The signs read: “Those who need it, take it for free. Those who can afford it, feel free to fill it up.”
Throughout Bali, individuals and communities have been setting up charity stalls providing free nasi bungkus, or wrapped rice, for those who are struggling amid these challenging times in Indonesia. Small stands are erected on the sidewalk or a corner, with hooks and a sign, where people can grab what they need for free or offer a little something for the local community instead.
The distribution of free meals has been relatively common in Bali during the pandemic, but they appear to be popping up more in recent weeks, especially since the start of the Emergency Enforcement of Restrictions on Public Activities (Emergency PPKM) earlier this month.
“We saw how Emergency PPKM impacted the people in our community, their hardships were very visible and we saw it everyday,” Eddy Mustofa, Corporate Manager at Big Garden Corner, told Coconuts in an interview.
A team from the Sanur-based tourist attraction and restaurant then brainstormed ideas to help people in their area, which led them to set up the free nasi bungkus stall just six days ago. After sharing the initiative on social media, Eddy said they received an overwhelmingly positive response from those who wanted to support their cause.
Big Garden Corner said they gave away 40 nasi bungkus on their first day, but are now helping people by providing groceries as well, courtesy of generous donations that they’ve been receiving. Their team supervises the stall to ensure that the free provisions are reaching more people in need and not just the same select few, Eddy said. So far, they are able to help around 100 people a day.
“What the people get from that day, that is all they get to eat for that day,” Eddy said, illustrating the dire conditions for many in Bali right now.
More than 36,000 people fell under the poverty line during the pandemic in Bali, as the province’s rate rose to 4.53 percent in the last year. That means nearly 202,000 people out of Bali’s total population of 4.32 million are now earning less than IDR 452,221 (US$31.21) per month.
The current set of emergency restrictions across Indonesia, which is the closest thing the country has seen to a lockdown, have further limited people from trying to earn a living. But the measures are more than necessary to combat the devastating surge of coronavirus cases, which have resulted in record daily new infections and deaths in Indonesia. Bali, for its part, reported its highest daily new infections only on Saturday, at 1,019 cases, with some 7,300 people currently in treatment as of today.
At the time of publication, the government has yet to announce if Emergency PPKM will be extended beyond July 20, but its impact on people’s livelihoods, coupled with weak aid distribution from the government, are growing more apparent.
Kadek Fitri Purnami, a Denpasar-based photographer who founded local charity initiative Agro Bali x Bali Charity, has also been reaching out to individuals and families in need in various parts of the province.
Together with her fellow photographer husband Agus Putu Pranayoga, they have distributed over 1,000 meals in Denpasar, Badung, Tabanan, and Buleleng since they started a week ago, which has been possible through a network of about 15 volunteers despite mobility restrictions under Emergency PPKM. Their initiative also works with local food sellers so as to help out the struggling small businesses as well.
Kadek told Coconuts that the situation in Bali right now is “very concerning,” given that a lot of people have relied heavily on the tourism industry. The couple, who are both wedding photographers, are among those who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
“When there were no more wedding gigs and we were just staying at home, we decided to start managing donations in a transparent way. We really wanted to help, and somehow a lot of people were moved to donate through us, and every day there are always donations,” Kadek said, adding that all the donations are accounted for and shared via Instagram.
At first, Kadek was a bit skeptical; she wasn’t sure people would be willing to give when times are already challenging for everyone, but her husband told her to get rid of her pessimism.
“[We started this initiative because] my husband was reminded with a message from his late father, who said: how can we help one another? [That way] we can open up people’s paths to fortune and reinforce our own,” Kadek said.
“My husband said: when we have good and honest intentions, and we are sincere, there will always be a way. The most important thing is to start.”
Eddy, too, spoke of the Big Garden Corner’s project from a similar mindset. The business may have been severely impacted by the pandemic and subsequent restrictions, especially now during Emergency PPKM, but evidently, that hasn’t stopped the team from extending their helping hands.
“Good intentions should never be limited, so let us see where this goes,” he said, when asked about how long Big Garden Corner plans on carrying out the initiative.
Eddy hopes that these types of initiatives can inspire others to start their own in their local community, because then it would mean reaching more people who are in need, while also allocating resources more effectively.
“These are real aid that they can receive right away […] Hopefully it can inspire others and so more initiatives like these will pop up, so we can reach out to more people in the community and pay attention to who might need support,” Eddy said.
Through efforts such as Kadek’s and Eddy’s, many in the community have indeed been inspired to start their own. On social media, there are already glimpses of various free nasi bungkus stalls popping up in the last week, illustrating the strength of people helping out one another in times of need.
Sometimes, just a handful of people caring in our own community is all it takes, Eddy said.
“It becomes a responsibility for us all in these hard times […] it may be small but we can try to do something,” he said.