Lombok School Project: Steps we’re taking to avoid being white saviors

As a white person leading a group of women to sponsor a school in Indonesia, I feel it’s important to share what we’re doing as a team to avoid being white saviors

If you’re unsure what a white savior is read my blog: Let’s Stop Being White Saviors when Traveling, Volunteering, and Working Overseas

Who are we?

We are a team of adventurous compassionate women who have come together to raise funds to build a school in Lombok.

Rather than just going on holiday, we also want to have a positive impact while travelling – socially and environmentally. 

What is the scope of the project?

The scope of this project includes raising funds to build a school in Lombok, learning how to be better global citizens, and traveling to Lombok and Bai for an impact trip (a mix of sightseeing, visiting the school, recycling factory, cultural activities, and pampering). 

Lombok was struck by a devastating earthquakes in 2018. Most of the schools destroyed still need to be re-built. As is common practice when a natural or man-made disaster occurs, anywhere in the world, donations from people overseas impacted communities get back on their feet more quickly. However, the world didn’t pay much attention to the needs of the people in Lombok. They are still in need of support and that’s why we decided to get involved – to aid their recovery after a terrible natural disaster. 

The educational element of this project is designed to optimise our impact–before, during, and after the trip. For those of us who benefit from white privilege, this includes unpacking our unconscious bias and becoming better anti-racist advocates. 

Find out more about the school <HERE>.

Who are we partnering with?

Partnerships are at the heart of the way this project is being delivered.

The ‘impact’ aspect of the trip is delivered by partners based in Indonesia.

Our main partner is the charity partner Classroom of Hope has been helping the island recover by building new schools since 2018. They have an excellent track record of building child-friendly schools in Asia, through partnering with UNICEF, local agencies, authorities, and other charities.

Classroom of Hope is based in Bali and has been providing critical support in Lombok since the earthquake struck. They have good relationships and long-term experience of working with local communities and authorities. During the COVID pandemic, they have been providing funds and support to local projects who are feeding many on Bali who are without any income. 

We also partner with other charities and travel companies with similar values. 

Helping solve critical problems

In 2018, more than 500 people were killed, thousands of families were left homeless and over 400 schools were destroyed when a series of earthquakes struck the Indonesian island of Lombok (east of Bali). 

But thousands of children are still out of school because Lombok has had very little overseas aid to help them rebuild. There is also a huge problem with rubbish in Indonesia.

Classroom of hope was requested by local authorities to help come up with a solution to build cost-effective safe schools and come up with a sustainable solution that helped reduce plastic pollution in Indonesia. 

After a robust in-country assessment Classroom of Hope, identified how to tackle both problems: the lack of safe child-friendly schools and too much rubbish. 

Together we are raising funds to build the second earthquake-resistant school in the world that is made of recycled plastic blocks as part of the Eco-School project. These schools can be built in a matter of days, will last longer than conventional schools, will help clean up the environment, and create local jobs too. 

As the school we’re funding is part of a pilot program, the blocks for our school will be sourced from a circular economy company, Block Solutions in Finland. However, plans are in progress to build the first plastic block factory in Lombok. Thus creating local jobs and providing a sustainable way to clear and recycle local plastic rubbish. 

Who is actually building the school?

None of us are building experts and we don’t believe it’s appropriate for unskilled people to physically build the schools anywhere, let alone as volunteers overseas. We want to create job opportunities for locals rather than taking jobs away from them.

Throughout the pilot project, local contractors are being trained on the block build technology. Going forward only local people will be used to build the school. The factory and distribution business side of the project will be an Indonesian-owned, run, and staffed operation. 

How is the fundraising team preparing for the trip?

Pre-trip training and conversations play a huge part in this project. Topics we cover include: 

  • Fundraising – both personally and through businesses. 
  • Antiracism – all team members are invested in taking the time to unpack their white privilege and unconscious bias. This includes covering topics such as white saviour complex and white centering. 
  • Responsible tourism – e.g. appropriate photos to take (and share) and where permission is necessary. Plus ways to minimise our environmental impact. 
  • Impact travel – including choosing restaurants, activities, and cultural activities provided by local projects, charities, and social enterprises. 
  • Cultural learning – learning about the history and culture of Indonesia, Lombok, and Bali. 

Why is it OK for us to visit the school when I usually advise others against visiting schools?

Schools are educational establishments. They are not tourist attractions or practice grounds for unskilled volunteers to develop their skills. 

Communities we work with like to celebrate and thank those who have funded the schools. As fundraisers, we also have a responsibility to show our donors how their funds have been invested. 

It’s up to school and community leaders to decide the best way for us to visit the school, including whether or not pupils will be present. They are the hosts of whatever celebration they decide is appropriate for their village, culture, and pupils. 

Yes, we visit the school but only as guests of a community-led event. If children are present, we work with local partners to ensure child safety, and minimise any disruption to their education. 

Do we volunteer at the school?

No. We don’t believe it’s appropriate for westerners to volunteer in schools overseas other than in critical situations (e.g. after a war, natural disaster, or genocide) where there is a lack of locally qualified teachers. Or as part of a project that’s incorporated into the local curriculum or at the request of local government agencies. 

Do we hand out supplies at the school?

This depends on the needs of the specific school and community.  Any materials given to the school are sourced from local suppliers. 

What photos or film footage are taken at the school?

We get permission from the school (and parents) for photos and films to be taken while visiting the school. 

Our team members are also trained on appropriate pictures to take and sign an agreement to comply with certain guidelines. 

We are conscious that images and films tell a story. As well as taking images and films of our experiences, where possible we’ll also be seeking to share the stories people in the community want to tell. 


Lombok has received little international aid since the devastating earthquakes.

We see our role as contributing to the funds needed to help get so many communities back on their feet and supporting the development of sustainable solutions that could positively affect millions of people who live in earthquake zones around the world. It’s also exciting to be part of such an innovative project that will help rid the ocean and islands of plastic rubbish. 

While we are doing what we can to avoid being white saviors, we realise no matter what we do, those of us with white privilege are still likely to be perceived as white saviors by some. 

However, the people and opinions we care about the most are those directly involved in this project–our local in-country partners and people in the communities who will benefit from the school. Let them judge whether our support is of benefit or not. We will share what they think after our trip. 

The Meaningful Life Guide, Author, and Coach
For women who want to enjoy a happy meaningful life that lights up their heart and makes a difference in the world

P.S.  Check out My Meaningful Life Coaching Programme <HERE>

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves travelling, and living by the beach in Scotland.

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