Cleaning Up By Example

By Elizabeth Henzell
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ Gotong Royong: These words have, in the past, reminded me of a hip-swivelling dance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gotong Royong is all about helping in the community; “mutual cooperation” is the Echols and Shadily Indonesian dictionary explanation.

So if you find yourself on Ubud’s Jl. Bisma or around the Tjampuhan Bridge end of Jl. Raya Ubud early on a Sunday morning, and I mean “0700 hours” early, you will meet up with a group of people who call themselves Ubud We Care or, in Indonesian, Forum Peduli Ubud, doing exactly that: “gotong royong.”

The Ubud We Care group is headed by Ketut Suardana. No fanfare, please – I could get into trouble for mentioning him. Pak Ketut isn’t a flashy person – a bit of a quiet achiever. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there would be very few people who could rally a crowd of people, possibly 70 or more, out of their beds on a Sunday morning to clean up the streets. And this is not just once a year. No, sir. It is every Sunday and it has been happening for the past four months.

A very proud member of the Ubud community, Ketut told me he was tired of seeing his beautiful island littered with rubbish, but not being one to criticise those responsible, he decided instead to form the Ubud We Care group and clean up his own street and surrounding areas. Ketut called on his family and friends and people who work in the Ubud businesses he and his wife, Janet DeNeefe, run. Jl. Bisma could be a role model for other streets and his “actions not words” philosophy is firmly in place and happening every Sunday.

Last Sunday, Ketut had even had the assistance of a group of students from Gajah Madah University in Yogyakarta who are here studying at Udayana University.

Many of the regular helpers wear gloves to protect their hands from the assortment of dirty rubbish, mostly plastic that has long since lost its contents due to dogs scavenging for food and is now part of the road, while others use a spiked tool to pick up the rubbish. They climb down into the gutters to remove anything that does not belong in the environment and would be a hazard to the animals and fish that live in the waterways that travel down from this hillside village of Ubud out to the ocean. Nothing is left that doesn’t belong.

This is done week in and week out and still there is rubbish! “Rome wasn’t built in a day” they say, and a change in the attitude of people to stop polluting this beautiful island will take more than a day, along with the time it will take to clean up the existing rubbish.

Education is the key, according to Ketut. A school programme teaching environmental issues is certainly of paramount importance and is already in place in most schools, but he says training should begin at home. Parents need to stop allowing their children to throw away rubbish whenever and wherever. One of my daughters commented when seeing children arriving at school with the traditional brooms made from the fronds of the coconut palm. They sweep up all the leaves and flowers that will decompose but throw away the plastic that will never decompose in their lifetime. The government should put pressure on the producers of plastic and also supermarkets and stores that hand out plastic, Ketut suggested.

However, please don’t for one minute think that it is only the local people responsible for littering. I have seen beaches littered with hundreds of plastic bottles and of course an assortment of cigarette packets. It would appear that alcohol and other substances cause people to lose their concern for the environment. A holidaying couple walking in front of me last week threw away wrapping from sweets they were eating but promptly picked it up when I recommended a swift kick in their nether regions for littering. Ketut, by the way, does not adhere to my brand of education. When I asked him how he would deal with people who littered, he said he would pick up the rubbish himself.

Australians really have nothing to crow about either. There are around 23 million people in Australia and on my trip back in February, I still saw rubbish along the waterways and streets. Imagine the amount of rubbish if there were the same population as Indonesia. Or maybe through years of education the majority of people no longer litter. I hope so anyway.

But what of my beloved Bali dogs and cats? This column is never complete without a mention of them. Well, the point I am making this week is this: If one man, Ketut Suardana, can rally a crowd each Sunday to clean up the streets, surely there must be someone who can harness this energy for the dogs and cats of Bali.

Who are you? We really need you. BAWA needs concerned citizens of Bali to make a difference to the lives of dogs and cats who are very much a part of this island. Your donation will keep the 24-hour Animal Ambulance and clinic on the road and open. You could volunteer each Sunday with me. It works wonders on my spirit and heals my sad heart now my daughters have returned to Australia!

Please join me in celebrating Bali’s own treasures and help make a difference. Donate online at or call Christine on (0361) 981 490. Your help is greatly appreciated.

Filed under:

Leave a Reply