Poverty, a scarcity of resources, and a host of issues that stem from gender discrimination have plagued the remote and unspoiled East Flores region – but the work of one organisation is radically changing the lives of the women who live there and the communities which surround them.

Access to electricity in remote East Flores ranges from unreliable to non-existent, but the frequent blackouts are now giving some local women a reason to smile. By selling simple solar lanterns, these women are not only boosting their income, they are also improving the quality of life of their entire community. One of these ‘micro-social entrepreneurs’ is Kamsinah Palan Bolen (Kak Bolen), who sells solar lanterns, water filters and fuel-efficient cookstoves in her village on Adonara Island. Kak Bolen gained access to these echnologies through Kopernik, an Indonesiabased organisation working to connect simple technology with last-mile communities to reduce poverty. Through Kopernik’s Wonder Women initiative, Kak Bolen joined a training program to become a Tech Agent, developing the skills to successfully sell technologies and manage her own business.

Working as a Tech Agent allows her to live independently and serve as an inspiration for other women in her community. She has even used some of the money to help her niece graduate from university. But Kak Bolen says the greatest satisfaction comes from knowing that she is dramatically improving the lives of those in her community. “What I do is small, but it benefits so many. It opens minds for the community to take care of the environment, save money for daily needs, and plan for the future,” she says. “I want to dedicate my life to the community. I want all of us to live a better life.” A better life is a dream for many in East Flores. This eastern Indonesian regency is plagued by problems which exacerbate poverty. Most families rely on subsistence agriculture, but drought, disease and pests often cause crops to fail. Roads, where they exist, are in varying states of disrepair, isolating villages. The region has one of the lowest rates of access to improved water sources, and one of the highest rates of child stunting of all Indonesia. The challenges seem to pile on top of each other: volcanic eruptions, a malaria epidemic, a rabies outbreak and land conflict in the past few years alone.

To escape grinding poverty, people often leave East Flores to earn a living through migrant work, particularly in he Malaysian region of Sabah. Many men never return, abandoning their wives. But the Indonesian government does not recognise these women as household heads – according to Indonesian law, the head of a household must be a man. This means that women who have been abandoned, widowed, divorced or separated from their husbands can’t access many government services and poverty alleviation programs. Life in East Flores is pretty tough, life in East Flores for women without husbands is even tougher. You have to be pretty resilient to survive. Kopernik has partnered with PEKKA, an Indonesian association for women-headed households, to help 36 women in East Flores become Tech Agents. Across Indonesia, 300 women have participated in Tech Agents training to sell simple technologies where they are needed the most. To date, they have sold more than 10,000 clean energy technologies, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 5,000 tonnes.

Kopernik’s Wonder Women initiative uses philanthropic support to fund the upfront cost of sending technology to ‘the last mile’. The women participate in Tech Agent training in technology use and maintenance, business planning and financial management, sales and marketing, and public speaking. They receive the technologies on consignment, and
earn a commission on every sale. As the products are sold, the money is reinvested in more technology to help more people. Through this micro-consignment model, supported by crowd-funded donations, these Wonder Women are at the forefront of a renewable economy.

Impact assessments conducted by Kopernik suggest the women are transforming their lives in constructive and meaningful ways. On average, Tech Agents have increased their monthly income by 30%, and are spending their extra income on food for their families (58% of the women), followed by education for themselves and their children (40%) and expanding their businesses (30%). Two thirds of the women surveyed feel that their status in the
community has improved.

Looking forward, Kopernik plans to expand this initiative to 10 more provinces in eastern Indonesia – aiming to empower 500 women to sell 56,000 technologies by 2017. And women will remain the number one priority, says Tomohiro Hamakawa, performance and monitoring lead of Kopernik’s Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative in Eastern Indonesia. “Energy is often the domain of women’s activities all over the world including in Indonesia. The use of these products is dependent on women in these households….that is why we target women as the promoters and agents of change.”

Kopernik’s Wonder Women initiative was recently awarded a Momentum for Change award at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, recognising innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and broader economic and social challenges. Kak Bolen’s dedication to empowering others was recognised by Kopernik with an invitation to travel to Peru to accept the award on behalf of the organisation. But Kopernik co-founder Ewa Wojkowska says all the women who take part in the Wonder Women initiative are superheros. “These women are really inspirational, in fact we call the program ‘Ibu Inspirasi’ in Indonesian, meaning inspirational women and mothers. In English, we call them ‘Wonder Women.’ And the women are really superheros in their village and in their communities. They’ve providing access to technologies which really improve people’s lives”.

Tech Kiosk Ubud by Kopernik sells solar lights, water filters and other eco-friendly, moneysaving technologies: Jl Raya Pengosekan, Ubud, Bali, near ARMA museum. Phone: +62 (0)361 97 72 33 Website: www.kopernik.info

I am always amazed when I meet people who have never been to Penang, that emerald isle off Malaysia’s east coast. After all, it was long a stop off on the hippie trail that meandered across Asia from Europe, in the days when Phuket was nothing more than a few fishing villages. It was also a colonial port, and it has strong connections with Australia and Britain, and it is surprising how many folk I meet, who have enjoyed a stint of living there.

Penang is special for many enjoyable reasons. Through its long history of trade and colonisation, the most recent one being the British, it has retained its unique, somewhat somnolent character, a little like Singapore before it changed. Chinese and Indian quarters merge together with imposing clan houses, temples and a mosque or two, right in the midst of Little India. Indian music blasts out while long curls of Chinese incense burn slowly, sending tendrils of smoke heavenwards to appease their gods.

While the New Age diversions that abound in Bali have not quite reached Penang, ‘old age’ esoterica is well in place. Pop down to the thrillingly exuberant Little India, where bangra music blasts from boom boxes, and have your palm read or your astrology charts done by genuine Indian mystics. Hindu fortune tellers will give you their vision of your future for a few dollars, or you can even ask a parrot! Top it off with a genuine masala dosa and a glass of chai, or some searingly-spicy Indian curry, then shop around for all kinds of Indian specialties.

Due to some enlightened urban development strategies decided some twenty or thirty years ago, planned development was concentrated in new areas of the island rather than in the older historical quarters, with the result that Penang is now an island where the old mingles harmoniously with the new. Five minutes out of old Georgetown brings you to imposing new shopping malls and blocks of ultramodern condominiums with views over the languid Malacca Straits, while at the same time the heritage areas retain an authenticity missing in most other Asian cities, (except perhaps Malacca or Hanoi), which have been aggressively modernised out of all recognition.

I have met British senior citizens in Singapore wandering about with tears in their eyes because they can’t find any of the landmarks of their youth – and well, the same could be said for Kuta in Bali – but Penang remains reassuringly the same as it ever was, but better. The heart of Old Penang is unabashedly and exuberantly Chinese. Bright-red joss stick holders nailed into columns at the side of fivefoot wide walkways contain clumps of burning incense and daily offerings, while dim interiors reveal small family shrines alight with candles and effigies of deities. Trishaws roam the streets looking for customers, or more often the driver will park on a corner, put his legs up and exhort customers from his supine position of comfort. If his business is refused, never mind – another customer will appear presently. With the largest area of extant Chinese shophouses possibly in the world, Penang finally achieved UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2008.

Together with the demise of the Protected Rents Act in 2000, it has caused a gentrification of Old Penang which is now almost in danger of being Disneyfied. Dozens of fabulous old houses have been restored, and in some cases, completely rebuilt. Even traditional Chinese families are taking new pride in what they once perceived as their shabby old properties. Paintbrush strokes and the hum of carpenters’ tools are the new order of the day. For years, magnificent old buildings, which had fallen into disrepair, were used as nothing more than storehouses or grubby gudangs, or worse, used as little factories. Now many are being restored to their former elegance. Gutted and glamourized, they make beautiful residences and restaurants.

Penang’s heritage runs even deeper than its architecture, and for those who love Asian food, the little island is a paradise. While each cuisine manages to retain a separate identity, there is much blending at the edges and in the midst is Nonya, or ‘Straits Chinese’ food – which could be the world’s first fusion cuisine, combining elements of both Chinese and Malay cooking. Try Kebaya at 2-16 Stewart Lane, a fusion of seven terrace houses where they serve excellent quality Nonya and Indochinese dishes. It is beautiful in all ways and guests can enjoy excellent cuisine for the price of a mediocre meal in Bali. The cuisine is a continual discovery and it is not all found in the fancy restaurants. Hawker food is especially good – a fusion of influences which stem from the many people who have settled on Penang’s shores. Arabian tastes and truly authentic Indian are not luxury items but everyday fare.

As the day turns towards evening and the temperature drops, streets become impromptu restaurants as food carts are wheeled in to favourite locations, chairs and tables appear, and customers sit down ready to sample whichever specialty is on offer. Just look for a busy stall, and you can be assured the food will be great. In the midst of Penang Road is the huge Red Garden Food Court, where fresh seafood, luscious crabs and all kinds of Penang delights can be ordered then brought to your open-air table. Most nights they like to entertain with some singers, (many of dubious origin but it’s all kind of fun – remarks like “oh, she’s a boy” tend to be heard quite frequently). Penang is such a laid back relaxed place, that is a matter of ‘oh well, sit back with a beer, enjoy the food while the entertainment washes over you’. Here is your chance to try the signature asam laksa, or popiah, a kind of spring roll filled with boiled cabbage and spiced with delicacies. The char kweay teow –thick fresh prawns fried with rice noodles and pieces of pork and bean sprouts, all fried with pork lard adding an indefinable richness – is almost mandatory.

Every morning the dim sum houses are filled to capacity, especially on Sundays, as old “Aunties” wheel around trolleys groaning with assorted delicious dishes – just point and shoot! Wash it down with copious quantities of freshly-brewed Chinese tea, guaranteed to cleanse your palate and cut the fat. Taxi drivers have the best local food knowledge. If you want to find the best food, just jump into a taxi and ask the driver to take you to it. Even better, you can hire a car for a few hours and get the driver to take you on a food tour of the island. Penang’s not just for visiting or eating these days, and many foreigners are buying up properties, creating exiting new living spaces, and finding their new-found expat lifestyles, and the weather, more than agreeable. For a mere 2 million ringgit (approx US$550,000) you can buy your own legal landed freehold property on the island, even right in the midst of eclectic Georgetown. Lavish condo apartments with sea views can be snapped up for much less. While the responsibility of World Heritage Status means that the facades must remain traditional, clever architects are creating new living spaces within without destroying the rich heritage without.

For visitors, gentrification is bringing new boutique hotels designed to delight their guests. Visitors to Georgetown can choose between the historical Eastern&Oriental Hotel, which, with its new tower, offers some of the best accommodation on the island. For the more budget-minded, many smaller, intimate boutique properties are springing up in all kinds of places. Australian Narelle McMurtrie, the award-winning hotelier of Langkawi Bonton fame, is one of the forward-looking entrepreneurs who have seen potential in what seemed to be fairly derelict buildings. Visit her Chinahouse at 153 Lebuh Pantai in Georgetown. With the remodeling of three old shophouses, she has created a space for food, art, performance shopping and theatre, all in the best of taste.

The fabulous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has been in operation for a few years but this does not lessen its grandeur. Renovated using traditional techniques it has the air of a well-run museum and guests tend to tiptoe about hoping not to disturb sleeping ghosts. But whether one chooses to stay there or just visit, it is certainly a place to pop by. With so much to see, and especially, so much to eat, it seems that one would need weeks in Penang, but actually the island is much smaller than Bali and a few days is enough to get a feel for the place. If there is time, try to drive around the island. For one side that is so urban, it is surprisingly undeveloped on the far eastern side, offering sleepy fishing villages and pellucid waters. While the hippies may have passed on to greener pastures, there is still a trail of avid adventurers coming to enjoy all of the greatness that Penang has to offer.

Ayu Sekar

From their humble origins of furniture export and building wooden gazebos, Geoff Leonard and Sylvere Tanguy, two men with a passion for architecture, design and the beauty of wood, have come a long way with their company, PT Touchwood, which today is leader in the construction of high tech, prefabricated, tropical hardwood luxury homes.

Based in Jimbaran, Bali, they employ a large in-house team of qualified engineers, architects and builders who are dedicated to producing nothing but the highest quality timber structures on the market. Professionalism and top quality are words that ring loudly in the company. All of their production takes place under cover and close supervision at their premises, allowing for a high level of quality control. By combining the best of Indonesian joinery and construction with Western standards, they have a product that is built to last a lifetime.

Up till now they have mainly built and exported to other tropical climes as far away as the Caribbean and the Seychelles, where they have currently erected several large wooden structures covering over 2,000sqm for a wealthy client who is building a mega villa on a stunning headland above the ocean. These open-sided structures include one which is 9.5 metres high, 12 wide, and 28 metres long, which will serve as the main open-air living room for the villa. It is a highly regarded project in the Seychelles and nobody has seen such large, high quality, wooden structures erected there before.

The raw materials speak for themselves, and the woods available here in Indonesia are in high demand from overseas clients for both their durability and the beauty of their colours and grains. They use mainly merbau from Papua and bangkirai from Kalimantan, two woods that are not only strong but are also naturally termite resistant, and have a wonderful lustre and richness that really comes through in the final design. They use the V-Legal SVLK system here in Indonesia, which proves chain of custody all the way from where the tree is cut, through all the middlemen and into the construction of the dwelling. This means it’s legal, it’s ethical and above all, it’s environmentally responsible.

All their buildings, whether designed for use in Bali or for export, are built to meet Western building requirements. And although different countries have varying rules regarding construction of dwellings, as custom builders they are in a fine position to adapt to any regulations. They also reuse as many of their offcuts as they can, turning them into laminated panels or furniture as they go, thus reducing waste and cost. The eco-savings don’t stop there either, and they work hard to encourage clients to use efficient systems like solar, bio waste, and water recycling, and work closely with agents on the island who provide them.

After all their successes both here and abroad it was only logical that they took the next step to developing and constructing their own villas here in Bali to showcase the products that they are so rightly proud of. Enter Batu Mejan Villas, an estate of two large villas, which will be built at their Jimbaran factory by their well-qualified team and then moved to the Echo Beach site only once foundations have been laid, swimming pools have been dug, and all infrastructure has been put in place ready for the house to be erected upon. What this all means is that the homeowner will only ever have to be dealing with one contractor, making for a more controlled experience and ultimately less stress, with the option to fully customise the interiors.

The homes are not cheap, but that’s the whole point. The company owners want to build high-end villas focussing on the natural, with an eco-development concept that will fit in with the surrounding landscape with minimal impact, both visible and physical, on the surrounding landscape. This has been achieved with the use for natural Indonesian timbers and a minimum of concrete, using solar energy, rainwater catchment systems, bio-sewage treatment and the use of recycled and natural building materials.

Optimising the very essence of it being a prefabricated home, the building is yours to keep upon the termination of the land lease, putting you in a much more tenable position that other leaseholders who have built a permanent structure. Ownership of the house has been written into the contract with the Balinese landowners, meaning that if the lease is not renewed, the building can be dismantled, sold on or moved to a new location, even overseas, so you can enjoy it forever.

For more information, contact them at www.pt-touchwood.com, telephone +62 (0) 361 847 2101 or stop by for a visit at their headquarters at 53x Jl Uluwatu 2, Jimbaran, Bali.

“Taking pictures makes me happy, that is the first thing in my mind. It is all about making myself happy. Whereas a painter uses a brush to create his art, I use light, so as a photographer I am constantly learning, because the light is always changing. I take pictures of everything and anything that inspires me. I do not edit too much, I just crop and play with contrast. I am a Balinese Hindu, and I believe that the things I see through my viewfinder are what God gives me. These are the things that are best.”
I Nyoman Pujawan


Far to the north of Seminyak on a Tabanan headland above a wild swathe of empty black beach where the tourists don’t go, sits an enchanting holiday retreat surrounded by rice fields, mountain views and the soothing sounds of crashing waves. Its name is WakaGangga, a boutique resort, restaurant, spa and wedding venue like no other. Dominated by conical grass roofs, the architectural design is unmistakably tropical, filled with indigenous stones and timbers, muted colours, natural fabrics and delicate detailing that sees graceful lines and curves dance throughout the common areas and the resort’s 27 individual, beautifully furnished, air-conditioned, creature comforted Balinese-style villas – some with private pools, some without, although a 20-metre resort pool in front of the ocean means everyone enjoys the water, regardless. If relaxing gets too much then the local area provides more than enough excitement to suit all levels of action requirements: be it horse riding, a round of golf, quad biking, mountain trekking or even just a walk on the beach at sunrise. A trip to the spa is heaven sent, and the food is only matched by the views and the joy of your very own deserted beach.



House names should speak volumes about a villa – or at least of an owner’s working knowledge of Sanskrit – and when the Balinese owner of Villa Di Abing named her place, she was speaking plainly, yet with a pleasant twist. In the Balinese language ‘Villa in the Jungle’ could easily have you thinking you were far from civilization and the good things in life, but here you’d be wrong. The property sits in the heart of Ubud’s now ever-bustling town centre, where it borders a small river and is shrouded in tall jungle trees that attract a multitude of birds and butterflies and an enormity of peace and serenity. Step through the doors and the busy world gets left behind in this three-bedroom Bali-style villa and its deep-green surrounds, from where the sights and sounds of the island’s cultural hub can be tasted at your leisure. Spiritual purists who have read “Eat, Pray, Love” will be thrilled that the villa is on the same street as Wayan’s traditional healing centre, as will shopping and food freaks at the abundance of shops and restaurants right on the doorstep. And when you are done, there’s nothing like having finished for the day and only being five minutes from home.