Beyond the lush vegetation of southern Bali, we bounce along a pot-holed road, dust flying into dried up rivers with floors of stone. This is a rain-shadow. Beyond the waters of the sea that flows to Java, is a village without water. Wake Water took me there to inspect three water tanks that were helping make a difference in an impoverished village.
I travelled with my Rotary Club of Bali Canggu, a club that is part of Rotary International, with over 33,000 clubs in 200 countries. Each is committed to areas of focus such as health needs and literacy. I have been a member for six years, but nothing, not even knowledge of how dry it was up in the north of the island, prepared me for the poverty I saw.
I chose to walk the rest of the dirt road leading into the village to get a better connection with the land and its people. My camera pointed to big pots full of furiously boiling fluid. “Gula,” smiled a toothless woman, pointing upwards to the trees. This made no sense to me. Gula is sugar. Surely she meant fruit?
I later learned what she meant, and also experienced my first true mocking by a group of Balinese women. In Bali, if a woman does not know something commonly known by locals, they are thought to be incredibly stupid. I naively asked why plastic bags were tied high in the palm trees. Midst their mirth at my stupidity, I understood that it was fruit. But I was no closer to the answer.
The answer came when I asked what the primary source of income was from the project leader, Dustin Ederer of Wake Water. Palm sugar is collected by wrapping bags around it. The sweetness seeps out in the searing sun. When the bag is full, it is collected and poured into huge wok-like steel vessels and cooked and cooked until it reduces down to a pulp. This is then dried until it becomes the granules we know as palm sugar.
Labour intensive, it can earn the family around $US30 a week, but at $1.50 a kilo, it’s a long road to survival. In the north, it is one of the few ways to earn a living from the land.
The area is almost devoid of water, particularly in the dry season, and more so when there is drought, common in northern Bali. The ground is hard rock, making it impossible to drill a well. Money had been spent and wasted on huge pits, perils for children, disease and cracks. The abandoned failed caverns dot the hills, testimony to the desperation of the people.
I pause to engage with some children. They are hopelessly filthy, a sign of not only insufficient water to clean, but the impossible task of staying clean in the dust pit that is their playground.
Children do not always attend school, so illiteracy is high. There is a school perched someway up the road, but the sheer thought of getting there would likely be enough to keep many away. In the wet months when the dust becomes a mud bath, it would be impossible to leave the village.
We wind our way up to the top of the village where a cock fight is engaging the locals. There is not much that happens in the village outside the regular ceremonies, so this is a welcomed relief. A toothless woman thrusts her bird toward me, urgently begging ‘fotonya’ to me, meaning to take the photo. I do, and capture the chicken in its glory. But I cannot watch the fight. It is without thought for the birds, only for the small money that flutters from hand to ground to grubby pocket. Gambling is illegal in Indonesia, but it is the main past-time of most of the men in Bali. A little like two-up is considered in Australia – illegal, except for special occasions.
Two young men hold their cockerals high for the crowd to inspect. A sea of heads obliterates my view, to my relief, until the cocks spill out of the circle. Quickly they are captured and stuffed under a cage to increase their rage toward each other.
The children are involved, becoming incensed at some discrepency with the books. Life in Bali is colourful and energetic, and regardless of my feelings of animal cruelty, it is impossible to not be intrigued by the carnival atmosphere of a remote cock fight. It is something that must be accepted, as there are far more pressing issues than asking PETA to attend. Not that I would think of this. But in this tiny village, water is the priority.
Life in the village is a cycle of survival and hardship. In Bali, mental illness is something locals often do not know how to deal with. One boy’s mother died in childbirth. His father, suffering mental illness, abandoned him in the jungle. He survived, developing a strange language and bonding with wild dogs. He was taken in by an orphanage but now has returned to the village where various families take care of him. His childlike nature captivates me, but, he is unteachable, unable to learn English or Indonesian. He is just one of the hundreds who benefit through the generosity of people who supply tanks. With water taken care of, the village is able to focus on developing its community.
In 2013, a Rotarian at the Rotary Club of Bali Canggu, Jung, put forward a project to help these people. Dustin Ederer had investigated building tanks in the region and together they knew that it fit with Rotary International’s areas of focus, being water and sanitation.
Another club in England offered around $4,000 to start the project. Rotary Club of Canggu also raised funds. In 2014 after much consultation, the tanks began to be built. There was debate surrounding the size and construction, which resulted in the best possible solution being delivered to the village. Sustainability and availability are critical factors in a successful project.
A family spends roughly $150 on water each year, so the project managers ask that they invest this into the project for the first year. A financial commitment makes it a better community option.
The tank will last around 20 years and is sufficient to service a family of four. So far, there are three tanks, with many more waiting to be built. The tank takes four days to build, and is around $US500 (after the contribution by the family). Wages are paid to locals, and materials readily available across Indonesia. This means the project can be moved from village to village without needing to alter the plan. Plastic tanks are not always available, and access to remote areas is almost impossible.
They are built above ground due to the difficulty of drilling through the volcanic rock. However, with further funding, it is hoped that in time, they will shift underground.
Consideration needs to be given to location as well. Much land is considered holy, and cannot be built upon.
Once built, there is the painful task of waiting for rain. The wet season does not begin until October, so the families admire their empty tanks until the heavens fill them with life-saving water.
Literally hundreds of tanks are needed. While Rotary has raised money for several, this is the tip of the iceberg. In reality, $55,000 is needed to increase the scope of Wake Water (not associated in any way with the dolphin enclosure) and reach thousands of people.
But as with all good plans, they begin one step at a time. With $US1,000 we can build two more tanks, quickly.
Dustin keeps visitors to the villages to a minimum to preserve their essence and dignity. So your contribution may be no more than a photo down the track, posted on the Rotary Club of Canggu’s Facebook page. But you will know you have changed the life of an entire family.
Literacy possibilities in the region are also needed. Children do not often attend school, so a solution is needed to provide materials that are self-evident in teaching. By encouraging literacy, perhaps the track to the local school will be beaten. And the young people of the village will obtain employment in other areas in Bali, as there is none available here.
An example of success when a family member gains employment is our final resting place. A rather grand home stands out amongst the shanties and huts. Dustin explains that a son got employment in Denpasar and sent money home for his brother to build the home. One of his sister’s is fluent in English. These skills are gained by the few children who receive opportunities in orphanages who take in children from large families who cannot afford to give them an education. I met many of these children at Stella’s Child Project earlier this year. While removing a child from a family is not ideal, all who I spoke to were grateful for the opportunities given. We simply can’t apply western sentiment when sometimes, what is best for the child is an education, and ultimately, best for the family.
But for now, the most pressing need is water.
I knew there was poverty in Bali. But until you have walked through it, you cannot know its depths, nor that just one hour from lush rice fields, there are villages, literally devoid of water.
Grubby faces, and feet that I suspect will never be clean, play on my mind as we drive back down the lush hills to Candidasa.
As a Rotarian, becoming actively involved in projects is essential. While friendships are built, they are cemented by a common cause to make other peoples’ lives better. I am proud more than ever of their invitation to me to join six years ago. At the time, I did not realise its importance or strength globally, in serving communities around the planet.
Your contribution will build two new tanks for two families. Rotary International will handle your funds via myself (Rotary is an audited club and organisation).
Watch the trailer Mountain of Bali!
Rotary Club of Canggu can be found at www.rotarycanggu.org, or for recent news, Facebook.
Clare McAlaney is author of Bali Soul Journals, Bali Eseence, Things you need to know about Bali and The Bootongs of Bali. Learn more at Creatavision Publishing. She is a Rotarian at Rotary Club of Bali Canggu and is responsible for PR and branding. Please contact Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to use any of the above information or images.
All images and text copyright Clare McAlaney 2015.
Clare is also founder of Bali Travel Group. She would love to see you there!