by Catriona Mitchell


A couple of days ago, I flew into Bali from Los Angeles. Admittedly there was a moment when I wondered if this was a sane choice: flying in at a time when many were trying to find a way out.

But my partner, Rio Helmi, had been reporting in hourly about his emergency activities, and he assured me that I’d be more help on the island than outside of it.

Since  Mount Agung was declared stage 4, and residents within a 12 km radius evacuated from their homes, Rio has been roaming the island on his motorbike looking for small outposts where people either haven’t moved away to safety, or have found themselves in unofficial camps that are under-serviced and urgently in need of supplies.

His task is to connect villagers who aren’t receiving food, water or medical supplies to emergency aid being organized out of Ubud – by Kopernik*, in partnership with Petra Schneider of IDEP Foundation, Robin Lim of Bumi Sehat, Rucina Ballinger, and parents from the Green School.

Together this “cabal of power women,” as Rio refers to them, have taken matters in hand, distributing critical supplies such as blankets, mats, diapers, medical supplies, water filters, solar lights, clothing, stoves, food and more to evacuation camps that aren’t being served by the government. On-the-ground teams, in collaboration, are working on building toilets, securing clean water supplies, and more.

Kopernik’s office in Ubud is the headquarters for this spontaneous aid effort. Yesterday morning, clutching a cup of strong coffee to counter rather fierce jetlag, I went to visit the office, arriving to see the large two-storey open-plan building stacked with all manner of goods: from bottles of mosquito repellent to sacks of rice to boxes of sarongs to bags of tomatoes and carrots.

Overseeing the load of goods, and there to answer my questions, was Wita (Komang Witariyani), a Kopernik employee normally in charge of selling water filters and other low-technology products to the public.


Kopernik’s Wita, or Komang Witariyani

Despite the stress the last days have caused, Wita greets me with a smile. Seated by the front window at Kopernik, she’s been documenting the donations that are coming in daily, from tourists, restaurant owners, hotels, local individual residents. Soap, blankets, biscuits, cooking oil… largely but not exclusively in generous quantities.

“We sort it, and when there’s a truck going to the evacuees area, we count it and load the truck,” Wita tells me. “This last couple of days Yayasan IDEP has been helping us with the truck. We give the goods to them to deliver, almost every day.”

The goods, it seems, are being delivered in rotation to a variety of the camps, which are numerous: an estimated 490 impromptu, smaller camps can be found in addition to the 10 official government ones.

I ask if Wita has been to the evacuation camps herself. She nods. “They’re so crowded. There is one tent for one banjar, so in each tent it’s really crowded and also really hot inside, also guys are smoking inside the tent…”

I tell her that there seems to be some confusion, in those parts of Bali where where no camps are visible, about whether or not this situation is an emergency. Many people imagine that things only really get dangerous once the eruption has actually happened.

“This is already an emergency,” Wita confirms. “People have already been evacuated, they’ve left their village, and some even sold their cows for really low prices… maybe next year if they go back to their village and they have no cows, no food…”

Our conversation is interrupted by loud whooping, and calls of her name, from the upstairs level where a Kopernik staff meeting is being held. Wita is missing the meeting because she agreed to talk to me.

“Why are they cheering you just now?” I ask

“Because I have been here the whole time, without taking a break,” she tells me with another smile, and I feel ashamed to be preoccupied with my jetlag, and to be taking up her time.

 Some of the day’s donations, being sorted at Kopernik headquarters


As we’re talking, a British visitor by the name of Sukhi pulls up outside on a scooter. She wants to know if there’s a car or another bike to help her: she and friends have arranged to buy 5 million Rupiah worth of vegetables, but she can’t carry it to the Kopernik office all on her own.

Sukhi tells me she is involved in planning a fundraising event** to be held this Thursday. It will include a yoga masterclass, an auction, a dance event with Rob Weber, a talk by Rucina Ballinger, and more. “To me it’s about the people who have been evacuated from the area,” she says. “I’m not so concerned if the volcano is going off, for myself.”


The fundraiser event at JOS Sanctuary, this Thursday 5th October


Rio is the next to arrive at the office, which is fast becoming crowded with staff moving at a fast pace. He’s in a flurry because his motorbike recently broke down near Candi Dasa; he’s temporarily bound to travel by car – too cumbersome for getting him to the off-road villages he needs to access. He enters a team meeting and I overhear a discussion about how another bike can be sourced for him.

On my way out, I see a note placed prominently on the wall by the front door. It says:

If you are an individual, the best way you can help right now is to:


Today’s most urgent needs include shovels, and baby powder which has completely run out.


Bank account details are also listed:


Bank: Bank Mandiri

Branch: KCP Ubud 14510

Account Name: Yayasan Kopernik

Account No: 145-00-1804889-8



Kopernik’s website states: ‘We believe that breakthrough solutions are unlikely to emerge in the course of ‘business as usual,’ so we therefore embrace risk taking, trial, error and experimentation to find what really works.’ This is particularly pertinent in the light of its fast and generous response to the Mt Agung emergency.


Please keep the donations coming.


*Kopernik is a non-profit organization headquartered in Indonesia that aims to reduce poverty, and distributes low-cost technologies to underserved and disadvantaged people around the world.


** The fundraising event mentioned by Sukhi in this article will be held at the JOS Sanctuary at Negara Batuan on Thursday 5th October, from 14.00-22.00.   100% of donations received will go towards Mt Agung relief.  See more info here.