Around the World in 54 weeks
Destination 8: Indonesia
The backpacker district of Kuta in Bali, Indonesia, is a far cry from the island paradise of tourism brochures. It's narrow alleys and milling crowds — typical of quarters in tourism hot spots that evolves to cater to the shoestring budget traveller.
In Bali, the party never stops. The tourist dollar keeps the island awake and working round the clock. And it's not just the broke that find their way to Bali. Plush five-star hotels and spas, private yachts and chartered aircrafts rake in the big bucks, indulging high spenders.
Most travellers are guilty of a fleeting interest in a place. Get off your bus, train or private jet… relax, indulge, consume, litter and leave. A few quick fixes and the cycle restarts. But, what becomes of all the remnants of your grand vacation? That carelessly tossed bottle of mineral water, every empty cigarette carton and beer bottle? How does one manage the demands of tourism, ambitions of the locals engaged in it and the irreparable drain of resources from this tiny island on the brink of disaster? Does anyone even care?
It is this concern for her island home that drives Yuyun Ismawati. She is an environmental engineer by training; activist and hero by default. In beautiful Bali, Yuyun took me for a walk along a dirty, choked river. Not the sight any traveller would want to remember Bali by. But effective in communicating her appeal for change.
Yuyun co-founded BaliFokus to deal with Bali's growing waste management and turn it into an environmentally sound, community-based solid waste management programme in Denpasar, Bali. This programme is being replicated in Indonesia with great success.
Yuyun battled apathy and animosity from the tourism industry, provincial government and the local people when she started out. No one wanted to be held responsible for the muck nor be held accountable for the injudicious use of precious resources such as fresh water and even electricity.
Her relentless work has resulted in frequent audits and ratings of hotels that claim to be eco-friendly. Her organisation is enabling equal access to the river water for farmers and locals; previously prioritised to the large hotels for plunge pools, luxurious baths and massive laundry loads.
"It's always an uphill battle when you're introducing new ideas. People were comfortable doing what they had always done, but with more tourists every year and greater strain on all of Bali's resources, it was time for change", Yuyun said. "Indonesia had limited laws and policies regarding waste disposal and toxic pollutants. That doesn't mean that the offenders should get away with it. The whole world was focusing on key issues that just weren't priority for Indonesia".
It took her 10 years, but these issues are being prioritised now. She is frequently consulted by policy makers and she advises industries on best practices and helps them put proper systems in place. Her new agenda is the proper assessment and disposal of waste by the medical industry.
Yuyun is also a single mom to two daughters. As her work took priority and she gained notoriety as a 'troublemaker', her marriage was the first casualty. But, she quotes and lives by Nietzche's words… "He who has a 'why' to live can bear almost any 'how'.
Yuyun is a respected Ashoka fellow. In 2009, she received the Goldman Environmental Prize and was also listed as one of Time's Heroes of the Environment.
The next time you're in Bali, and awestruck by its lush rice terraces, gorgeous beaches or even just the clean streets, don't forget to thank Yuyun.
Tithiya Sharma is on a year-long journey across the globe to find 100 everyday heroes — and hopefully herself — along the way.
More on web: To follow Tithiya's journey, log on to www.hindustantimes.com/100heroesproject