With the pandemic halting all tourism in Bali, it’s time for us to give back.
I recently read a report on an online news site about the plight of Bali and the Balinese people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It both saddened and inspired me to the point where I felt that I needed to share the story with you.
My wife Dinah and I love Bali. It is pretty-much our second home. We’ve visited the ‘Island of the Gods’ on many occasions and love the natural beauty of the island and the natural friendliness and love of the Balinese people. But Bali in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic is a different place. The once-thriving tourist hubs of Kuta and Seminyak and the laid-back coastal village of Sanur where we invariably base ourselves during our explorations of the island, are now virtual ghost towns and the often chaotic traffic is no more. While the island is more peaceful than ever, this peace has come at a terrible price for the Balinese. More than 50,000 tourism and hospitality workers have been laid off or sent on unpaid leave. With an average monthly income of just AUS$289 and little or no welfare benefits available, the locals are doing it tough, with many unable to buy food.
Facebook pages for expats in Bali are full of distressing posts from Balinese begging for work to earn enough money to feed their families. “I really need a job, any kind of job such as cleaning houses or gardening. I will do anything. My family are starving.” One story in particular really hit home. A Balinese who had been working as a driver for a mobile billboard company lost his job when the pandemic struck in March. A week later he was evicted from his apartment, his old boss kindly letting him sleep in his garage but he had no money for food. Fortunately, he read a post on Facebook about this place called Crisis Bali Kitchen that was offering free food. They fed him and his friends who had also been sleeping in the garage.
Giving back to the people who have given us so much
Some of the estimated 3000 Australians living or remaining in Bali, including chefs and restauranteurs are answering the call by turning their venues into free food banks that are feeding thousands each day. The Crisis Bali Kitchen is the brainchild of Brad Downes of Tropicana Churros Café in Seminyak. Brad has lived in Bali for 15 years and, with the tourists gone, didn’t want to lay off his staff. So he came up with the idea that they would stay open and use what little profit they could make to prepare lunch packs for people who had lost their jobs and were in dire need of food. Within a week the Crisis Bali Kitchen was feeding 600 people a day from a repurposed shipping container and soliciting donations on Facebook to help meet demand. About half the volunteers at the Crisis Bali Kitchen are foreigners, the rest are Indonesian. Stories of locals riding their scooters for hours from all over Bali just to get a meal are not uncommon, such is the need to feed their families.
To add to the island’s plight, many construction workers from Java are stuck in Bali, having lost their jobs and unable to return home because of travel restrictions and lack of money.
Also in Seminyak, another Australian restaurateur, Josh Herdman had to close his famous Sea Circus restaurant which he had run since 2010. He is committed to supporting the Balinese people, he and his staff working double-time to feed locals. Recognising that poor nutrition weakens the immune system’s ability to combat COVID-19, Josh started the Sea Circus Food Fund to raise money to make nutritious meals with meat, chicken, fish and eggs. With support from people back home in Australia, Sea Circus can feed up to 3000 people a day. Despite advice from the Australian government to return home, Josh continues his work in Bali. “This is my home. I love these people,” he says. “If the ship is going down, I feel I should go with it.”
“Let’s help Bali” plea
More Australian chefs and restaurateurs have heeded the call in Bali, some such as Australian-born chef Janet DeNeefe using their own money and donations from Australians who have eaten at her restaurant Casa Luna in Ubud to make food packages for retrenched staff. While the restaurant can’t afford to keep paying staff while it is closed, it is providing food packages of rice, sugar and other commodities to about 100 homes.
Even Australians with no food and beverage experience are chipping in, cooking up storms to help feed the needy in Bali. When expat Amanda Rialdi, who is married to an Indonesian, heard about the plight of the Balinese who had lost their jobs and income, she asked all her friends on Facebook to each contribute $1.50 each, enough to feed 100 people. Her friends started sharing the message and it went viral. The Let’s Help Bali (COVID-19) Facebook group that formed as a result has to date delivered 2000 lunch packs across Bali. They are appealing for funds to make grocery kits with eggs, vegetables, toothpaste and soap to help people survive. Let’s support them. Brad Downes from Crisis Bali Kitchen is also appealing for more contributions. “The Balinese have welcomed people from all over the world. They have basically given up their island for tourism,” he says. “Now tourism has stopped, it’s time for us to give back.”
In closing, I’d like to acknowledge the source of this story, The New Daily and thank them for bringing the plight of the Balinese people during this tough time to so many people’s attention through their news service. Check out the story online at: https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/travel/2020/04/25/coronavirus
If you’re a regular Bali visitor or have simply been contemplating visiting Bali, check out the “Let’s Help Bali” Facebookpage and donate to support these wonderful people. The pandemic will eventually pass and when it does, you know that with our help, they’ll be waiting to welcome us back to their ‘Island of the Gods’.
Main picture: A heart-felt sentiment in the sand
- A small selection of memories from our numerous visits to Bali.