Bali responds to the Covid crisis with a pandemic of kindness
By Sarah Dougherty – Imagine waking up one day and finding that your meagre wage will stop, immediately. You head home to break the news to your family and find that all the other breadwinners in the family have had the same news. There is no money, the supplies you shop for daily at the market won’t last very long. The kids are hungry, government aid is possibly months away and overnight you go from surviving to starving. Bali is in crisis and in response a pandemic of kindness is spreading across the island.
Across BALI the streets are deserted, the beaches are closed, the most popular resorts are hauntingly empty, the silence is deafening. The borders are closed, people are masked and cautious, and it is estimated that over a million people are out of work. Ironically the island is more beautiful than it’s ever been with clear skies and pristine beaches.
In the wake of this invisible enemy, a wave of compassion and humanitarian projects has surged on a scale Bali has only seen once before, in the wake of the Bali bombing. Food parcels, free meals and essential items are being dispersed throughout the communities. Those who can are helping those in need and slowly a network is being created that relies on the kindness of strangers and donations from near and far.
Kylie Parmley is a wedding planner from Sydney, a mother of two and a Bali resident. When her friend opened his Umulas restaurant to disperse free food he reached out for help and Kylie was there. Crisis Kitchen is seeing huge numbers of people showing up every day to collect brown paper packs with rice, veggies and basic groceries.
“ We have people contacting us every day and the first thing they say is ‘sorry to bother you’. We have breast feeding mothers who haven’t eaten in two days and aren’t making milk. We have more and more people showing up every day and we just want them to be able to go home and tell their families they have food,” she says unable to hold back the tears. “ We’ve had to make a plan for the future, right now each of our packs is enough to feed one person for 4 days, our goal is to provide enough for 7 days and we know that this isn’t a short term fix, this will go on for months to come.” It is very simple really, explains Kylie, people need food.
To begin with the kitchens that opened to feed the hungry and needy were isolated, now there is a growing sense of community that is building with local businesses and suppliers connecting with village leaders, charities and individuals who are banding together to meet the real needs of real people.
Project Nasi is born of friendship and an Australian entrepreneurial spirit. Sam Mahoney, a teacher at the Australian International School who is involved with two local restaurants, Sinaloa and On The Juice in Legian, together with James Foley of Sushimi and Ling-Ling’s and other friends including Blake from the popular Coffee Cartel and Balinese Nyoman Sumastra (Winnie), Project Nasi was born in the spirit of giving back to the island they call home.
“Bali has given us so much and now it’s our turn to help our suppliers, our staff, our customers and our communities. We started a go fund me page and reached out to family and friends, the response was fantastic, but we need more to keep us going in the months ahead. We are linking with other community groups so that we can fill the gaps and support each other, that way hopefully no one will go hungry,” explains James.
Feed A Family
Frances Tse Ardika has become a local hero. A native of Canada married to a Balinese, Frances and her husband Adi shut down their cooking school, Tresna, and their travel and weddings businesses, Taksu. They refunded all the deposits. and began using their kitchens as the base for their #feedafamily program, packing essential food packages, it began slowly and has built to over a thousand families every week. All made possible by donations.
“ We launched “Feed A Family” on March 23, 2020 and started distribution on March 28. We really thought this would be a project for a few days only. Now a month in on April 22, at this relentless pace, we’re losing our sanity as “Feed A Family” has become so big,” explains an exhausted Frances, who considered stepping back to focus on rebuilding her business and taking a break but has now committed to continuing.
Frances is a great communicator and her daily videos and progress reports are shared widely on social media, bringing in much needed donations and motivating others to help. Her contribution has been incredible and thankfully there are others who can now take on some of the burden.
Why I’m proud to call Bali home.
To be here in Bali at this time and to see how our community has banded together to ensure a future for the Balinese who have limited social services to access, brings me to tears almost daily. Business plans have been set aside, commercial kitchens are now being converted to feeding the legion of jobless, chefs and restaurant owners are stepping in. Private sponsors and small donors are coming to the aid of the vulnerable.
The virus has attacked Bali in a way no one could have predicted. The numbers of positive cases is very low, the hospitals are set up and ready but mostly empty. Everyone is distancing and isolating and yet, we feel it across the island with stories every day of people living in our neighbourhoods with hungry children, without soap or masks or basic medicines. The kids are at home and they are hungry. Many households are lucky to have a phone and a television, they have the universal problem of how to keep the kids busy, entertained and indoors.
Bali has a special place in the lives of so many, especially Australians who have made the trip many times. For Bali’s large population of expats and people from other parts of Indonesia the island is home and apart from worrying about the recovery of business and tourism, the far greater need right now is to look after people day to day. The amount of people who need help is staggering.
The response to the loss of business across one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations is an unprecedented pandemic of kindness, with people opening their hearts, their kitchens and their wallets..
The island has faced crisis before but never on this scale. The Bali bombing in 2002 killed and injured many and tourists cancelled their holidays in the thousands. It is the closest I have ever come to understanding what it feels like to be under threat. The scenes in the streets, the hospitals and the morgue were as real as any war, the memories of that time have stayed with me and many others to this day.
Many of our biggest charities grew out of that time, and now it seems those who have heeded the call to help will be needed for a long time to come. This isn’t an easy fix but being a part of a community that cares so deeply about each other is just another reminder of why I am so proud to call Bali my home.