I collected this interview a while ago, but I am happy to invite you to read it again, because Fiona is presently involved in a 400 kms hike around the island of Lombok and to reach the summit of Mr Rajani. Fiona does this to raise funds for her foundation, Fiona Unity. Read the interview and if you can, please support this beautiful project and Fiona’s hike. I just did it.
I met Fiona, an Australian lady, at an international dinner organized by a friend. I heard she had a “foundation”, but was unable to talk to her during that night – too many people and new faces. I contacted her later because I was curious: I am always on the hunt for expats who do something meaningful with their lives abroad. A “foundation” could only mean something good. Fiona and I met over coffee, and she was very generous in sharing her beautiful experience and thoughts.
Fiona moved to Indonesia many years ago for her husband’s job. A lively woman, she dutifully fit into her role of accompanying wife. “At that moment we had to entertain a lot and participate in many social events, so my life mostly revolved around the right dress to wear and the matching make up to be always nice and presentable”, she says. It was only when the family moved to Tanzania for three years that Fiona started seeing a different reality. “When I came back to Indonesia from Africa, I could no longer live the kind of life I lived before”, she tells me. “When you see that with what people spend to buy a handbag you could feed a whole village, you acquire an awareness that changes your life in many ways”.
Something more profound was about to change in Fiona, though. One night she was in Bali with her family, watching a concert where some of the children of Elisama Orphanage sang Christmas carols. There was a girl among them, who for some reason hit straight to Fiona’s heart. She sat there mesmerized, watching the little girl singing her songs, and at the end of the concert she asked to be taken to the orphanage where the girl was living. And that was the beginning of a story of engagement, motivation, passion and love.
Fiona was terribly impressed by the place. Founded in 1991 by Esther Tinggalini Ketut, a Balinese woman who was raised in an orphanage and felt she had to give back what she had received, the Elisama Foundation and Orphanage was followed in 2006 by another orphanage in Singaraja. All together the two places currently welcome 69 children from 6 months to 19 years of age. They both rely only on spontaneous donations – the government contributes with about half a dollar per child per month.
Even with little funding available, Elisama is a beautiful place, where children grow up in a loving, caring and warm environment. Fiona decided to support them and started raising money to improve the orphanage. “So far I have raised funds to pay the drilling of a water bore and purchasing pumps, as well as building a 265 meter security fence for Elisama Singaraja. Cleared a huge area of land and developed it into a grassed playground area complete with playground equipment, cement tables, chairs and shade trees. Developed a large orchard and vegetable gardens with many types of fruit trees and fast producing vegetables, and paid for the education of all children at both Orphanages for the past three years”.
Fiona visits the place regularly and rolls up her sleeves to work alongside the stuff and children. But she does not only use her arms. Indeed, her legs become a very important tool in her tireless search for funding. Fiona is determined to pay for the education for all children at both orphanages. “These children deserve a loving environment and the proper education to pursue their dreams”, says Fiona. “Many dream big – they want to become doctors, pilots, teachers, nurses…And they do manage! This proves that when given the right conditions, all children can achieve their full potential. They have all the rights to be provided with love and education like their luckier peers”.
Fiona decides to walk to raise money. She is not scared by the hardship of the walks she asks to be sponsored for. In May 2012 she had climbed Mount Rinjani, Indonesia second highest mountain. An extremely difficult and dangerous mountain to conquer, but the thought of raising money for her children kept her going. In July 2013 she had started a new walk: the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. This is considered as one of the toughest treks in the world. The vertical height over the track is around 5,500 metres with similar downhill drops. Fiona made it, carrying 10 kgs backpack on her shoulders, in an environment with 96% humidity and facing leaches and malaria. These two walks had allowed to improve the water system of the orphanage and to create orchards and playing spaces.
On 15th November 2014 Fiona started a walk of 450 kms around the island of Bali. She was on her own, followed only by a support vehicle for fifteen days. “It has been such an amazing experience”, she says. “I have been welcomed and supported all along the trek, encouraged and hosted whenever possible. I was walking to raise the funds for a five year education plan for all the children at both Elisama Orphanages and also to raise awareness about Elisama and the wonderful work they do. We need to continue giving, if we want children to study”.
Fiona dreams of a world where more companies and organizations commit to help these children, who are the future of the country. “No amount is ever too small to help, but some institutions do not donate at all. This is something I just cannot come to terms with. By helping these children, we contribute to a bright future ”. Fiona not only raises money, but she is extremely passionate about educating the kids at Elisama about recycling and protecting their beautiful island. She has set up a recycling system at both Orphanages, and she actively participates whenever she can.
I am moved and inspired by this woman who has turned her experience abroad into something so meaningful and helpful. I want to finish the article with some words Fiona sent me when I first contacted her to get to know her story: “I believe so much in these kids that have come from nothing, and quite a few from situations you and I cannot begin to imagine. I believe Education is the key to a better future. I believe these kids are the future. They never give up and neither will I”.
Thank you, Fiona.
If you can, please support Fiona Unity Foundation. This is their website: http://fionaunity.org
Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)
Photo credit ©Fiona