There is an interesting ancient belief that is still alive within the Sumbanese people. When a member of the community dies, they believe the spirit takes off from the body and follows the same route their ancestors took when they came to the island. The spirit sails across the seas to Malacca (Malaysia) and up to the sky to live side-by-side with their ancestors. This belief is called Marapu and is an animistic belief, meaning that there are existing spirits living within the natural world.
These magnificent people, however, live in some of the harshest conditions know to man. It becomes nearly impossible to get aid because of their geographical isolation. There are but a few demographic of people that frequent this island - surfers are one of them. Surrounded by perfect and uncrowded waves, Sumba can be the perfect playground for any surfer. And that is how it all came about. A surfer came to this remote place chasing a sense of euphoria achieved from riding this faraway wave and found the local people were suffering from avoidable, life-threatening health conditions.
The story of SURFAID is one that begins as a search for waves, and ends up finding meaning through helping others.
We had the good fortune to meet with the founders of SURFAID Sumba, Kathryn and Stephen Nolan, earlier this year. They have been working in the region for over 8 years. We were excited to meet them firstly because of their dedication to enriching the lives of locals but secondly, because of their commitment to empowering the community, by training them to operate the programs themselves. We had pages full of questions to ask them. We hope they will inspire anyone looking to know more about efficient non-profit organisations working in remote parts of the world.
VOX POPULI: What’s the story that you are most proud of from your work in Sumba?
SURFAID Sumba: Our first project! We developed a project to supply water to the village of Patiala Dete. The villagers hand dug a well using metal sticks and buckets over three months. The project now pumps fresh water to 13 stations (hamlets) throughout the area through 5 km of piping. For the first time in their lives mothers and children no longer had to spend their days walking to collect water, allowing the children go to school. When we came back the following year, the parents had constructed a parallel school, as the current school could no longer hold all the children who were attending school. The government has built another school. We then understood the changes possible by providing clean water close to the villagers homes!
VP: What is the best lesson you have learned from working in Sumba?
SS: Our biggest failure! Patiala Bawa.
We learnt that just providing water was only a small part of the success of the project. We now realise that unless there is education and a commitment from the villagers to take responsibility for the project prior to the delivery of the project and invest their time, and in some cases money, the project will not become sustainable. The key to success is having both motivated and prepared people wanting change.
VP: What would you love to see happen?
SS: Our goal is for the communities we work with to become autonomous from us with the projects, taking full responsibility for the projects themselves and pass on these skills to other villages where we have not worked.
At present, we would like to obtain full accreditation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and be successful in larger grant applications to continue our work in other parts of Sumba. We would love to see an increase in our supporter base in Australia through improved social media exposure and awareness of our work across the globe.
Author: Erik Sumarkho