When I was 17, we went on a cruise around the Caribbean to celebrate my parents 25th wedding anniversary. We started in Barbados. I expected to see clear turquoise water, palm trees leaning into the sun on pristine white sand beaches. I did. But I also saw poverty. Bali is a Barbados.
It’s name is synonymous with paradise. Many people couldn’t tell you where Indonesia is – fyi its that mass of islands up and left of Australia, yeh I didn’t know that was all one country either at one point in my life – but almost everyone has heard of Bali. The majority of the population here work in the tourism industry and almost everyone else works in an industry that supports tourism. So when the island practically shut down to the outside world over night in response to covid19, they have been left with nothing. There are thousands of people here literally starving. This post isn’t meant to be preachy. Fuck, I’m writing this on a MacBook Air in our 4 bed house while the kids play in the garden and swimming pool. If that doesn’t stink of Bali white privilege, I don’t know what does. No, I just want to tell the story and help get news of the current, tragic situation out there to as many people as possible. Maybe it’ll reach a few people that are in a position to help. And if thats not you, no worries at all. Maybe you can just forward this story on. We’re all in a tight spot right now and I’m not trying to guilt anyone in to helping either. Charity begins at home and we all gotta take care of our own. But Bali is our home and it needs help from anyone thats in a position to give it.
Many Balinese live in family compounds. Maw, paw, grandparents, aunties, uncles, kiddos and chickens under one address (yeh, the thought of it strikes fear into my heart too but clearly they are better people than me). The average monthly wage is roughly £150 and many families live hand to mouth with the younger generation (mums, dads, uncles etc) supporting the rest of the family. There is little or no welfare system in Bali so when the tourists left, businesses shut up shop and people started getting laid off, whole families started suffering. When I arrived in Bali I was shocked to find that the majority of mums formula feed. I just assumed that an island in a ‘developing country’, especially Bali with its historic pictures of native Balinese women with their tatas out, would be pro breastfeeding. But many doctors actually counsel new mothers to formula feed as they believe its better for the baby so you can imagine the tragic situation here of mothers with newborns who now have no money to buy milk for their baby and can’t produce it themselves. The situation isn’t much better for those that have chosen to breastfeed. While going hungry doesn’t affect your body’s ability to produce breastmilk, caring for a newborn on an empty tummy can’t be easy. Not to mention hunger weakens the immune system which, in the middle of a global pandemic, isn’t a safe state to be in. A friend of mine here (we’ll call her M because she doesn’t know I’m sharing this!) helped put together a list of all the charities that are feeding people so that (a) those in need know where to go and (b) those that want to donate know where to do so, and she told me that when she published it on the Bali Solidarity Facebook Page she was contacted by a Balinese mother who was desperate to track down donations of formula for her baby. Straight away, M bought several boxes online and GoJek-ed it to her (they collect and deliver within the hour here) and I know she’ll probably do it again in a heartbeat, bless her, she’s a really good soul.
A few weeks ago, I read a post on the Bali Expat page from a Balinese woman desperate for work. Her English wasn’t great but it basically said “I need to work. I’ll do anything. My family is starving”. Then I read about Crisis Kitchen Bali, a Seminyak cafe turned free food bank, giving out food packages to the hungry and they were seeing people who had ridden on mopeds from east Bali, 3 hours away (thats a 6 hour round trip!!!) just for a meal. So I sent them a Facebook message to see how we could help. Let me just say here that I’m not one of those pricks that poses for a selfie with a homeless dude after chucking 10 bucks in his cup. Even before all of this, I’d say we’re decent people and I don’t need that validated on Instagram but I’m writing this post in the hope that it’ll encourage some people to donate and I do think that I’d be a prick to ask that of someone when I haven’t done so myself. But I have, so put your hand in your pocket! #jokingnotjoking
We’re on the ground here, so they’re not asking for money (the GoFund me page is for international donations, link at the end of the post). They’re not even really asking for volunteers in the kitchen (social distancing and all!). They’re just asking for rice, noodles, eggs, green beans, cabbage, carrots and hand soap. For anyone reading this from within Bali, they’ll take them loose in bulk, whatever you can give, it doesn’t need to be all of the above. But if you’re able, the ideal is to make the care packages yourself and drop them off. They’re trying to avoid plastic so brown paper bags are the way to go and they sell them in Gramedia in Mal Bali Galleria. If you want to make them up the same way they are then one food package would ideally contain 1kg rice, 3 packs of noodles, 4 eggs, green beans, cabbage, a carrot and a hand soap. Then pop on your mask and mosey on down to their base and drop off your good deed. We also donated all but a few sentimental pieces of Eia’s baby clothes because they have families with new babies with nothing. I was also contacted separately with a request for baby stuff for a newborn that had been abandoned because the family couldn’t take care of him under the current covid situation and hoped he would end up with someone who could. My friends and I joke that I’m made of stone but even writing that part of the story, I have to bite my lip to stop it trembling. Not just as a mum myself but as a human being. Can you even imagine being in the position where you feel that the best thing you can do for your child is to give them up? I can’t. And I hope to god I never have to. I’d already given away what we had when this message came in but in the reply I heard that people were already stepping up and they were well on their way to getting everything needed for this little one.
I’ve read a lot of scathing reports on Indonesia’s response to the pandemic. I’m not gonna get into the politics of any of that but one thing I can say is that the people here can’t be underestimated. They’ve survived massive natural disasters, 300 years of colonialism and brought down a dictatorship – do not fuck with them. It’s not just well off foreigners that are helping here, if anything its the marginally more fortunate Indonesians more than anyone. The locals are coming together for each other in a way that I’ve never seen with my own eyes before anywhere. My Balinese neighbour has come to our house three times, no sorry four times, with gifts of fruit and a meal of soto babi (a pork broth sort of thing) and they have far less than us. But it’s not about that for them, it’s about community. And it warms my heart. This is what people love about Bali. It’s not just the instagrammable landscapes and the sunshine. It’s the people that make Bali. On no other island in Indonesia will you find a people so humble, kind, selfless, open minded and accepting as the Balinese. With just a little help, they will get through this and they’ll be here waiting to welcome you back to Bali with open arms when this is all over. And if you’ve never been to Bali before, no problem, think of it as an investment in your next holiday to this beautiful island.
£10 can feed more than 20 people and just £5 can feed a whole family. If you’re able to help, please see below:
Crisis Kitchen are really managing to rack up the donations now (you can still donate by following this link) but there are other organisations in much greater need of funding to continue their amazing work. Nobody knows how much longer this will go on. Even once Bali opens its doors to the world again, nothing will change here until people start travelling once more. Below is the PDF listing many of the groups working to help feed the vulnerable here. If you’re in Bali, theres information on who to contact and where to donate food etc and if you’re reading this from abroad, there are links to the relevant pages for donating money. Massive shout out to Michelle Varga and Kim Patra for this, you girls are stars!
If you’re not in a position to donate, absolutely no problem, but please spread the word. Thanks for reading this. Stay safe guys, big love!