This is the first in a series on expats who are quietly helping to raise the standard of living for the less fortunate on the isle. These expats belong to international clubs; are successful business folk putting back part of their earnings into non-profit social development programs; and individuals living in Bali for a long time who feel that they must contribute to the welfare of the islanders.

Sometime ago I heard it on the grapevine that Ibu Sarita Kaul of Rotary Club Seminyak had started a program for clean drinking water in a village in Sibang. As there is no piped water, the villagers collect water from the nearby river; boil it before using it for cooking and drinking. Some of the villagers are too poor and hence can’t afford the high cost of fuel so they don’t boil the water prior to using it. The result being that many women and children suffer from stomach ailments.

Curious to know more about the project I met Sarita and requested her to accompany me to the village so that I could speak to the villagers to understand more about what was going on and how it was benefiting the rural folk. She told me that the project involved the production and free distribution of cement biosand filters for drinking water to all the homes in the village, which is close to a 100.

The cement biosand water filter works on the principle of filtration of contaminated water through sand and gravel without the use of any electricity or burning of fuels. The process is proven to remove about 90% of pathogens in the water. It has been tested by governments, research and health institutions in laboratory and field trials. The filter has no moving parts; can be used with any available water source; it is small and takes up little space; and is a household level technology that allows end users to independently maintain and operate the filter.

On the last day of May we drove to the village so that I could meet Bapak Astra in whose home the filters are being manufactured. In fact, as his contribution to the community he has allowed the free use of his Bale for this purpose. Astra is an elderly subsistence farmer with great dignity and an acute understanding of survival.

He showed me a water filter in operation and the metal dies that are used in the manufacture of the cement contraptions. Apparently, the Pilot Project of 11 such filters has been successfully carried out; 10 pieces are in an equal number of homes and the 11th has been installed at the Banjar office. Astra understands the concept of clean drinking water, as he is involved in organic farming.

The head of the Klian Banjar, I Wayan Dharmika and the village schoolmaster I Wayan Tantra were instrumental in convincing the 44 heads of the families in the area to adopt the scheme. Astra told me that Tantra with his large black rimmed spectacles and who is affectionately called professor by one and all is the self appointed accountant for the project. He keeps a cash ledger that records an excruciating blow-by-blow account of all expenditure even if it involves such sums as rupiah 200!

Sarita told me that a grant had been received from Rotary International, Chicago, USA for the further manufacture of over 250 biosand water filters. On successful completion of the project that is due to commence in a week other villages would be brought into the scheme.

On being questioned by me about the production of the filter Astra said that two farmers were sent to Lombok for training. Lombok is the place where Sarita saw the filters in operation, the design being that of Cawst (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, Canada).

The two farmers dispatched for training had never been on an airplane nor travelled outside Bali so the experience left them in a suspended state of exhilaration that lasted for a few days. Even now there is a glow on the face of Ketut Arianta, one of the farmers who was introduced to me with much fanfare by Astra.

Marian Hjelm, a homeopath from Seminyak and the person who brought the plight of the villagers to the notice of Sarita, and who had accompanied us to Sibang, told me that the two said farmers had visited her home immediately on their return from Lombok to narrate the experience of flying near Mount Agung and to share their feeling which was like traversing an astral plain! She added that they returned to the village to a heroes welcome.

This water filter project is not about personalities or publicity. It is a humane response to the need of the usually ‘overlooked’ less fortunate people on the isle who honestly, diligently and in a community spirit eke out a living with dignity and pride.

Bali is like an oasis in the desert of a world fast losing itself due to the continuing erosion of social structures. It helps keep a lid on insanity in community values. This island is probably one of the last refuges for many of us expats. So let us continue to protect it and to alleviate any human suffering that occurs ever so often.

I will sign off now with the haunting words of Bapak Astra – “This is my home, my family, my land. Without it I am nobody and I will cease to exist.”

Note: at the time of going to press the villagers have informed me that pests have destroyed their rice crop. They will now need to buy rice from the market. The price of rice has risen sharply due to the fuel price hike.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om