A COUNTRY kid from Yarram, Margaret Barry, with family members spread throughout South Gippsland, including brother Pat Barry at Wonthaggi, is happy to acknowledge that a lot of things have gone right in her life.
Which is why the 30-year resident of Bali wanted to do something fundamental for the local community after the October 2002 terrorist bombings left 202 people dead from 21 countries, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians.
Margaret was among a group of ex-pats and locals who pitched in and helped at local hospitals during the crisis and while the event had a profound impact on her as well, it led to positive action rather than recrimination.
“I experienced in my own life, coming from a small, isolated town, through the supported education system in Australia of the mid-60s and 70s, how much difference a good education can make to your opportunities and outlook in life.
“I was convinced that a lack of education was fundamentally behind what happened in Bali and thought about trying to create a copy of that supported education system here.”
A successful career in the corporate world, which included setting up and expanding a clothing manufacturing business in India for her employers, into a
$10 million-a-year operation, equipped Margaret for what she was about to do.
It all started with the establishment of the Bali Children Foundation in 2002.
Since then, the charity has provided a start in education for thousands of Balinese, presently with 10,000 kids on their books.
The group’s alumni includes two doctors, several engineers, many nurses and teachers but a lot more who didn’t go on to tertiary studies, but put their education to good use getting jobs in hospitality and also in the trades.
All the work of the foundation, over the past 20 years is now being put at risk, though, by the global pandemic, the local impact of COVID-19 on Indonesia and Bali and the fact that the all-important tourism industry has been shutdown.
Data shows there were almost 145,000 people unemployed in Bali last year. That figure rose from 39,000 in 2019. But the actual number could be much higher, with tourism also a key source of income for families in remote villages.
“They work extensively in hospitality and also as labourers who help fix gardens and build villas,” Ms Barry told SBS News during a special TV feature last weekend.
“There was this consistent work available to the labourers and now that work has almost totally disappeared. Their incomes are now a third of what they got before, and even before, they were on the poverty line.”
Over the past 17 months the organisation has had to shift its focus from education to feeding families.
“Those remote communities, often with very poor education, have very few resources to fall back on during this time. The impact has been catastrophic,” she said.
Ms Barry says many families now rely on the little money they make through clove harvesting and basket weaving.
“Our focus now is on food relief but also on getting the young children, in grades 1-3, at least a good start in education,” Ms Barry said, fearful the pandemic could result in the vital work of the foundation breaking down completely.
And she’s already experienced where that lack of education can lead.
Those back in Australia, and especially locally, who want to help this worthy cause can go to the Bali Children Foundation at balichildrenfoundation.org.
There you’ll find a “donate” button and details about the work of the foundation, assured that all money raised will go directly into desperately needed food relief and education.