Irene Deborah was completely unprepared for what happened when the Jeep window was wound down in Sepang village, northern Bali a few months ago.
“The smell was so bad,” Ms Deborah said.
Ms Deborah, program director for the Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM) Foundation, had pulled up in front of the village’s main meeting space with UnitingWorld’s Debora Murthy.
Dr Murthy explained the stench came from the open area the villagers used as a toilet.
A 2014 report found that 19 per cent of those living in Sepang, meaning well over 700 people, had no private toilets.
Toilets were considered less of a priority in some of the poorer households than pigpens.
MBM, which is an aid and education outreach of the Protestant Christian Church in Bali and a partner of the Uniting Church’s UnitingWorld agency, has been teaching villagers in Sepang about the importance of sanitation. It has also provided building materials, which has resulted in 50 toilets being installed.
Rev Ketut Sudiana is the director of MBM and well understands the plight of those living in disadvantage. Mr Sudiana entered a Balinese Christian orphanage at the age of six. The second oldest of five brothers, his family could not afford to raise him.
“My family is poor, very poor. My father and my mother have nothing,” he said.
He took on the job of MBM director two months ago, which he does while still running congregational services at two churches.
“Our program is not about the religion; we do it for all the people in Bali,” Mr Sudiana said.
“If the Australian people come to Bali and then holiday in Kuta they will find many things that are good, but if they go to the villages they will see a very different situation.”
The MBM centre, which also hosts UnitingWorld’s South East Asia Regional Office headed by Dr Murthy, is located in the Badung region of Denpasar. From there it sends out teams to remote and rural areas.
MBM’s work falls broadly under two divisions – Economic Empowerment and Environmental Preservation as well as Health, Advocacy and Education.
Ms Deborah said MBM provides small loans to help villagers improve their economic circumstances.
“The poor people cannot get starting capital from a bank so we provide the micro-credit so they can make their own food stall or home industry,” Ms Deborah said.
MBM also runs seminars on improving agriculture and organises self-help groups, including ones that promote female economic empowerment.
Ms Deborah said MBM has economically assisted 783 families, helping 304 escape from poverty.
For the environmental preservation part of its mission MBM has partnered with the Indonesian government to establish the ‘Clean and Green’ program.
MBM sends out clean-up teams that collect rubbish and also pays villagers a small amount to do the same.
“Before we collect rubbish from the villages we give education about the environment,” Ms Deborah said.
The organic waste is turned into compost, while what can be recycled from the inorganic matter is sold to third parties.
Under its mandate to improve health services MBM runs clinics, both permanent and mobile, that provide free medical check-ups and tests in remote and rural areas.
As well as general examination, the clinics focus on reproductive health, pap smears and HIV tests.
Rising rates of HIV infection are a hidden problem in Bali and MBM offers counselling to those who fear taking tests because of the stigma attached to the condition.
MBM also works with pregnant women who have HIV by helping provide medicines and other advice to prevent the spread of the disease to their babies.
The foundation provides the only shelter in Bali for women and children who are escaping domestic violence or circumstances even more horrifying.
“Sex slavery is a great problem in Indonesia,” Ms Deborah said.
“We previously had two children survivors from Lombok, they were sisters and both underage. One was nine years old, the other one was 15 years old.
“The younger sister was brought here by her father when she was seven years old and she got raped by him, her own father.
“One year later, her older sister was brought here and got raped by the father as well. The older sister was also sold to other men and she got pregnant.
“We did not know who the father is, whether it was the girl’s own father or the other men.”
The sisters stayed at the shelter for six months before the younger girl went back to her mother’s house in Lombok, while the older one stayed in Bali with a friend. Both girls are now in school.
The plight of the girls was another example of MBM taking up issues that are often taboo in Indonesia.
“Society is usually scared to share those sort of stories,” Ms Deborah said.
“We have to speak for them. Those children don’t have a space to stay to feel safe. We have to be their voice.”
MBM’s future depends on a submission currently being prepared by Rev Sudiana and his team to the organisation’s main financial backers, a German church organisation.
The proposal is aimed at guaranteeing another four years’ worth of funding.
MBM encourages people who would like to volunteer to help in their work to contact them or UnitingWorld. Those with medical training or other applicable expertise are welcome but there are also spots for those who just might like to help teach English or even pick up rubbish.
The MBM centre offers accommodation with breakfast included, as well as meeting facilities at its centre for those visiting Bali who want to learn about the island beyond the tourist hotspots.