Thu, 04 May 2000

Poverty alleviation program helps the poorest of the poor

By I Wayan Juniarta

KARANGASEM, East Bali (JP): Imagine what it is like to wake up each day with no clean water, little food and no place to take an ailing child.

For some, the ongoing multidimensional crisis has made their already poor lot even worse. In Bali, the most impoverished villages have witnessed the effect on education.

In Ban, some 90 kilometers east of Bali, hundreds of school- age children have dropped out of school; many of them are illiterate due to the limited education facilities.

With a population of 9,500, the village is one of the poorest on the tourist island of Bali. It is located in a remote area on the slopes of the Gunung Abang and Gunung Agung mountains.

Per capita income is very low, averaging only Rp 121,500 monthly. Public facilities, including clean water, community health centers, schools and toilets, are rare.

The nearest water source or well is about a six-hour walk. Villagers must also walk for four hours to five hours to reach a community health center.

The rugged setting and lack of necessary public facilities have caused many villagers, children and women in particular, to suffer from severe malnutrition, especially when the crisis hit the country.

About 84 percent of 3,500 children aged between six years and 12 years old in the village are suffering from vitamin and iodine deficiencies.

"Our staple food consists of only cassava and corn. We rarely eat rice, let alone meat, eggs and other nutritious food," said a villager.

To improve the health condition of the villagers, non- governmental organization Ekoturin launched its East Bali poverty eradication program beginning in 1998.

The program covers the construction of infrastructure -- roads, bridges and public toilets.

Ekoturin's executive director David Booth said during a visit to Ban that the program also comprised education activities to provide school-age children with adequate school facilities. A special schooling program for illiterate children is also being held to help the children obtain basic education.

"We receive financial support from the business community, international organizations and individuals who are concerned about the misery of these rural people."

For the illiteracy eradication program, Ekoturin is supported by Bali Dynasty Resort.

This hotel has been active in raising funds for poor children since last February. The drive, called the Golden Lotus Charity Drive Promotion, has targeted collecting more than Rp 100 million for poor children.

Ekoturin also received donations from the Rotary Club of Bali Taman, Island Angels, Lotus Enterprises-Jimbaran, Bali International Women's Association, Bali's British Women's Association, Bali Hyatt hotel, Standard Chartered Bank-Jakarta, Radisson Hotel Sanur, Courts Department Store in Bali and other institutions.

Booth added that Unicef also pledged to provide iodine capsules for 5,000 children in the province's poor villages.

A number of experts have also lent a hand in the poverty alleviation program. Dr. IGN Indraguna Pinatih, a nutritionist from Udayana University in Denpasar, has designed a food supplement program for under-fives and school-age kids suffering from acute iodine deficiencies.

Agriculture experts Ketut Mudra and I Gusti Nyoman Ngurah have introduced an organic farming system and effective irrigation in the province's remote villages. Volunteers from local youth organizations and universities have helped out.

"To end the suffering of these poor people, we need more help and donations from the more fortunate groups," said Booth.