At the time of publishing this story, COVID-19 cases globally continue to rise, and international travel — even domestic travel in some cases — has been restricted for public health reasons. During this time, consider exploring the world differently: discover new ways you can support communities in your favourite destinations, and bookmark them for future trips when borders reopen.
Trekking through a jungle in the mountains. Chugging up and down precariously steep dirt roads on scooters. All while balancing heavy loads of rice, fresh produce, spices and other food items — necessities to nourish families in Bali on the verge of having to do without.
It’s all in a day’s work for Wayan Ariani and Made “Arry” Pryatnata who have been traipsing all over Bali to deliver food packages to its most remote communities, who are hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this traveller’s paradise, the past year has been “a nightmare” for the many who depend on tourism for their livelihoods, as Wayan puts it.
One moment, Wayan and Arry were villa managers at different properties, catering to the thousands of travellers that throng Bali each year to revel amid its beautiful beaches, views of lush paddy fields, and rich culture.
The next, they were out of work, as COVID-19 led to a sudden halt in international travel, and tourism dollars dried up overnight.
“We stopped work, but we have to continue paying our debt, for our [temple] ceremony, daily expenses and also for my children's school,” Wayan shares.
Arry adds: “Now, everyone wants to sell everything, sell the car to get something, buy some food for the family. That's very, very sad.”
Fast forward a year, and neither have gotten their jobs back, but they are fuelled by their new mission of delivering food to Bali’s neediest — through Feed Bali.
As the pandemic took hold in Bali in March 2020, the couple, who have been married 18 years, decided to close their cooking school and cottages. Seeing their fellow villagers caught short by the shutdown and without income, they started a “Feed a Family” initiative to give food packages to families so that they could shelter at home as the pandemic spread, and eat nutritiously.
Their goal was modest — to help 20 households around their school with food packages that would last two weeks for a family of four. Adi and Frances asked their friends and network of former guests to contribute funds for the packages, to mark their daughter Santi’s birthday.
The response from donors was overwhelming. “For the first two months, it was just Adi, Santi and me, to avoid any contact with others. Our day started at 4am going to the local market to buy vegetables, fruits and eggs.
“Adi harvested spices from our cooking school gardens to donate immune-building ingredients and encourage our neighbours to plant their own spices. Santi and I packed the massive food packages. Together, we’d pile one package into a wheelbarrow to bring to each home in the afternoon,” recalls Frances.
“By the end of April, we were exhausted. We wanted to use up the rest of the donations and stop.”
But when they shared the news on their social media platforms, their community urged them to keep going. “They were like, ‘You have to keep going, who else is going to do this?’” says Frances.
With donations and suggestions coming in, Frances and Adi, former wedding and travel planners, decided to muster their organisational skills and launch a full-fledged operation — hiring a core team (among them Wayan and Arry) to help plan and execute Feed Bali’s distribution.
Integral to this were their Balinese roots and connections: Adi, who is Balinese, and Frances, who is Canadian, serve as holy people for their village, leading the Hindu temple ceremonies that are an important part of Bali's spiritual life.
“We have lots of requests for help, my phone is almost exploding with messages,” says Adi, who painstakingly looks into each request by visiting the household to assess their needs, and consults village leaders on the ground situation.
“I have to classify them like, the ones who need it most. It's always difficult to choose who to give to, but we have to make the hard choices,” he says. “To be honest, most Balinese need help now.”
Arry and Wayan receive two food packages from Feed Bali each month, as well as a “survival salary” of IDR150,000 (US$10.50) for every day they volunteer (about four days a week). This is a fraction of what they used to earn as villa managers but is more than many are earning on the island now, shares Frances.
“The food package is very important. Because we have food, I can save the [survival salary] for other needs, go to the doctor, things like that,” says Arry.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, Adi and Frances set a goal of distributing packages to 2,300 households by the end of 2020.
As of May 2021, they have reached 3,540 households, equivalent to 396,480 nutritious meals.
“So as long as we have donations, we will keep going,” says Adi.
Markets in the morning, mountains in the afternoon
On most mornings, Wayan is up by 4am, ready to start another day at Feed Bali.
Every Feed Bali package comprises 10kg of rice purchased directly from Balinese farmers, cooking oil, 30 locally-farmed eggs, salt, and kilos of fresh vegetables, fruit and aromatics like ginger, among other items. Fresh local produce is an imperative, with the team determined to provide nutritious food to the villages while supporting local farmers by buying their harvest.
“It has to be 4am because we want the very fresh chillies,” says Wayan, a note of pride in her voice. “There are mini trucks that sell them wholesale at the morning market.”
She then returns home to cook breakfast for her family, before heading back to the cooking school to pack the spices for distribution. After packing hundreds of bags of spices, Wayan and her husband, Made Gunarta (Gun) drive an hour north to the Kintamani area to buy fresh vegetables directly from farmers. “We finish around maybe 5pm,” says Wayan.
On distribution days, the team starts their journey as early as 6am. “To East Bali or North Bali, we have to be at Feed Bali at least 6am, and then by the time we come home, it is around 7pm,” says Arry.
Adds Adi: “We go from house to house, and it’s not like, you go to this house and you see the next house right after that. You go to the jungle, trek through the jungle, and then you see the next house.”
The villages receiving support also stepped up, with some volunteering to coordinate deliveries on the ground, especially when the homes are deep in the mountain or jungle.
These journeys have been eye-opening for the Feed Bali team. “I meet more people, I see many villages, and to see the poverty, to see so many people in need,” says Wayan.
Frances adds: “Most people only see Bali as a luxurious, paradise island in the media. People working in hospitality, maybe they have a house, or a car, but they have no savings.”
Communities living in poverty could previously rely on hospitality workers’ donations; when these workers lost their jobs, this precarious safety net vanished. “It makes me very sad that I cannot help them with money,” says Wayan.
A newfound mission
Although very much connected to their village, Adi and Frances did not set up Tresna Bali Cooking School with a social mission in mind. “We started with the intention of sharing our authentic Balinese food and culture,” says Frances. “Adi and I are highly involved in our community, our banjar (Indonesian for neighbourhood), but it was a personal thing, it wasn’t anything tied to our banjar or Tresna Bali.”
The pandemic has opened their eyes to how their business could also be a platform for guests to give back to the community. “We have discussed how we can tie Feed Bali to our cooking school, maybe if you book a cooking class, you can also opt to feed a family,” says Frances.
They have also started a programme dubbed Baa Baa Goat, where they have built a goat shelter and donate goats to impoverished families living in remote, arid areas where growing crops is not an option.
Through Feed Bali, a goat farming expert advises the family on how to breed healthy goats, and the goats’ milk can be sold for additional income. The offspring of the goats will then be donated to the next family, creating a long-term, sustainable plan to improve livelihoods.
“Sometimes people just need a hand. When we extend that hand and give support, everything changes,” says Frances.
An early “pioneer” of this programme is Wayan and Gunarta and their teenage children, who plan to sell the goat’s milk for extra income, while future generations of goat will be given to another qualified family.
The additional income is welcome, as there is no clear idea when things will “return to normal”. “When tourists come back, maybe it will be very slow. Even if some tourists come, we have so many hotels and villas, it will be a struggle to get guests,” says Wayan.
Amid the challenges, there have been many moments of hope. “When we first started giving out food packages in our village, we identified a few families. And we had gone to three families, and when we reached the fourth family, we found that the third family had already given the fourth, half their package,” says Frances. “We were just blown away. They still thought of their neighbours, even when they were struggling.”
Working with Feed Bali, says Arry, has taught him the value of sharing what he has, no matter how seemingly small. “I don’t have a lot, but a little thing can make others happy,” he says.
THE DIFFERENCE YOU MAKE
Bali’s economy is highly reliant on tourism, which accounts for some 60 to 80 per cent of the island’s gross regional product. The slowdown in tourism has affected some 80,000 people, who were either laid off, put on unpaid leave, or had their wages cut. This estimate does not include the vast informal sector of freelance drivers and independent guides.
Donations to Feed Bali go towards the food packages that are delivered to households in need all over Bali. Feed Bali sources food directly from local farmers (instead of imported foods found in supermarkets), so that farmers too benefit amid challenging times.
The donations also pay for the expenses of transporting the packages and survival salaries for Feed Bali’s core team of six.
A donation of US$30 buys food for a household of four for two weeks, but any amount is welcome. Feed Bali also welcomes donors who wish to “adopt a family” by donating towards more substantial needs, such as home repairs; 10 families have been adopted so far.
To date, Feed Bali has received some Rp2 billion (US$140,000) in donations and counting, of which about Rp1.5 billion (US$105,000) has been used for care packages and projects like Baa Baa Goat. Frances and Adi estimate that the remaining funds can help another 1,000 families.
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Tresna Bali is located in Ubud, a 45-minute drive from Seminyak or Canggu, or a quick 10-minute drive if you are staying in Ubud centre. Drivers can be easily hired from either location to take you there
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