My name is Carly and I visited Natsirs place more than once.
In 2015 I was planning my six-month journey through Indonesia. Tana Toraja was one of the places I really wanted to visit. Not only because of the beautiful nature, friendly people and their rich traditions, but mostly because it’s the area where my late grandmother was born. Since I had no chance of ever asking her about her younger years, the only way to connect to that was to just visit the area myself. I was looking for a way to spend a bit more time there, so I checked the website of WorkAway and searched for ‘Tana Toraja’. I could hardly believe it but I got a hit! One hit, and it was Natsir’s place.
In March that year I traveled from the capital of Sulawesi, Makassar, to Makale by night bus. When I arrived the sun was slowely rising and Natsir was already waiting for me at the busstop. Me and my backpack hopped on the back of his motorcycle and drove off to Rembon.
When we arrived at Natsirs place I was greeted by his family and got settled in. In the weeks that followed me and some other volunteers spent most of our time in the lush garden. We weeded, planted peanuts and enjoyed learning so much about nature and organic farming. Every once in a while we joined Natsir and visited the school at which he worked. We did not merely watch him teach, but we were also encouraged and allowed to do some ‘teaching’ (mostly letting the students to practise their conversational skills). Once a week we also taught English to the children from the neigbourhood. I was very impressed and intruiged by this initiative: Natsir gave these children the opportunity to come over after school to learn some English, all for free.
Besides working as a school teacher and an organic farmer, at that time Natsir also found the time and energy to help the American company Smile Train. He searched for children with cleft lip and/or pallet and helped Smile Train to organise surgery for them. During my stay Natsir had been in contact with a family that had a young daughter who needed surgery. They lived in a far and quite remote village. Natsir had set up a meeting with them and he asked me if I wanted to join him. I didn’t have to think twice about my answer. On the day we left we drove for hours and encountered bad roads and slippery mountain passes, but we made it and we met the mother and her young daughter. It was such an amazing experience and really made me realize how lucky I am to live in a country where healthcare is so accessible to everyone.
Needless to say, my first stay with Natsir, his wife Diana and their children was beyond great. I definitely felt closer to my grandmother and her cultural heritage. Moreover, I learned so much; about gardening, cooking (with Diana), teaching, Tana Toraja and her traditions. Me, the other volunteers and Natsir spent many evenings sitting in front of the family’s house talking to each other. That’s how we also learned a lot about Natsir’s ambitions, thoughts and concerns about and for this region. There is one thing in particular that he said that has stuck with me ever since. On several occasions he had mentioned that the community did not always believe nor support his projects (like teaching the children for free). He experienced quite some satbacks and resistance from family and close friends. I asked him what it was that kept him motived through all this hardship. He answered this question with just one word: “humanity”.
Years have gone by and it is now 2019. I find myself in Indonesia again and a trip to Indonesia is not complete without visiting Natsir and Diana. This time I brought my boyfriend and once again I was welcomed into their family’s home. It was great to see what Natsir had been able to achieve over the years. It was clear that his mission to help humanity was far from over. He had built new bungalows for his bed and breakfast, was organizing chocolate making workshops and had been sponsored by a large coorparation which enabled him to built new school buildings. This time around my activities were less centered around the garden and involved more teaching, since nowadays three groups of students came three times a week, instead of one group coming once a week. We therefore were quite busy with preparing the different classes, which was challenging but also a lot of fun.
It was amazing to see all the changed that had been made over the years. Moreover, it seemed that Natsir’s efforts were slowely getting more national recognition. In the three weeks that were there Natsir had gotten the news that he was nominated for the ‘Local Hero’ award, for which he had to fly to Jakarta. Great news. However, Natsir is a tough one to satisfy, since his mind is always on the next big step or project. What’s most admirable about his plans are that they are never really about himself, but always revolve about helping others. Whether it’s his children (and finding ways to have them go to college), local students (and improving their English), farmers (helping them to turn their crops into products they could sell) or the environment (by creating more awareness about (plastic) waste and the importace of nature).
So is Natsir and Diana’s place worth a visit? Absolutely.
Why? Because teaching the students is a lot of fun and very rewarding, because Diana’s food is delicious, because it gives you the opportunity to learn more about Tana Toraja and it’s people, because Natsir is someone who inspires me to be a better person and it’s a wonderful experience to somewhat help him reach his goals, because there’s GREAT homemade chocolate, because the scenery is beautiful, because you will meet fellow volunteers from all over the world, and the list goes on…
So go ahead and experience it yourself, and who knows, maybe I’ll meet you there because I definitely hope to go back.