When I first met Fayed El-Salim three years ago, he was working at an internet cafe in the tourist destination of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. The fact that he sent half of his meager salary back to the island of Lombok to support his wife and two children, while donating the other half of his earnings to the school in his village, instantly struck a chord with me. I knew that this was a good person to know.
In my travels, I've encountered so much self indulgence and hedonism that sometimes I want to give up on humanity. Then, to meet someone who was genuinely selfless and altruistic as a lifestyle (and not because it gave them an image), was like finding a diamond in a sea of replicas.
Three years later, the internet cafe has long been demolished. The government forced Fayed's family to give up the land to foreign investors for the sake of tourism development. It is now being turned into an upscale resort.
Yet, even without the cafe's income, Fayed is responsible for kick starting great gains for his community and helping the school where his family now resides. That is because Fayed is the man who first introduced me to Lombok, and to his village of Gunung Sari. It was Fayed's kindness, generosity, and open mindedness that inspired me to start fundraising in America, and to start a program that would help his entire village.
Fayed helps his cousin, Ajiek, run the school called Banu Sanusi. It was started generations ago by Ajiek's grandfather as a conservative environment for strict Muslim studies. However, in recent years, Ajiek and Fayed have shared a new vision in education. While remaining true to their studies of Islam, Banu Sanusi wishes to expose the children to other cultures, religions, and new ways of thinking. For years, Fayed and Ajiek brought foreigners to the school in hopes they would teach the children something new and exciting. Unfortunately, no one stuck around for more than a few days, and the children were often afraid to approach them.
A few nights ago, Fayed expressed to me how grateful he was to have Music for Lombok because it has changed the children's attitudes and perspectives. We are the first teachers to stay for more than a few days - in fact, we are sticking around for an entire month. In the future, we hope to stay even longer. The first few days, we felt like celebrities. We couldn't walk down the street without dozens of people calling out in curiosity.
Since Music for Lombok volunteers have been living at the school, our foreign faces have become a common fixture in the village. While we teach in the afternoons, we are accessible to the children at all times of the day. As a result, the children have really come out of their shells. They approach us and they ask us questions. They feel more comfortable around us and willing to learn.
"Some of the kids don't even speak English, but it's alright," said volunteer music teacher Andrew Delneky, who graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in vocal performance, "Because we can use music as a universal language."
Fayed explained to me how there are only two schools he knows of that have international teachers in Lombok, an Indonesian island with a population of more than three million people. Both of these schools, he laments, are incredibly expensive. Music education is generally reserved for privileged families in Lombok as well. Meanwhile, Fayed and Ajiek allow many of the children at Banu Sanusi to live at the school and take classes for free due to the fact that their families can not afford to educate them. Some of the children are actual orphans, while others were abandoned by parents who succumbed to the weight of extreme poverty.
As a result, the children show great enthusiasm for the opportunities that Fayed and Ajiek have brought to their school. Not only do they have the chance to learn English and multiculturalism, but they have the opportunity to learn piano, guitar, and "bahasa musik" as well. At all hours of the day and night, we hear them practicing their scales and English songs diligently, teaching one another all that they learned in their private lessons. Among the music teacher volunteers, we discuss how amazed we are to hear so much practicing. Never have we encountered a group of children so eager to discover and quick to absorb.
"It's all they have," commented volunteer Lucas MacRoberts, former guitarist for The Drastics who had been teaching guitar for Chicago's School of Rock for years, "You look around and realize that there are no distractions. They don't have TV, and they don't have any video games. But they have these guitars, and they want to learn."
Back to Fayed, my nomination for man of the year, largely for the way he welcomed all who are involved with Music for Lombok. He instantly befriended everyone, and looks out for the well-being of each person involved. Fayed was there when Lucas went to the hospital, for an injury he sustained from a weekend surf trip. Fayed makes sure we are fed and happy, as well as entertained. He looks out for us just like he looks out for his family and students. Fayed makes us feel like we are home.
Although he doesn't like to brag about it, Fayed is an educated and intelligent individual. He is well versed in literature and philosophy. A strict Muslim, Fayed practices both religious and cultural tolerance and understanding.
"It is written into the texts of Islam," explained Fayed one night, "That it is God's will for us to respect one another, regardless of religion or background. Once upon a time, all faiths lived together in the Middle East. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus - we all come from the same roots." Fayed went on to explain how the religious texts somehow became misinterpreted along the way, thus motivating people to kill one another because of religion.
However, people like Fayed on the island of Lombok offer a glimmer of hope for the future. For the most part, Lombok is like a breath of fresh tropical air, an example of religious peace on earth.
"That side of the street is Hindu," Fayed pointed out one day as we rode to the mountain on his motorbike, "Right across, they are Muslim. The Hindus and Muslims, they are friends here."
Lombok is a place where Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism (and now a hint of Judaism thanks to Music for Lombok), coexist peacefully within the same community. It is a safe place to learn about one anther's traditions, while respecting our differences and similarities. In a world where so many people believe we should fight religious extremism with more violence, Fayed believes we can fight religious extremism by learning from one another and setting a good example for progression and tolerance.
I find Fayed to be an inspiring individual. He is by no means wealthy, yet, he manages to project a wealth of goodness out unto to the world. Above all, Fayed certainly demonstrates the epitome of open-mindedness. He sets a good example for the children and for everyone around him by promoting education and learning, while remaining true to his own convictions.
- Kat Vallera
To learn more about Music for Lombok, please visit: www.mflchicago.org