Neil was born in London in 1969, the second son of two loving and adventurous parents who left Madras in 1954 shortly after India achieved independence. In the first year of Neil’s life, his father accepted a job as a bank manager in Canada and the family sailed across the Atlantic to start a new life in Ontario.
As a child, Neil dreamed of becoming a professional hockey player. He became an avid fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and has fond memories of attending games with his father and brother at the now historic Maple Leaf Gardens. He soon learned, however, that his athletic talents were best exhibited off the ice as he could not skate. At 6’4”, he found his niche on the high school basketball and volleyball teams instead. He then attended the University of Toronto, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Canadian and American History. His goal was to work in law enforcement, but the severity of a hereditary degenerative eye condition precluded him from pursuing that career path.
It was at this time that he found his vocation as an educator when he volunteered in a primary classroom. “I was drawn to the children’s honesty, their wide-eyed enthusiasm and boundless curiosity,” says Neil. The prospect of working in an environment where a strong sense of community prevailed was also a determining factor in his choice to pursue a teaching certificate, followed by a Master’s degree in Elementary Education at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.
Piggybacking on his parents adventurous spirit, Neil then moved west to Calgary, Alberta. Like most Canadians, he became an avid outdoor enthusiast, spending weekends backpacking, hiking, camping, and skiing. A keen cyclist and runner as well, Neil also started training for triathlons at this time.
Neil was a founding teacher of Webber Academy in Calgary, where he taught for 10 years, both in the classroom as a Grade 4 and 6 teacher, and as a physical education instructor and department head. An active member of the community, Neil coached track and field, basketball and volleyball. He facilitated outdoor education trips and the school’s annual Ottawa Federal Government Excursion and Spanish Immersion trip to Spain. Having been such an integral a part of school life, he was asked to return to be the keynote speaker in 2008 by his first Grade 4 class at Webber.
He was trusted unconditionally by each and every student, and each and every member of staff at Webber Academy, and continues to be held in the highest regard several years after his departure from the school. (AW)
Neil met his wife, Tracy, also a physical education teacher, through friends at a professional development workshop he hosted at an annual independent school teachers conference in Calgary. Both passionate about travel and the outdoors, the two spent their first summer together camping their way along the west coast of Australia. They married just two years later on the 4th of July (07/04/07), and then set off for Singapore to start their international teaching career. The front cover of their wedding album is titled “747, our love is like a jumbo jet.”
Singapore was the perfect location to begin exploring Asia, giving Neil the opportunity to pursue his interest in photography, seeing the world through the clarity of the lens, while he and Tracy immersed themselves in the living history of each destination. Most holidays were guided by intuition and a desire to learn how people live in places like China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines. Curious attempts at conversation, in a foreign language, often resulted in treasured and humorous travel stories that Neil is renowned for telling in the company of friends.
During their final year teaching physical education at the Canadian School in Singapore, Neil and Tracy developed and led the first physical education teacher training program in Siem Reap through a charitable organization in Cambodia. This experience inspired them to seek out a more dynamic place to live, where they could be more involved in service projects in the local community. When they were offered jobs at Jakarta Intercultural School in 2010, they gladly accepted. Both of them were employed as physical education specialists. Neil attributes “the warmth of the (Indonesian) people, their ready smiles, welcoming nature and willingness to help” to their rapid assimilation in their host country. Or maybe it was Neil’s passion for cycling that led him to make connections with the community. He started collecting antique bicycles and designed a becak for Tracy’s 40th birthday, which he had shipped from Yogyakarta. You may have seen her riding on Jalan Sudirman on any given Sunday with Neil in tow, bringing smiles to the many onlookers at the site of a “bule” (foreigner) on a becak! Dedicated to improving the lives of others, both in the community and school, it was clear that the Bantlemans brought their enthusiasm for service with them to JIS. Within the first year, Neil was identified as a leader in this field, and was selected to take on the elementary school’s first service learning coordinator position. In this role, he supported organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Kampung Kids, Sekolah Kami, Sekolah Musika, XS Project, KDM and GK Indonesia by inspiring students to take action in the community and by facilitating projects with them.