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Carlos Ferrandiz

Drew Corridore talks to Spanish philanthropist Carlos Ferrandiz about the meaning of love and striving for global equity. Photo: Spencer Hansen.

Hi Carlos, can you tell us a bit about your background before you came to Indonesia.

Before arriving in Indonesia I was a lawyer in Spain and I was working in a large law firm for seven years. I had the professional career I had always aimed for, now I would say it was a career that many would envy. Since I was a child my parents taught me the difficulties of life and how important is to be prepared and strong in whatever you do. My parents always tried to give the best to us. I worked very hard in my life to achieve where I was and I felt I was happy when my life changed on arrival to Indonesia. I learnt there what was the most important thing is in this life, love.

What inspired you to make the move to Indonesia?

Since I was a child my parents instilled in me the importance of helping others. They took me from when I was six years old to help with humanitarian work . . . my main work there was in hospitals for the physically and mentally disabled. I think I owe this humanitarian mission in large part to my parents, Carlos and Maria Jose, and to my sister, Laura, as they have taught me since I was a really small child to appreciate what really matters in life like love, health, friendship, happiness, appreciating what you have, taking advantage of knowing the tough times and dealing with them as much as possible with a huge smile.

What was it about Sumbawa that led you to create Harapan Project?

I was approached by a child seven years ago on my first trip to Sumbawa. He tried to communicate with me but was speaking in Indonesian – a language I couldn’t speak at all, so I couldn’t understand and I asked him if he spoke English. He said no, he only spoke a few words. This surprised me greatly because it is the only language locals could communicate with to the little amount of tourists that came to the island. I told him the next day I was going to teach him English and that he should tell his friends to also come to my class. The next day I went to the meeting place I had agreed with that child . . . I had a blackboard that I had borrowed from one of the few hotels that exist in the area and my books to learn Indonesian from English (I was planning to use the books in the opposite direction). To my surprise I found the whole population of the closest village had turned up – about 150 people, among whom were children, parents and even grandparents. Dazzled by these people’s desire to learn, I decided that my life should change to help these people. At that point Harapan Project was born.

What does the project seek to achieve?

The Harapan project consists of an eco-sustainable development centre with the aim of improving the living conditions of the local population, strengthening the Indonesian teachers’ training and improving the educational, working and incoming opportunities for the local population of Hu’u. The real goal is to teach the local people how to manage the centre so that they can manage it alone in some years. This project belongs to the local people and the most important thing is to show them how to make it sustainable, how to fundraise for it, and how to create income that, in turn, creates social businesses that will fund the whole project. In this way it is not always necessary to rely on external help.

Where do you see the main social disconnects existing in Indonesia . . . especially with regard to Sumbawa, but maybe you can extrapolate to other areas.

The social imbalance in Indonesia is very big. The imbalance between islands is amazing. When people arrive for the first time to Sumbawa they usually say things like, “this is like Bali 20 years ago”. This is what I am talking about; the economic and social development level is totally different between the islands. It is very sad but as in the rest of the world the opportunities in life depend totally on where you are born.

How does Harapan Project go about achieving its goals?

The economic situation of the project has been very difficult since the beginning. I started the project from zero and without any economic help. Little by little we have achieved every project aim that we could afford. So far we have achieved amazing things. We have saved many lives and taught many children to read and write – English and geography. We still have a long way to go, even further when we are talking about education. Now the most important thing is to keep fighting every single day. I truly believe that if you work for something good at the end the doors you need will be opened.

What kind of personal fulfillment does the project bring you?

Since the first time I arrived to Sumbawa I felt that this was my place, the place that I was born to live, that these my people. What is more important is that I found the real way of my life. The love that everyday these people – and more the children – give to me is the most beautiful thing I ever felt. It’s what gives sense to all this dedication and fight. There is nothing in this world more beautiful. This is the most pure love I have ever felt in my life.

You left a lot behind you in Spain – is it worth the loss? Is it a loss?

I left many important things in Spain including my family, my friends and my old life. I think it’s always difficult to move out of your comfort zone. I mean there are many difficult moments when you wish to be with your loved ones but I know this is my dream in life and this is the cost of following my dream. It’s important to help these people have better lives because they really deserve it. My rewards from living here more than compensate for any losses.

Do you have any regrets?

Surely I miss many important things. For me it is very important to have my loved ones close. It is very hard to miss the first steps of my nephews and to be far from my loved ones when they need me and vice versa but what I am doing here is also very important to me.

In a “perfect” world what would the social structure resemble?

In a “perfect” world every person would be equal. They would have the same opportunities in their lives no matter where they are born.

Your philosophy on life?

In this life I believe it is very important to do what makes you happy, to do what you believe and to follow your dreams, no matter how hard it is and no matter what you leave behind. It is important to live without fear.