I’m writing this article to try and clarify some of the questions around this issue. Until yesterday I didn’t have a clear understanding of the situation, but after visiting some refugee camps in the area surrounding Amed (coastal town situated 14km from the volcano in the far east of Bali) and speaking to some of the NGOs and Non-Profits working hard in the area, I thought it might be helpful to combine it all into one post.
1. If you want to donate or directly deliver supplies
Many people are gathering or purchasing donations of goods to directly deliver to the non profits or evacuation camps. Many people are concerned about where their money will go if they simply donate, so they prefer to purchase or deliver supplies directly.
If you are going to take this route, then the advice we received from the volunteers on the ground is this:
- first contact the organisation and ask what they need, don’t just assume.
- if you are going to be buying supplies (food, etc), consider waiting and buying them closer to the affected areas. Areas like Amed that rely on tourism are struggling because the tourists have fled and many local people are out of work. For our donation, we purchased everything from a bulk grocery store as we were unsure whether supply was limited in the surrounding areas but realised after that it’s better to come to town and buy locally to inject money back into the local community. There may be some items like the N95 face masks that need to be purchased in other areas, but they should be able to tell you that when you reach out.
- Make sure that you coordinate ahead of time and don’t just turn up. The volunteers are already strapped for time and people dropping in unexpectedly with a few items here and there can be a big distraction.
- If you don’t have a full car load of supplies, consider dropping them off to one of the organised drop of spots around Bali.
2. If you want to volunteer your time
For various reasons, many people would prefer to volunteer their time. When we asked Anthony, one of the coordinators for Amed Bali First Aid P3K, whether they needed more volunteers the answer was a very qualified yes. They are absolutely stretched thin, and do need volunteers but they need the right volunteers.
Back when Mount Agung first reared its head in September, chaos followed. The NGOs/Non-Profits were inundated with people wanting to volunteer, however many of them weren’t really prepared for the realities of a volunteer role.
NGOs need volunteers who:
- have specialist skills like first aid, medical care, non-profit experience, book-keeping, etc
- can contribute to the fundraising efforts (either by on-the-ground promotion, helping them manage their instagram, providing admin support to help them answer potential donor enquiries etc.)
- have the ability and willingness to commit for an extended period of time
- are willing to do the ‘boring’ work, like counting supplies as well as the things that they want to help with.
Having volunteers who come for just a few days, or are only willing to help with certain things can actually be a detrimental distraction to the relief effort as it takes time to train people, and if you spend a few days on-boarding someone only for them to leave a week later then they probably haven’t made a positive impact overall.
This is something we were acutely aware of when we first decided to visit the camps — would us being there actually have a positive impact or would we just be a distraction? We spoke to some of the coordinators, explained the situation and our thoughts — that we could potentially leverage some of the media attention we were getting and funnel it towards donation efforts, as well as provide them photos and videos that they could use in their own campaign efforts going forward — they thought it would be incredibly helpful, so we jumped in a car and went.
So if you would like to volunteer, seriously think it through — are you willing to work on all the unglamorous parts, do you have the ability to commit extended time, will you want or need to leave as soon as a major eruption happens, etc. Be transparent with the organisations you want to work with and let them decide whether it would be helpful for them.
Remember that this is a real crisis that involves many moving parts, and volunteering might mean staying up and manning the food bank until 3am, handing out supplies to people in need or sitting an an office somewhere doing inventory.
3. An alternative to volunteering yourself — sponsor a local volunteer
Many people in the communities surrounding the volcano (including Amed where we visited) rely heavily on tourism, and the local economy is struggling with the ongoing effects of the volcanic eruption scaring away the tourists — so there are lots of people in need of work. There are also non-profits and NGOs that are understaffed and in need of help from people who who know the local community and speak Bahasa and/or Balinese.
We asked Anthony about this possibility and he said that while it wasn’t something that he had seen a lot of, after donating money it was one of the best things that someone could do. The average monthly salary for a full time employee in Bali is around $150USD per month, so a donation of $1000USD could provide a full-time local staff member for over 6 months — helping the non-profits but also injecting cash into the local community.
4. Donate money or help the fundraising campaigns
Anything that you can do to help raise awareness of the critical work these groups are doing and help them raise funds to help sustain the efforts of these groups is valuable. The situation on the ground changes instantly, and money gives them the flexibility to buy what they need when they need it.
If you are worried about operational overheads or the money being misused, do a bit of research into the organisations that you are thinking of supporting, or choose a small grassroots organisation that has a history of transparency.
We’ve currently got a fundraising campaign running that is supporting two organisations helping in the relief effort, which you can donate to here. I’ll be personally making sure that every dollar donated here will reach these groups, and happy to share every receipt with full transparency.
Alternatively you can support the groups directly – just be patient, they are so busy on the ground that answering emails can be a bit of a struggle.
- Bali Street Kids Project protects vulnerable children in Indonesia with shelter, healthcare, and more. Since Mt Agung became active in September 2017, BSPK has taken in refugees providing support with food, housing, and other necessities.
- Team Action for Amed & Amed Bali First Aid P3K
We also put a call-out to the Facebook group Canggu Community and they recommended the following organisations. I can’t personally recommend them but they would be a good place to start if you want to do your own research:
Part 2 - A little bit of background
A bit of history on me and why I’ve come to write this.
I’ve been living in Bali (mostly Canggu) on and off for the last 2 years, running study abroad trips from Australia with my startup, The Institute of Code. I also have a deep love for photography and have spent the last year and half working hard at this passion. This passion for photography led me to capture one of the “viral” photos and time-lapses of the eruption which as been seen by millions of people around the world.
Over my time here I have made many Balinese friends and have fallen in love with their culture and generosity. Over the years I have done little bits and pieces to help my friends and their communities, but I admit that it hasn’t been as much as I could have been doing. So when I was unexpectedly thrown into the media spotlight I wanted to try and leverage that to help support the relief efforts.
How I came to visit the refugee camps in Amed.
After my photo started taking off on social media, I had a few NGOs reach out and ask if they could use the photo to help promote their efforts. We started chatting and soon we were on the phone to a number of people on the ground to ask how we could help, and their urgent need was supplies of food.
Michelle from Team Action for Amed filled us in on the situation and their urgent need for help as they were expecting close to 6,000 refugees to come down off the mountain that night after the Indonesian government had issued a higher level warning. So we jumped in the car and set up a somewhat mobile office in the back, with my partner Tina on one phone and laptop and me on the other working as fast as we could to coordinate where to buy supplies, what to bring and the best/safest route to get to Amed. We set up a fundraising campaign page but it would take time for donations to flow in so we dipped into our own account and filled the car with medical supplies, food and basic life necessities, like soap, bug spray and bleach (for toilets). We made it to Amed at nightfall and made contact with one of the team members Anthony, and dropped off our supplies at the food bank they had started there.
Being so close to everything suddenly made it all real. We were hearing that up to 6000 people were on their way, listened to the sound of a storm rolling in and staring at a store room that had enough food for maybe 2 days with that many people.
Whats actually happening and how you can help.
After the eruption of Mount Agung an exclusion zone has been set, varying at times, between 6km and 12km from the center of the volcano, and hundreds of thousands of families have been told to leave their homes. They have been evacuated to nearby areas and offered temporary residence in evacuation camps.
There are a few different types of camps. There are ones run by locals that have some space in their house; then there are ‘private’ camps run by NGOs or Non-Profits that organise make-shift camps in whatever spaces they can find, from community halls to empty plots of land; and finally there are government camps where large areas of land, usually sports grounds, are set up with big military style tents.
While various community groups, government and NGOs are all trying hard to look after the families in the camps from the reports we have heard the situation is often far from ideal – some camps have a lack of plumbing or draining, inadequate sanitation, are over-crowded and don’t have enough basic supplies (food, water, gas masks, etc) for everyone.
Many are also struggling with the spread of illness that happens when you combine big groups in small spaces with poor sanitation.
What are the camps and how many people are in there?
The size of the camps varies, both from area to area and based on the current status of the volcano and time of day – the camps that I visited were home to about 100-200 people on average (and some of the camps are holding thousands) and are located in community halls, covered sports areas and some other government buildings. The first night that we were there, they hadn’t had time to assemble more tents for the influx of people, so many would be sleeping open air in the rain.
It’s hard to get an accurate gauge on how many people there are, because for the locals affected, their crops and livestock are their entire livelihood. Despite the danger, the men and boys (and some women too) will often will leave the camp during the day to tend to their land and return at night to sleep. This has made it incredibly hard for the relief effort as they are struggling to know which camps need their attention most, and it’s heartbreaking knowing that the people you are trying to help are putting their lives in danger to protect their homes.
What do the NGOs/Non-profits do?
We worked with two non-profits while we were in the Amed area. One was dedicated to providing basic necessities, like food, clean water and medical supplies and the other was dedicated solely to medical care. In Amed, the local businesses and community set up a food bank in a donated building, had a truck donated which is being run by Team Action for Amed. They have also been tasked with the data collection and analysis to better understand where to direct efforts and where everyone is. The second, run by Rumah Sehat Humanitarian Project aided by Amed Bali First Aid P3K, has a team of nurses and a rotating doctor that does medical check ups and provides medicine and masks. The two work hand in hand to maximise their efforts. Most of the time, it’s a case of visiting the camps, checking in on everyone, talking to them, delivering information on the situation and collecting data, such as how many people, how much food is left and what the conditions are like. Once they have analysed the data, they organise food drops and medical care.
Finally I want give my sincere gratitude to the hard working volunteers who have been involved since the first eruption or before. Its amazing to see the community galvanised together and see so many people come together to offer their time and/or money to the relief efforts. But the real heros are the ones working hard in the background, most of whom you’ll never know.
* This information was collected from a variety of sources, but if anyone reading this who is working in the field has additional information to add or perspectives that haven’t been added here, please get in touch