Selamat malam! I’m excited to say that I am writing this blog post from Bali having been here a week already, but what am I doing in Bali?!
Bali is the ultimate holiday destination for loved-up couples looking to honeymoon, or for yoga enthusiasts on a spiritual retreat. It has mountains, it has beaches, it has rice fields and temples, it’s famous for surfing and cheeky monkeys, for culture and beauty; Bali seems to be paradise! That is, for the tourists…
Okay so you may have guessed, I’m not here for a holiday, this isn’t just another solo travel episode; I’m here on a mission to serve the Balinese people!
As you may know, last year I spent a month and a half in South East Asia and in that time I really came to know and love the culture and the people. Now, having been given the opportunity to volunteer abroad by my church, I really wanted to give something back to South East Asian community.
So here I am in Bali, volunteering with a group of people from all over the world; Japan, Brazil, Argentina, America, Germany and many other countries. A good number of the volunteers here are Indonesian from Bali and other islands nearby. Some have been here volunteering for more than 10 years, others are here on a short term trip like myself.
The Other Side of Bali
So what is the need of the Balinese? Where tourists may benefit from the extremely low cost of living compared to the western world, the local people don’t always benefit from it. Here are some of the main issues the Balinese face.
The average person here will earn less than $2 per day, but those are the lucky ones who have jobs. Many are unemployed and therefore struggle to make enough to live on, so it isn’t uncommon to see street children who are unable to go to school and get an education.
There are also many animals that wander the streets in the gutters, or in large piles of litter. Amongst poverty there tends to be outbreaks of diseases due to an inability to obtain medical care. A recent outbreak of rabies was reported across Indonesia which makes it dangerous with the stray animals that seem to be everywhere.
As a result of poverty, many young girls (and in some areas boys) are coerced and forced into a life of prostitution which they feel they can’t escape. It may have started as what they thought to be a job at the bar, but they rank up debts to the owner when they don’t hit certain “targets” and are forced to go with men to make enough money to pay back their debts. Those who resist are usually broken down until they comply. They don’t have anywhere to run, many don’t have family to go to. The majority of these girls are not educated and so do not have a full understanding of the consequences of unprotected sex and therefore catch HIV/AIDS or get pregnant and are not in a position to look after their children.
These girls rely on drugs and alcohol to get them through the nights, they have no sense of self worth and have become hardened to the world. Some at very young ages.
Poverty also means that getting an education is near enough impossible, causing a destructive circle that people don’t feel they can escape. Education would mean that opportunities would open up for the people and this means a chance to break the cycle of poverty. One of the main ways to make money is through tourism, so learning English is an essential skill that can become a way to make money.
The beautiful shores of Bali are no exception to the hideous plastic problem that the world faces. Every January the stunning shorelines turn into dumpsters as tons and tons of litter pollutes the shores. But it isn’t just a problem on the shores, you don’t have to look far to see the pollution. In the gutters, by the sides of the road, across fields and even next to temples.
The problem really hit home when I saw a tiny kitten lying amongst a pile of rubbish with flies on it’s back. I was so sad that I couldn’t do anything for the little guy as he mewed gently at me, but even a couple of steps past this kitten was a hen and her chicks in the gutter pecking at a plastic bag, and a couple of steps beyond that were some skinny cows in a bare field grazing amongst plastic bottles.
Plastic is a real problem, and I’m thankful many of us are starting to do something about it but let’s not stop until the problem is solved!
I’m here in Bali with a fantastic organisation that does some great work for the people here. One of the things they really like you to do is to know and respect the culture. That means dressing in a way that is respectful to the Balinese, behaving in a way that is becoming to their culture and even learning the language! We have some Indonesians here working with us who help us to connect to the culture and teach us the language and it’s been so great to see most of the people already here speaking in Bahasa with the locals!
The work that they do for the locals include: Teaching English, Teaching Maths and Science, Teaching Football with the street kids, visiting those in Prison, visiting local families, reaching out to the girls in prostitution and bringing them to a safe-house but there isn’t a limit to what you can do. Each person brings their skills and helps in whatever way they can.
Whilst I am here I will be joining in with as many of these as I can, although some of these are limited at the moment due to the Hindu holidays.
Last night, the girls from my room were out until 2am giving gifts to the girls in prostitution and speaking with them, being my first week I was not allowed to join (due to the dangerous nature of this work) but I hope to join the next time they go.
I expect to go and visit some people in prison on Tuesday and possibly teach football to some of the street children later in the week (although I admit, I don’t have much to teach them)! In addition to the hands-on volunteering, people are needed to run the base by cooking, cleaning and other jobs which I have been involved with so far, as well as putting together the gifts for the girls in prostitution.
I do get the weekends off and sometimes even a day in the week off (depending on what volunteer outreaches are happening that week) so I will be taking the opportunity to see as much of Bali as I can.
Getting around in Bali is difficult if you can’t ride a motorbike, so I am relying on my lovely new friends to take me out and about on the back of their scooters!
So far the majority of my adventures have been in starbucks (volunteers love their coffee!) and in an amazing doughnut shop called J.Co! I also have the beautiful Jimberan beach right next to our base where we can sometimes play football with the street kids. And I’ve been to see a stunning temple full of monkeys, but more of that in my next post!
I look forward to being able to show you some of the sights on the amazing Island that is Bali, so keep an eye out for the upcoming blog posts.