Tourists are instantly attracted to Bali’s people, culture and religion, but what they do not see are the island’s rural poor who are not a part of the tourism industry. Hidden away in small villages and subsistence farms, they live and work out of sight from the island’s highways and backroads.
For 12 years Richard Foss has been successfully building water systems in the impoverished and parched villages of East Bali, introducing low-tech innovations that have had the power to change people’s lives. Water for drinking and cooking is a scarce commodity in the island’s dry northeast where the dry season lasts from March to October.
Foss was a career Army officer, a 1962 graduate of West Point who completed two combat tours in Vietnam. At the end of a teaching career at the University of Colorado, he and his wife started traveling in Southeast Asia.
They arrived in Bali for the first time in 1992. After several more visits, they thought so highly of the island’s charms that they ultimately moved here in 1992 and eventually built a home in Ubud. Once settled in Bali, Richard sought out the Rotary Club of Ubud, which he and his wife had joined in Colorado in 2005. At the time of the second Bali Bomb the same year, they were staying on the beach in Amed. When the fragile tourist economy of the area was devastated by the bomb, it led to the Foss’s interest in developing east Bali whose economy was particularly hard hit.
For more than a decade, facing challenges of language, climate and a severe geography, the Foss’s have worked on projects in 16 different villages that bring to the eastern region the one element that is even more fundamental to sustaining life than food: safe drinking water. At the time, the majority of subsistence families had only antiquated systems of bamboo pipes and holes in the ground. People had to walk 30 minutes to 4 hours to get water from wells down by the sea or from springs high in the hills.
Although bringing potable water closer to the isolated communities of Karangasem is critical, it is not the answer to all their problems. Health care, education, sanitation and economic opportunity must also be addressed. But water is the keystone. Clean water transforms people’s thinking. Tellingly, when one of the village water projects was completed, it motivated people to start raising chickens and cattle and begin using the water to cultivate corn, cassava and pumpkins.
A central lesson Foss learned is that people should not rely on outside help to solve their own problems. The means must only be provided for them to do so. The writer explains why water projects initiated by outsiders do not work unless the local people become involved. If villagers feel that an idea is theirs and they are doing most of the work, they will do what is necessary towards a solution and will feel that it is their project. The hard working, resolute and ingenious mountain people portrayed were eventually able to evolve effective and efficient water systems.
By 2007, about 4000 people in the region had their daily water needs available within 15 minutes of their homes. Water was stored in concrete or fiberglass storage tanks and provided to homes through kilometers of connected piping. Rotarians and Rotaractors (sub-contractors hired by Ubud’s Rotary Club) made sure the right equipment was placed on the coastal road, then men and women laboriously carried the sand, cement, rebar, pipe and plastic tanks uphill and across ravines to the work sites.
The long-term sustainability of a project is the result of the village taking on direct responsibility. The banjar (village council) collects a small hook-up fee from the families who will be served. In addition, Rp4000 per month is charged each family and held at the banjar for the purchase of fuel for the pump and maintenance of the system. People designated by the village chief are trained and given the responsibility to routinely maintain the system.
Foss’s work in the tiny village of Gulinten is just one shining example. The inhabitants of this remote village once had to trek for hours to collect water from a fresh water spring. When the project was completed in 2007, water was pumped one km up to a large concrete tank and then distributed to four smaller tanks near 44 families (250-350 people). Each tank was strategically placed on the side of a hill to serve about ten families.
The Banjar Aas Water Project is another success story. This deep-well project, storage tank and hand-washing facility was funded to the tune of US$13,000 by a coalition of individual philanthropists and international Rotary Clubs. As is often the case with village wells in the developing world, the new sources of water also fill a vital social function. The site became a wantilan (meeting place) for the banjar and includes a nurse’s room where volunteer nurses stay in order to hold health fairs every month. Families gather at the central tank to not only collect water, but to share news and local gossip.
Bali Water Project is essentially about drinking water – water only for human consumption. Though some passages deal with the problems of infrastructure and the economic development of Bali’s rural hill people, the book does not discuss water for bathing, agriculture or animals. Here and there, the book also touches on the captivating story of the Foss’s lives in Bali.
The book is not written by a professional writer, but the product of a layperson describing in a simple though well-researched way successful service projects that have been his passion for many years. Bali Water Project chronicles the arduous tasks necessary to make water available for human use in inhospitable areas where there is great poverty not seen by the average visitor, far beyond the exotic and frenetic tourist triangle of southern Bali.
Bali Water Project by Richard Foss, CV Bayu Graphic 2017, ISBN 978-602-60356-1-5, paperback, 222 pages, glossary. Also available as a Kindle edition from amazon.com.
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