Solemen Bali: Giving New Life to the Destitute
Bali, often called the Island of the Gods and the Morning of the World, evokes images of balmy beaches, indulgent vacations, gracious natives, a place where you can leave your cares behind and cocoon in tranquil and relaxing surroundings. Bali is all that but it is not a complete picture. Underneath the glamorous, sybaritic and prosperous face of Bali there is another layer which tourists seldom see: that of extreme poverty, destitution and untreated illness.
In areas where tourists seldom venture, there are families living in substandard conditions, people with severe and untreated medical problems, children and adults who are malnourished, many of whom are severely disabled and have no access to medical treatment. Many of these people are difficult to find, mostly because Balinese culture dictates that misery, disability and poverty should be hidden from the outside world.
It is precisely these people that are the focus of a great outreach program started by the Solemen Foundation, the most well-known and visible NGO in Bali. Solemen’s outreach team of volunteer doctors, nurses, and therapists work tirelessly, covering the entire island. They focus on providing effective and targeted help where it will have the most impact. Their cases range from children and adults with pernicious diseases or living in abominable conditions, to those who need crucial medical intervention, ongoing therapy or medications not always available in Bali.
Operating on a shoestring budget, they nevertheless work wonders and are very effective at making a vast difference in the lives of those they reach. They help people such as Ni Luh, a young girl with severe cerebral palsy who spent 13 years of her life lying on her back without proper medical care. Today she is in a wheelchair, receives therapy and has a more stimulating and caring environment. Solemen certainly made a difference to a 45-year old man who was caged by his local village due to mental health issues, a deplorable but often occurring method of dealing with such situations. After two years of ongoing treatment, holistic care and medical supervision, Made is free from his cage.
Sixteen-year old Wayan suffers from Epidermyosis Bullosa, an extremely painful skin condition also known as butterfly skin that causes the skin to erupt in painful sores and blisters comparable to third-degree burns. This disease also caused his fingers and toes to fuse together until the Solemen team arranged plastic surgery to separate his webbed fingers. Despite this debilitating condition and his hand deformities Wayan works as a craftsman, making imaginative lamps from lollipop sticks.
Solemen Foundation is not the recipient of government funds or assistance from large institutional donors. Instead they currently have to fund their work by donations from caring and empathic individuals and through partnership with small businesses and corporate supporters. That corporate support can have a far-reaching impact is amply illustrated by the partnership with Bali Dynasty Resort in Kuta whose charity program called “Helping Friends for Life” is now helping to support Solemen’s outreach program.
Under this program four children receive monthly sponsorship which covers their medical, nutritional or educational needs. The program also covers medical assessments for children suffering from a wide range of medical conditions, provides wheelchairs for disabled children and adults, prostheses for amputees, and a scholarship for a nurse-in-training
This unique, effective and creative program is funded by an ‘opt out’ $2 per stay contribution charged to their guests. Bali Dynasty Resort also regularly organizes fun entertainment like quiz nights and cocktail parties to benefit Solemen.
“There are so many worthwhile cases and we want to do so much more” says Solemen founder Robert Epstone, “but our work is restricted due to lack of sustainable funding. With more partnership programs like Bali Dynasty Resort –a great inspirational model for CSR programs in the hotel industry – and regular donations, even small change from tourists, our outreach program could rapidly grow much larger and reach more needy people. What is just small pocket change for tourists can represent a lifeline to a better and healthier life for our “SoleBuddies.”
Additionally, why not purchase one of their “Sole Teddies” as a souvenir for a friend, proceeds which will go to Solemen.