In my travels I can only begin to understand the genuine poverty and challenges that people must endure as they go through their daily routine. Let me tell you about Isotopo. I love visiting Indonesia; I like the sights, sounds and the people. On one such trip, I rented a “Becak” from a young man by the name of Isotopo and we agreed upon the $1 a day price. A Becak is a three-wheeled bicycle where two front wheels support a seat for two while the operator rides on a traditional bicycle seat with pedals, handlebars and brakes. The young driver was a 31 year old Indonesian native, who was born in a village two hours away from where I was staying in Yogyakarta. He lived with his family in a small bamboo house with a well for the family’s water but no other modern conveniences. Isotopo worked on a rice farm, laboring in the field until three months ago when he was fortunate in obtaining work as a Becak driver.
Becaks are rented from a supply source, hundreds of them are seen in the many small cities and it is the most common means of transportation. Rather than making the two-hour bus trip to his poor village nightly Isotopo frequently slept in his Becak in order to save money and be ready to work the next day. He was able to finish the equivalent of junior high school where he studied some English but the need to help support his family was more important than education. He attracts few English-speaking customers so he was happy to practice the language and actually did quite well.
I invited Isotopo to join me for lunch so that I could learn more about his life, his family and what he saw in his future. It was apparent in our conversation that he was a very bright, handsome, personable young man but had no great driving ambition. In his circumstance, his options and opportunities were extremely limited by the economic condition of his country. When asked what he would like to do besides the job of pedaling a Becak, he explained that he wanted to obtain a certificate in English. This would enable him to get a good paying job at one of the tourist hotels, therefore raising the living standard for his entire family. In order to do this he would need to study in an English program two days a week for three months, then he would qualify for his certificate. This precious certificate would show a prospective employer his English qualifications and ability. The cost of this program was 300.000 rupees ($31.50). This was far beyond his earning capacity or economic means. Isotopo’s family was an average Indonesian family of four, consisting of a father, mother and two children who lived on 10,000 Rupees a day ($1.05). The 300,000 Rupees for an English program was beyond his wildest dreams.
This was a compelling story and one well beyond his means to accomplish, but quickly, easily and readily available through a simple heartfelt gift. After lunch when he was handed the money so that he could follow his dream, he sat in shocked silence and lowered his head. He glanced towards me, wiped his face and eyes, no words could covey the strong emotions that we both felt. I humbly share this story not for personal gain but as an example of what we can all do, making small gifts of time, talent or treasure, which are valued beyond measure to the recipient. Each day I strive to make someone else’s day a little better, I bet you have your stories as well.
Barbara is the President of Naples Chapter Circumnavigators Club and invites world travelers interested in membership to contact her. She can be reached at email@example.com.