Planting Trees at Besikalung

As a part of our unit on rainforests, my students created a service project in conjunction with Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF). FNPF runs three orangutan rehabilitation posts in Kalimantan where they also do preservation work with turtles and sun bears. In Nusa Penida, a small island just off the coast of Bali, they rehabilitate Bali Starlings, a critically endangered species of bird, and manage a massive reforestation project. Additionally, they manage Bali Wilderness Rehabilitation Center (BWRC).

The students were ecstatic about the organization and voted to not only plant trees with them but to raise money to help FNPF with their work. They created a class goal to raise RP3,000,000 (about $300 US).

The day after our class started this project, one of my students, Ella, arrived with baked goods she’d made and wanted to sell to reach our goal. In one week, the kids raised RP1,000,000.

One of their ideas was to screen a movie to raise funds. In order to make this happen, they surveyed all the students at SIS to find out what movie they’d like to see, emailed Power of Now Yoga Studio about hosting the event, made posters, gave presentations in each classroom about the rainforest and our event, and baked treats to sell.

Lorax flier2

Power of Now was not only willing to host, but also collected donations for our cause at their Sunday yoga class! Power of Now is a beautiful, bamboo yoga studio overlooking the beach. Outside are hammocks strung between trees and a cow grazes peacefully between prayer flags.

Power of Now

I had feared, organizing this event with 4th graders, that maybe none of them would show, and I would be at Power of Now watching the movie on my own. My fears proved entirely unfounded: almost all the students attended, and they did a wonderful job collecting donations at the door and selling baked goods before enjoying The Lorax. That night, we were able to bring our donations to RP5.700.000, far surpassing our goal.

yoga studio photo2

yoga studio photo

To head to Besikalung outside Tabanan in the west of Bali, all the students arrived an hour early for school. We quickly loaded cars, passed out maps and wrapped red fabric around rear view mirrors and antennae so our six vehicles transporting students would be easily recognizable.

Entering Tabanan was beautiful: lush, green hills with carved statues that give way to a bustling metropolis. We headed through Tabanan and then continued another half-hour north into rice paddies with Batur & Agung’s volcanic peaks lurking in the background. We took a left onto a steep road that wound down to the river and then back up again past chicken farms.

view of rice paddies from temple

When we arrived at the temple, we were warmly greeted by Pak Bayu and staff from FNPF.

interview with students

First we put on our sarongs, proper temple attire, then Pak Bayu blessed us with holy water

blessings before entering temple

before leading us to a “seka nem” (a Balinese shaded structure) where we enjoyed snacks.


Pak Bayu toured us through the temple, explaining that mostly politicians and military people visited for blessings, as it is a temple for warriors, but many others for financial blessings and abundance as well. The temple was created before Javanese Hinduism arrived in Bali, so it is uniquely asymmetrical in its shape. From the water source near the rice paddies along the outer walls,

temple tour

he then led us to the center of the temple towards the priest.

temple tour 2

Ella at temple

After admiring its beauty, he led us out to the beginning of the 350 hectares of land surrounding the temple that has been set aside for reforestation. In conjunction with that land, the surrounding villages have all signed an agreement pledging not to hunt birds in this area in hopes that it will allow for a repopulation of species that are becoming more and more rare.

Sasha celebrating planting trees

students in woods

Khalil and Bara hiking

Back outside the temple, Pak Bayu explained how to plant the trees.

learning how to plant trees

The holes had already been dug, so my students were to take the seedlings, remove plastic covering from the roots, fill the hole with soil and stomp it down firmly. Immediately the students got to work.

Manon planting trees

Noa planting trees

Momo and Damai planting trees

Luciya and William planting trees

Momo planting trees

Kyle, Sasha and mom planting trees

Khalil, Bara and Putu planting trees

Jasmine and Haruka planting trees

Ella and Athena planting

Damai planting

Chloe and Momo plnating trees

Arjun and London planting trees

In an hour and a half we planted over 100 trees.

Pak Bayu suggested that we eat lunch down at the waterfall 450m away. “Do you think they can make the hike?” he asked me. “I don’t know; I haven’t done it. They are 9-11 year-olds. Do you think they can make it?” “They should be fine,” he nodded.

hiking to the river


The first part of the hike was mellow and beautiful. Then we reached a break in the path where we needed to jump two feet across a river three feet below.

Once we’d all gotten safely across, Pak Bayu moved in front of the line to demonstrate how to get low and carefully crawl down the mountain. He helped the first handful of students work their way down, and then adults integrated themselves in line between every three students.

Haruka and Manon climbing down

It was extremely steep, muddy, slick and only two feet wide with a sharp edge before a 30ft drop. There is no chance in the world I would have taken the students on this hike had I seen it beforehand. When we reached the river, it was wide with a fairly quick current.

Ella, Noa and Kyle at the river

Again I filled with panic as the Indonesian staff moved to create a human chain to help students ford the river to eat lunch on the far bank. Once half the group and a couple of the parents had safely reached the other side, I took a breath, trusted this system would keep my kids safe, and made my way across the river.

those eating on the other river bank

Sitting on the far bank in the sun enjoying lunch and watching the students’ faces beam, it seemed like the most perfect place in the entirety of the world.

lunch on the river2

lunch on the river

lunch on the river 3

Athena and her mom at river

Bara eating on his rock

After they’d finished eating, they wading, started water fights, and stood under the tiny waterfall nearby.

playing in the river2

playing in the river

On review of the fieldtrip as we drove home and back at school the next day, the river was by far the top attraction. Maybe it is the risk that makes the reward so sweet.

Ascending back up the same, muddy, slippery stretch was exhausting. All of us were again coated in a layer of mud by the time we returned to the temple,

wet students

and everyone’s spirits were high.

We created another chain of cars and made our way into Tabanan for our final stop at the BWRC. BWRC is inhabited by animals that were kept illegally as pets. Upon confiscation, they are brought here to be acclimated before returning to the wild. A few of the animals, like the salmon-crested cockatoo who lost a foot in transit, can never be released. For the rest, it is extremely important that there is minimal contact with humans, so few tours are allowed. The kids delighted in the mischievous siamangs and javan lutung swinging around their cages, the palm cockatoo fluffing its Mohawk to scare us, and the brilliant blues and reds of the southern cassowary.

kids at wrc

aussie bird

On our way out, Pak Bayu thanked us, inviting us back to volunteer again. These are my favorite moments in education: where a theoretical concept from the classroom becomes dirt around fingernails, a massive black and white butterfly flitting past, swarms of dragonflies. After we’d finished planting the trees, one of my students Sari asked, “Do you think we could come back in Grade 6 or 7 with Mr. John and see our trees?” That, I think, is a great idea.

group photo

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4 Responses to Planting Trees at Besikalung

  1. says:

    What a fantastic account, Miss Sara! I don’t have any recollection of such an amazing field trip when I was little.. You are giving these kiddos such a wonderful experience, and it sounds like you are soaking it up for yourself, too. Your river story brought a tear to my eye in the satisfaction the kids (and you, succeeding in letting go & keeping everyone safe) must have felt.

  2. “When a theoretical concept from the classroom becomes dirt around fingernails” is exactly when education really happens. Another amazing F-D hands-on project!

  3. Damai says:

    Ms Sara, these pictures are great!

  4. William says:

    It Was a Blast

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