Solemen’s great Outreach program continues unabated. Since 2011, the growing, fast acting Outreach Team of volunteer doctors, nurses, and therapists has been canvassing the remote areas of Bali to find the hidden misery of untreated disease, disability and extreme poverty. Solemen, the most visible and trusted charity in Bali has made itself a reputation for finding the needy people ‘who are hidden from society’ and are not helped by any other available programs, private or governmental. Many of them are difficult to find, mostly because it is normal in the Balinese culture that misery, disease, disability and poverty are hidden from the outside world.
Indonesia still experiences a poverty rate with 50% of the country’s 260 million people living on $2 or less a day. Nationwide more than 28% of children are underweight and 44% are facing stunted growth. In Bali, despite the glamourous side and relaxing atmosphere, malnutrition among the poor communities is a real problem. And in those communities it is the children who suffer most. Insufficient intake of nutrients due to malnourishment caused by extreme poverty, untreated allergies and untreated disease stunts a child’s growth and development and that child is at greater risk of illness and disease throughout its lifetime. Poor nutrition and inadequate vitamin, protein and micro nutrient intake in children result in poor brain development, weak muscle growth and impaired coordination. This affects a child’s mental, physical, emotional and social health and is the leading cause of diseases in adulthood. This is one of the reasons Solemen exsists and do what they can to better the life of the disadvanted people in Bali. Solemen’s team has grown enormously. They now care for some 2011 SoleBuddies, their affectionate term for the people – children and adults alike – they are trying to help. The team operates on a small budget, yet performs miracles by focusing their efforts on where it will have the most impact.
But where did this success story started?
In 2009 British entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert Epstone retired to Bali with wife Shelley after a busy career in the fashion and music business in London and Shanghai. After settling down in their very own corner of paradise in Seminyak and enjoying the retired life in Bali, Robert grew a bit restless and bored and started looking for ‘something else to do beside lounging, vegging and loafing’. Due to his lifelong work with philanthropic organizations in Great Britain, the Former Yugoslavia and Romania, he naturally got to know t the many opportunities available in Bali. He joined Rotary Seminyak and was given a project and built twenty wells with accompanying fruit and vegetable gardens on the island of Sumba providing water and food to over two thousand villagers. This soon gave him a taste of the less glamourous side of Bali and he became aware that life ‘on the other side’ of Bali represented a raw deal for the many disadvantaged people he encountered along the way. He wanted to help them in his own creative, quirky way and came up with an unusual idea: to raise funds for the underprivileged by walking barefoot until the Solemen charity could raise 1 million dollars. He still always walks on barefoot.
‘On my travels around Bali I saw a lot of children walking barefoot to school. It soon became clear they did so because they did not own shoes, or if they did, they did not fit well enough for walking. Their families were too poor to buy proper footwear for them and so I came up with the idea to walk barefoot like them to start some fundraising for the benefit of those poor children. Together with two other friends we organized our Barefoot Walks Around Bali campaign, called ourselves the Solemen and invited people to walk with us.’ Robert tells.
With more partnership programs and regular donations, even small change from tourists, Solemen’s outreach program could 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 the “SoleBuddies.”