The Water Bearer…Miracle Worker… of Flores

Gilles Raymond

Gilles Raymond

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.

Before Project Otonomie villagers (mainly women) walked for hours every day to obtain water.

Before Project Otonomie villagers (mainly women) walked for hours every day to obtain water.

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.

Ginger seedlings

Ginger seedlings

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.

By now Gilles has probably done much more….but I’m exhausted. If you’d like to learn more about Project Otonomie please or email him at

Gilles describing the Water Bearer Program and More

Reuniting with Martina


Many of you may remember, Martina.  She is from the island of Sumba, Indonesia and she helped us through a very difficult time in our lives, not to mention the fact, she saved my Dad’s life.


Martina grew up in Sumba which although a hour plane trip from Bali and still in the country of Indonesia could really be a million miles away from our island.  Sumba is dry unlike wet, tropical Bali. Instead of Hindus,  most Sumbans are now Catholic overlaid over Sumba’s own local religion and adat (customary practices).  For more about Sumba, see Elizabeth Pisani’s book, Indonesia, Etc.


Because she is very smart and has a huge heart, Martina attracted the attention of a Sumban teacher who knew our friend Ibu Gedong from Ashram Gandhi, Candi Dasa. Martina spent 1.5 years at the ashram.  When Ibu Gedong found out that our oldest son Lucas had been diagnosed with diabetes, she knew we needed help and Martina was just the right person for the job.  She contacted Martina in Sumba, who returned to Bali for her visa and passport and a week later on her first airplane trip landed in Berkeley.  Max never had it so good.  He was 18 months, and never cried again until Martina left three years later.  Martina helped us through those very challenging months where we were learning to manage Luke’s diabetes while trying to hold down jobs and deal with a new baby.  We could never have managed without her.


We not only fell in love with Martina.  Both of our families did as well.  She saved my Dad’s life one night in Rocklin when she alerted the household when he was having a heart attack.


In addition, Max and Martina were the most popular duo at Berkeley’s kid parks.  Everywhere we went every family with young kids knew Martina and Max.


Martina returned to Indonesia more than 17 years ago.  She married Jek Wara, a wonderful man from Flores and has lived there since returning.  She and Jek have four children of their own (Nick 14, Ike 11, Julian 8 and their baby of 2.5 years)  But they also generously have invited another six family members in need to live with them in their beautiful blue house in Maumere, Flores.

Flores at sunrise

Flores at sunrise

Felicity and Max visited Martina four-years ago, but I hadn’t seen her for 17 years.  It was a tearful reunion, but wonderful to find she is still the same Martina with a very big heart an infectious laugh and willing to serve her family and friends.

Talking to Felicity

Talking to Felicity

For the past several years, Jek has worked afar first in eastern Flores and then in West Timor.  He does development work which means building essential services like schools and hospitals.  He told me many stories about the trials and tribulations of weaving through the inevitable local politics that occur in his job.  More about that in a different post.  Fortunately, he’s been transferred back to Maumere where he can live with his family full-time.



Even though Jek is a college graduate and has a government job and Martina runs a small shop out of her house and raises pigs, chickens, etc.  they live very simply compared to a US family.  It’s not at all unusual to raise your siblings kids or to take care of an Auntie in this culture.

Martina's kids on the beach with me at sunrise

Martina’s kids on the beach with me at sunrise

Once their shyness wore off, their kids loved playing Frisbee.  I treated them to a day at the hotel I stayed at, and they never got out of the pool except to drink the sodas they were served.

Wedding couple

Wedding couple

One night we attended the wedding of Jek’s cousin in the village where Jek was raised.  The bride and groom wore traditional dress, and we ate some delicious pig intestine soup.  But it was a little culturally dissonant when they turned on the dance music and Shania Twain blared out.  We also visited Jek’s father who is 84 years-old, but still farms.  He raised 12 kids and sent a few of them like Jek to University.

Jek's father

Jek’s father

On the last day, we went to see Nick who is their oldest child.  He lives in a Catholic ashram in Maumere.  They send him there because it provides a very good education.  He lives in dormitory with one room that houses 77 ninth graders.  They live a very disciplined life with early morning prayers, chores, classes, study and evening prayers.  Similar to our ashram.

Nick with his proud Mom and adopted uncle

Nick with his proud Mom and adopted uncle

It’s expensive for him to attend which is why Martina is raising the pigs and running a shop in her front room.  But they think it is worth it.  Nick was quite shy when I met him, but warmed up.  Very smart and nice kid.  Would expect nothing less.

Want more information about Martina?  Let me know: