It is all in the way you look at people

Probably the least inspiring place on beautiful Bali is Kuta Beach: Highly touristic with all side-effects as a deplorable result; a polluted beach, red burnt and drunken Aussies in a Karaoke Bar, prostitution, no room for authentic culture or nature – and the continued fear for another bomb attack that would undo Bali’s current source of income and identity. And then these vendors - omnipresent! Young children, teenagers and mothers with children selling plastic toys, refrozen ice creams, illegal cd and dvd’s, helmets (what would I need a helmet for?) and henna tattoo’s. "No, leave me alone" – the overheated tourist would scream almost desperate. But they will keep following you. “Hello Sir, look, look, cheap, cheap!”

Sal, an Italian born in Belgium, and Francien, a Dutch lady from Moluccan background spend several months per year in a very basic guesthouse in Kuta. These sellers on the beach are actually the reason why they keep coming back for almost 20 years. They have become their friends and family over the years.
“It is all in the way you look at people” explains Francien. When I came here 20 years ago for the first time we celebrated new year on the beach. There was a group of young boys sitting together, wearing old clothes, but having a lot of fun - they could be my sons. When I looked at them, I became curious. I wanted to hear their story. So, these boys, 8 to 10 years old, told me how their families had sent them from neighboring islands such as Lombok to Bali with the mission to earn income for the poor parents and siblings. Vending lighters, banana’s, scarfs made them feel proud, because they could fulfill their expected role as oldest son in the family. At the same time these street vendors were vulnerable, with the beach as their home, the sand as their bed and the sky as their roof. Sal and Francien have since spent every day in Kuta with these boys. Helping them earning more money and sometimes supporting them financially. Literally building up homes for them – repainting the walls of their shelters when needed. Being a father and a mother to them, caring for them, seeing them and listening to them. Now these boys are all grown up men, with their own little family. Proud that they can run their own little shop, offer a home to their wife and school for the children. And still supporting the family back in Lombok. When Sal and Francien walk around in Kuta beach they will also be stopped by street vendors every minute, but they will be called ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ and they will get a big hug and fried banana’s for free.

For Sal and Francien the months back home in the Netherlands are spent saving and fundraising for "their children" on Bali. Family and friends contribute. As a ‘thank you’ for this Sal and Francien sent around a new years card every year. “I hate to say that last year I chose that one picture of the crippled girl in an orphanage for the card; but such picture will convince people to donate – and it worked. This year I want to do it differently. I hope to find a way that I can share the hope, the proud and the dreams of these men and their families. Again: It is all in the way you look at people!

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Comment by Gaston on January 14, 2009 at 2:18pm
Nice sharing Caca. Spot on regarding your mention of resources. I have been to Boracay as well during the time I lived in Cebu. The tatoo story is a great local response!
Comment by Caca Carillo on January 14, 2009 at 9:40am
Thank you for sharing the story. Ive been to kuta myself and yes, the vendors can be very overwhelming, they are everywhere, and have a strong tendency to be in your face and in your business. I also live in a parallel world with boracay bieng maybe the bali of the philippines and yes there are vendors all around too, each one trying to ekk a living fro the tourists that go to the island.
I have spent my days with them, had waited on tables myself and understand that everyone, just prays for some money at the end of the day.
When I joined the program, "having been there and done that" I asked if the health authorities can look at "targets" in a different light, and see them as partners.
in 2006, we had a "walking iec contest" where henna tatoo artists (there's alot of them there) tatooed their own bodies with wonderful pictures that talk about HIV. when tourists, actually (everybody would) ask what thier tatoos were all about, they would talk about HIV, (they were participants in an HIV session before they can join the contest)
this year, its been 4 years that the tattoo artists are now involved in tha annual celebration of WAD in Boracay, they do different things to help the advocacy.
Now, vendors, massage girls, tattoo artists are part of the advocacy.
There is always a misconception that RESOURCES is money, in the work that we have been doing, WE KNOW that PEOPLE, everyone is a resource. The Butterfly Brigade is a manifestation of this belief.
EVERYONE is IMPORTANT, its just a way of looking at people.
Comment by roderick poblete on January 12, 2009 at 3:12pm
So many thanks Marlou, Usa and Laurence for making me look at the world in your eyes. Please do take good care of your gift . You are such a blessing in this world.

Comment by Laurence Gilliot on January 7, 2009 at 2:31pm
Beautiful and very human :-)

When I was in Cambodia, in Sihanouk ville near the coast, there were many vendors as well. Young girls were selling fruits, manicure and bracelets. I have never seen so many handicapped men begging with their children.

We were sitting at a bar on the beach and they were all around us... But instead of buying their goods, we were friendly with them and took the time to talk about life. "I raise my three children alone because my husband died." said one lady. "I stay here on the beach with my little sister, who is 8, to earn some money selling bracelets. I make them all by myself," shared another girl. We had a beautiful conversation together and even received a small bracelet from her.

Later that day, we saw a handicapped man (without leggs) dragging himself on the sand with his little daughter. It was really touching to see them. I really thought: "hé, he could be my dad. I could be this girl... I would also go with him on the beach, with my hand on his shoulder." I went to him and told him : "You are so strong, you have such strong and mussled arms!" He was so surprised and smiled at me. It is, indeed, the way you look at people that can make a world of difference...

Comment by Usa Duongsaa on January 6, 2009 at 10:27pm
A lovely story, just right for sharing at the beginning of the year! Many thanks for sharing, Marlou. Please let Sal and Francien know that I salute them for doing little things that have made such big differences in those boys' lives and the lives of those dependent on them. I agree with the point that it's all in the way you look at people. I guess it also has something to do with the way we look at ourselves as well :-)



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