One minute of highlights from our road trip to Umbria.
The Ngada people in central Flores (eastern Indonesia) have decided they are not going to wait for a handout from the government or big business. They are just going to figure out for themselves how to provide the basics such as water, food and shelter.
And after that, they are going to figure out a way to build their way out of poverty and for good measure why not create an innovative way to clean up the environment and make money at it too.
They call themselves Project Otonomie, and they are led by an unassuming French Canadian named Gilles Raymond and village leaders from Ngada.
I met Gilles online because I saw a photo of one of the converted motorbikes the project uses for their recycling program….and lusted after one for our Klungkung based recycling effort.
But for Gilles, before recycling came the need for water. Many villages lack a water supply which means villagers were forced to walk several kilometers each day for a mere bucket full of water. Gilles and the village elders decided to try to remedy this by building a pipeline from the village to a mountain spring many kilometers away.
Great idea, right? But how do you organize to decide the route, find the manpower, raise the money for the pipeline, maintain it and then decide how to use the water supply once it arrives. Those are the complex questions that had stymied this and other villages from obtaining the water they needed. In other places in the world, such as California, these are the same kinds of questions that have led to decades of water wars.
But for Gilles, figuring out these challenges are his idea of a good time. Previously, he had honed his community development skills in remote areas of Quebec province. He flew east looking for a new challenge, and found it in Flores.
He criss-crossed the region building support from village leaders and farmers, and eventually built his first long water pipeline while his kids were in elementary school. Today there are many pipelines and many villages that have water. The key to his success is determination and a self-help philosophy that’s about getting things done instead of waiting for someone else or the government to do it for you. And most importantly it’s about the value of gaining the support and respect of the entire village over many hours and weeks of talks with the people he’s working with.
Nearly 15 years later, Gille’s boys are leading the water project, and dozens of villages throughout the region now have water. He has given himself the humble title of Water Bearer. Gotta love this guy.
But he didn’t stop with water. Poverty is endemic to this region. So Gilles called the village leaders together and they developed a program called Loans for Dignity in which farmers are loaned money from outside partners to clear and cultivate a hectare of land for ginger production. Gilles has recruited partners from Canada, America and other parts of the world. The local Catholic Diocese serves as the banker and auditor. There were 13 families who pioneered the project.
Gilles reported:“In terms of income for those 13 families (who usually have an income averaging between Rp. 800,000 and Rp. 900,000 per year / or $ 800 to $ 900 annually), they obtained from their ginger harvest of roughly double that) to put on top of their usual annual income. Yes, our philosophy of the ‘’small steps that change life’’ gives concrete results. Suffice to say that some of those families are now planning to renovate their house, to build sanitation facilities or enjoy the fact that they are now able to afford the cost of electricity and even to buy a washing machine. However, more than all, the thought of the day concerns the ability to pay the secondary school fees or the access of a child to technical school and even, in some cases, to be able to come to terms with the cost of sending one of their children to University.”
The cost of becoming a partner is roughly $2,200. You can make a huge difference by contributing to this cause. (Our foundation, Ahimsa In Action, is a partner).
And finally, Gilles has helped organize Trash Banks in which local villages collect and recycle plastic, metal, etc. and in turn receive the proceeds of selling these products. The program has been so successful that Gilles tells the story of a film director arriving at one village to do a story about the program only to find the streets clean and free of plastic and other trash (a rare occurrence in Indonesia). Seeing that the director was disappointed that the streets were clean, a village boy offered to go to the trash bank, and find some recycled plastic that could be strewn around for the cameras. Gilles politely declined the offer.
Gilles describing the Water Bearer Program and More
Max (Fast Biker) and Dave (Slow Walker) managed to bag peaks, maneuver down steep mountain roads, eat delicious meals and make friends during a four-day road trip to Abruzzo, just 1.5 hours east of Rome.
One of the many amazing things about Rome is that you can find country-living 15 minutes from the city limits, and actual wilderness within 2 hours.
On the first day, we checked into the beautiful Hotel Acquevere on Lake Scanno. After a short transition, Max took off the down road saying these kinds of mountain roads were what he was dreaming of ever since he arrived in Italy. This was the maiden ride for the 35-year old road bike (Bottecchia for you bike geeks). About 2 hours later I received a call from him, saying his pedal had broken. I picked him up and we whisked down to a small town where excellent bike mechanics repaired the pedals and tweaked a few other things too. We received some trail advice and carbonara pasta at dinner and a tasty Montepulciano red wine.
The next day, we drove a few miles out of Scanno to a statue of Pope Paul II. Max departed for a 74 km ride towards our next town. I began a 5 hour hike into the Appenines. The trail started through a cattle farm where I was attacked by a half dozen sheep dogs which were as big as wolves and as mean as Bali dogs. Fortunately after two years of warding off the mean dogs of Klungkung I knew what to do: Pick up some rocks and they scatter. Afterwards the route climbed through deciduous forests into a beautiful mountain meadow.
At the head of the meadow was a stone hut for hikers to spend the night or eat lunch. I met a couple of local guys (Pasquale and Serge) who were from Scanno who were out for a day hike too. They were about 70 and really knew how to hike, bringing an Abruzzo white wine for lunch. I supplied prosciutto and a local cheese, and we feasted while exhausting our supply of English and Italian words in about 5 minutes….and the food about 10 minutes after that. I said goodbye to Pasquale and Serge and climbed on ridge tops and snowed in valleys. I walked through the cattle ranch without disturbing the dogs…whew.
When I arrived at the car, Max called to say he was done after cycling 74 km up and down mountain roads. He had stopped at a restaurant which was closed, but opened up for him, made him a sandwich and gave him a beer which they refused to accept payment for.
We drove to a park hostel that night in a town called Faro San Martino next to the Park Nazionale Maijelle. The ranger met us and gave us directions for the next day’s hike which we did together for a while. We found lots of bear and deer scat and tracks, but no animals except for a large black snake. It was fun to hike together after going our separate ways the last two days. Good bonding over hiking, biking, eating and drinking.
The final night we spent in the town of Popoli on the north side of the park. A beautiful riverside town. The last day, we made it a round trip. Max rode up the rode from Sulmona to Scanno while I drove to Scanno and then hiked up the mountain to a small church where I did puja. Max had the ride of his life up the staggeringly beautiful curvy road returning to Hotel Acquevere where his adopted grandmother and auntie hugged him and gave him beer until I arrived. We were both happy campers for our trip back to Rome.
Having fun and doing good…That’s a lesson I’ve learned from Kadek Gunarta. I joined Dek and his team from Bali Regreen on a road trip to a very poor village in north Bali where they are helping to improve the welfare of hundreds of families.
The Bali Regreen Project is led by Dek and sponsored by the Bali Spirit Festival Team. It’s mission is to help improve the lives of villagers by helping them plant and then maintain and harvest bamboo which can be used for village ceremonies and as a cash crop. Also, replanting hillsides destroyed by lava flows and erosion helps to markedly improve the environment.
But the Regreen Project is as much about community organizing and empowerment as it is about planting. Dek and his team work closely with village leaders and farmers to plan the project, implement it and to maintain it. Dek’s Team provides the expertise on how to plant and maintain bamboo, and works closely with farmers over many months and years. The villagers contribute some funding for the projects, but most importantly provide the loving care to the bamboo that it needs to grow.
In addition to bamboo, the Regreen Project recently helped the Songket B villagers build a 9.6 km water pipeline to serve their village. One of the main reasons that this village is so poor is that it lacks adequate water supplies. There has been only 8 liters of water per day per household which is barely enough for drinking and washing with no water available to raise livestock or anything else. Dek put together a plan that included finding a water source, pumps, pipes, water storage, construction and maintenance. The pipeline was built in less than a month, and is now supplying water. When I asked how the water supply has changed their lives, one woman replied that now her family has enough water for everyone to have a bath, and she’s bought some pigs and other livestock which will add to the family’s income.
Of course no Balinese road trip would be complete without a lot of joking and eating. We made at least 3 stops for food at delicious local warungs and ended the day with a feast of Durian, the first time I ate this pungent fruit.
Felicity and I have been engaged in comprehensive, dogged research these past two years to find the very best massage in Bali. This project has taken us to every part of the island to fancy resort spas, therapy centers, street-side masseuses… you name it. Literally dozens of massages and hundreds of hours were put into this job. I’m exhausted just writing about it. Seriously, there are some excellent masseuses and spas in Bali…better per square kilometer than any place in the world.
After compiling our findings and running many analytics, statistical equations, meditating and praying, we have a winner: THE BEST MASSAGE IN BALI IS BY IBU KETUT of Subak Tabola. She leads the spa team at Subak Tabola on a beautiful hilltop in Sidemen.
Ibu Ketut is strong and well-trained. She’s worked as a masseuse all over Asia. She really knows what she’s doing, and after an hour in her strong hands you feel like a newborn baby. Ibu is also about the kindest person you’ll ever meet, and you’re part of the family after the first massage. Ketut has trained the other members of the Subak Tabola Spa Team so whoever gives you a massage, you’ll love it.
The Subak Tabola spa setting is also beautiful. It’s not the least bit fancy. The spa is the patio of an old Javan joglo that sits next to an irrigation canal and rice fields. While Ketut or Kadek works on you, you hear the water rushing and hear the birds singing. Afterwards, you can take a shower or bath outside, and then head off to the bar and pool at Subak Tabola or its sister hotel next door, Surya Shanti. You can book a massage with Ketut by contacting Ayu at Subak Tabola 081337597898. Subak Tabola website: SubakTabolaVilla.com Surya Shanti Website:SuryaShantiVilla.com
I’m sure other folks have their favorite massages, and you’re welcome to add a comment with your favorite. But once Ketut has worked on you, you will be spoiled forever.
Thirty high school students from SMAN1 Banjarankan, Bali took a field trip on Monday to inspire them to become eco-educators at their school. As the SMAN1 Eco Club, it will be their job to operate the school’s recycling program and to educate their fellow students about the value of recycling.
These very motivated and smart kids first received a tour of Bali Recycling in Mas where Olivier Pouillon showed them how the plastic, paper and glass they recycle at their school is converted into valued products. “Throwing that plastic away is like throwing money away,” said Olivier. “We will pay you for that plastic, and make upcycled plastic products that we can sell,” he said.
Our next stop was to see Supardi at the Padang Tegal Rumah Kompos. He showed us around this very efficient recycling and composting center across from Ubud’s Monkey Forest. He also explained to us how plastic pollution poisons our air, water, animals and ultimately ourselves.
Then back on the bus and homeward bound after enjoying a great day learning a lot and having fun!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIaZtepeC7g
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Bye Bye Plastic Bag (BBPB) the kid-run organization with the big mission of banning plastic bags in Bali organized a coalition of more than 100 organizations (including Keep Bali Beautiful) and individuals to assist their effort at a meeting last week.
The BBPB Coalition will be focused on educating schools, businesses and villages throughout the island about the problems that plastic bags and other pollution causes for the people of Bali, and what they can do to solve it.
They will be organizing marches, awarding businesses that take the pledge to be plastic-free, delivering their message to the news media and continuing their campaign to obtain one million signatures to ban plastic bags.