Recently, my brother, nephew, and I returned home to Indonesia to reunite with my parents and sister for a special trip – a surprise for my mom’s 70th birthday. Although I grew up in Java, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to many of the Indonesian archipelago’s islands (there are more than 13,000 of them). The island of Sumba wasn’t even on my travel radar until our editorial team featured Nihi Sumba Island (formerly Nihiwatu) in Virtuoso Life a few years ago. I’d wanted to check out Nihi’s thatched huts and gorgeous, secluded white-sand beach ever since. I had no idea how affected I’d be by our time there.

When I arrived with my family, I discovered a resort that truly showcases gracious style, as well as community involvement and respect for nature. I was blown away by the resort owners’ and staff’s deep commitment to helping locals through The Sumba Foundation.

I learned about the foundation from Nihi Sumba’s staff: The driver who picked us up at the airport talked about how the resort has changed life for the Sumbanese people, who live in some of the most impoverished conditions in the world. The foundation aims to alleviate poverty and eradicate malaria by providing locals with access to clean water, education, and health care.

When our butler captain, Miss Anggri, took us to the resort’s NihiOka spa facility, we stopped en route at a local village where we met a group of kids – all recipients of the foundation’s education initiatives – who stole my heart with their smiles. We bought local crafts from the villagers – another chance to help support the local economy. Later at the spa, my masseuse praised Nihi for not only providing her with a job but also for teaching English to her and 500 other staff members.

I left paradise with the biggest sense of gratitude – thankful for time with my family, as well as for what the resort and its guests have given back to the locals in this unforgettable place.

Photos and text by Melanie Fowler, design director, Virtuoso.