it is a very joyous moment to be shared.
Frank Hyde, Director of SeaTrek puts it best. “SeaTrek has this incredible opportunity to connect people. When we travel to remote locations, we recognize the importance of those connections. It is a great opportunity to share information that would not be available otherwise. We take that very seriously”.
A special thanks to the Smile Foundation of Bali, to the Bali Bird Park, to Sofy from Sula and to SeaTrek Sailing Adventures who brought it all together.