The Enduring Fishing Tradition of Bali

The island of Bali is often associated with its vibrant Hindu culture, intricate temples, welcoming locals, and idyllic rice fields. However, there is one tradition that many visitors overlook - the ancient fishing culture that has sustained Balinese communities for generations. Though tourism now dominates the economy, fishing remains deeply ingrained in the island's daily life, identity, and religious rituals.

Yet this long-standing fishing tradition in Bali may soon vanish as more beachfront development threatens coastal fishing access and risks erasing this cherished heritage. Being mindful when choosing your accommodation during your travels can help preserve this tradition.

The Origins of Fishing in Bali

Fishing has been practised in Bali since the earliest known inhabitants and has become integral not just to livelihoods but to the culture and cosmology of Bali. Because agriculture was historically less productive on the island, fishing provided a vital protein source and became the primary occupation in many seaside villages. Even inland, fish features prominently in ceremonies, dances, architecture, and artisanal crafts. The long history of fishing in Bali is interwoven with stories of gods, temples, and sacred sites along the coast.

Until today, the primary fishing technique is simple line and net fishing, usually done close to shore in a traditional boat called jukung.

Threats to The Fishing Tradition

These days, tourism and development pose the most significant threats to Bali's fishing tradition. As hotels, villas, shops, and restaurants catering to foreigners gobble up beachfront land, many fishermen lose access to the shoreline, the space needed to launch and land their boats and store their heavy engines.

Worse still, some developments have buried original temples and shrines oriented toward the sea gods. The loss of these spiritual sites severs important links fishermen have to their heritage, and the growth of tourism has drawn many young locals away from traditional livelihoods like fishing into jobs in hotels, retail, and hospitality – industries proven less sustainable during the COVID-19 pandemic and volcano eruptions and earthquakes in 2017/18.

As fishing villages transform into tourist towns, the knowledge passed down across generations about weather patterns, fish populations, boat building, and sacred fishing rituals erodes. Without concerted effort, the deep-rooted fishing tradition in Bali that has persisted for thousands of years may fade within a couple of generations.

Preserving More Than Livelihoods

For many villages, preserving fishing is more than maintaining food supply and income. Fishing binds families together, connects communities to ancestors and gods, and underpins a sense of identity. Thus, losing access to the sea threatens community life and overall well-being.

Furthermore, fishing may offer Bali a sustainable path alongside the growing dependence on tourism. Small-scale traditional fishing that feeds local markets could support self-reliance and food security for generations.

Opportunities to Sustain Traditions

Volunteer Programs Forever aims to preserve Balinese traditions through community initiatives while expanding economic opportunities beyond tourism. By supporting higher education of Balinese children through donations, fundraising, and sharing our mission, you can empower villages to sustain cultural fishing traditions that hotel and restaurant jobs cannot replace in terms of identity, resilience, and community bonds.

Consider starting your own Soul Project or donating to provide vital education - even small contributions go a long way. You can also help by liking and sharing our work on social media to raise awareness about the pressures Balinese fishing villages face today.

Yummy Balinese satay!

Let us take a moment to appreciate the chunks of meat skewered on a stick and then grilled to perfection, satay. A beloved food across the island, satay is an obligatory dish served at gatherings. It’s also used a lot in offerings, especially during Galungan Day.

Satay refers to any grilled meat skewered on a stick. The typical Indonesian satay is made of meat chunks (usually goat or chicken) grilled over a fire and enjoyed with peanut sauce. But the Balinese have more variety with their satay.

In Bali, there are two major types of satay: tusuk (skewered) and lilit (twisted). Satay tusuk refers to the typical Indonesian satay. However, Balinese pork satay tusuk is often served with a hefty dose of red sambal rather than peanut sauce.

On the other hand, satay lilit is unique to Bali. To make satay lilit, the minced meat must be mixed with spices and the dough is then twisted around a flat bamboo stick. It takes time and skill to make satay lilit, as twisting the meat paste around the stick is much more complicated than it looks. If you do it wrong, the satay will fall apart when it’s grilled. There are also two types of satay lilitnyuh and gede. Satay lilit nyuh mixes shredded coconut into the meat paste. This adds the flavour of coconut to the meat and shortens the grilling time. It is often used with lean meats, like chicken and fish. Satay lilit gede features meat paste that is entirely meat. It is reserved exclusively for pork and takes way longer to cook, but the meat is still juicy. It’s a favourite for Galungan Day.

Speaking of Galungan, the day before Galungan is the day the Balinese make satay for the feast and also for offerings. It seems the gods also like satay, just like the Balinese!

While typical satay is made from chicken or goat meat, Balinese satay features many kinds of meat. Beef satay is not popular with Hindu Balinese. The most popular is, obviously, pork. In the second place, it’s chicken. Then, we have fish. Cuttlefish and squid are also made into satay in some restaurants, albeit only in the tusuk variant. Around two decades ago, the Balinese used to make sea turtle satay, which is banned now due to the endangered status of the sea turtle.

Satay is available almost anywhere, from street vendors to high-end restaurants. Just look for some smoke while walking, and if you see a person with a fan and grill, that’s where you can find satay.

Healthcare challenges: The struggle of uninsured families in Bali

While Bali's beautiful landscape and unique culture draw tourists from around the world, many travellers are unaware that large numbers of residents lack access to healthcare, leaving many families facing significant barriers to obtaining medical treatments and financial difficulties if a member falls ill.

BPJS (Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial) is an Indonesian social security program that provides healthcare coverage, including medical treatment, hospitalization, medication, and work-related injury benefits to Indonesian citizens and legal residents.

However, qualifying for BPJS is a challenging task. The eligibility criteria include income levels, occupation, and often membership in specific social groups. These criteria can be challenging for many individuals and families and are especially hard for those working in an informal sector, such as private drivers, domestic workers, street vendors, farmers, etc.

Bali has a diverse population of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and migrants from other parts of Indonesia, and the bureaucratic application process adds another layer of difficulty, discouraging many from attempting to apply for BPJS, particularly the ones who do not speak the local language. Inadequate language support and cultural sensitivity in healthcare settings can result in miscommunication and limited understanding of healthcare information, further reducing access to quality care.

While Bali's economy heavily relies on tourism, employment and healthcare infrastructure are predominantly concentrated in urban areas, which leaves many rural communities with limited access to hospitals and clinics.

Without insurance coverage, families need to pay for medical expenses out of their own pockets. Healthcare costs are high in many cases, especially for serious illnesses, surgeries, or prolonged treatments. Thus, residents might delay seeking medical treatment, leading to more severe health conditions that require expensive treatments later on.

In addition to direct medical bills, there might be indirect costs associated with illness on top of the expenses. For instance, a family might need to spend on transportation to reach medical facilities, accommodation if treatment requires staying away from home, food and other related expenses.

Yet many families rely on multiple incomes to make ends meet. If a member falls ill and can no longer work, it puts additional pressure on families, possibly leading to financial difficulties. Furthermore, the required treatment can divert funds that might have otherwise been allocated for education, impacting children's future opportunities and potentially perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Through initiatives like the Soul Projects, Volunteer Programs Forever aims to offer Balinese residents scholarships, adequate housing and more to alleviate immediate burdens and empower Balinese families by ensuring children's education and a sustainable future.

Ceremonies in Bali, a dilemma of tradition and budget

Ceremonies in Bali are integral to island life, reflecting the deep-rooted Hindu beliefs of its residents. While these ceremonies hold immense cultural value, they often come at a high cost and place enormous financial strain on families.

The Significance of Ceremonies in Bali

Ceremonies are thought to offer balance to a person's life and to strengthen their spiritual connection with the divine. As the ceremonies mark various stages of life, as well as agricultural and religious events, the most important ones are accompanied by vibrant processions, traditional music and dance performances, alongside sophisticated rituals and elaborate offerings to honour the gods and ancestors.

Expenses Involved

While visually captivating, these big ceremonies come at a steep price and require serious preparation. The expenses can vary depending on the scale and complexity of the ceremony but quickly add up. Thus, Balinese families often spend an excessive amount of their income to fulfil their spiritual and social obligations – think offerings, custom clothing, ornaments, decorative structures, food, donations to priests and community, and more. For ceremonies like weddings, a baby's three-month ritual or cremations, families may go into debt or sell assets to fund the grand events.

Financial Responsibility

In Bali, the financial responsibility for ceremonies is primarily borne by the immediate family hosting the event. Nevertheless, Balinese families have a strong sense of communal support and often come together to share the financial burden. Customs has it that relatives, neighbours, and friends contribute financially and through labour, helping with preparations, cooking, and participating in the ceremony. This collective responsibility reflects the spirit of gotong-royong, a traditional Balinese concept of cooperation and assistance. While the costs are shared, so is the burden on an island where the average monthly income is around 172€.

The Impact on Poverty

While spectacular offerings satisfy spiritual and social needs, they take a heavy toll on the Balinese. The never-ending cycle of ceremonies and obligations is a major factor contributing to the cycle of poverty in low-income families. Many struggle to afford the costs and must choose between meeting spiritual obligations or providing basic needs like food, housing, healthcare and education for children. Additionally, families may face societal pressure to organize grand ceremonies to maintain their social status.

While the customary ceremonies of Bali are undoubtedly a beautiful representation of the island's vibrant living culture, for locals trapped in the poverty cycle, it's far from a true paradise. Thus, it is essential to acknowledge the financial responsibilities associated with these ceremonies and find sustainable solutions to preserve Balinese traditions. By offering educational opportunities, fundraisers for adequate housing and nurturing sustainable livelihoods beyond tourism, Volunteer Programs Forever aims to preserve the spirit of Bali while uplifting the lives of its people.

Mount Agung, the sacred volcano of Bali

Rising over 3,000 meters into the clouds, Mount Agung is more than just the highest peak on the island of Bali. For the Balinese people, the majestic volcano is the most sacred mountain, believed to be home to ancestral spirits and gods. A spiritual cornerstone on the island that weaves the fabric of Balinese Hinduism and identity, its mystique has been captured in many traditional paintings, intricately designed textiles, and soul-stirring musical compositions.

Mount Agung dominates the landscape from the vibrant rice paddies in the lowlands. Its perfect conical shape inspired the name "mountain of the gods," and on clear days, the volcano appears to float casually above the horizon.

As the highest point on the island, Mount Agung is seen as a bridge that links the Balinese with their ancestors and deities. Its peak, often shrouded in mist, is a sacred site from where holy water flows into temple fountains where offerings and prayers are directed, seeking protection, guidance, and harmony.

The sacred Besakih Temple, known as the "Mother Temple," graces the slopes of Mount Agung and serves as a focal point for grand ceremonies. Pilgrims across the island ascend the slopes where ceremonies, rituals, and festivals unfold to pay homage, connecting generations in devotion.

For the Balinese, Mount Agung is a symbol of divine order and balance. Yet its volcanic power has caused temporary disorder, as eruptions have nurtured the island with fertile ash and devastated communities throughout history. In 1963, nearly 2,000 people lost their lives when Agung erupted violently after 120 years of slumber. While Mount Agung's more recent 2017 eruption was less deadly, over 140,000 people evacuated the danger zone as lava flowed down the slopes threatening villages, and massive ash clouds grounded over 400 flights.

Mount Agung's significance goes beyond the spiritual realm; it's a testament to the remarkable resilience and unity of the Balinese people. The collective spirit and unwavering determination that emerges during such challenging times speaks volumes about their bond with the land and their ability to overcome adversity. While its volcanic personality captures international headlines, the Balinese patiently honour Agung's eternal rhythms, praying their sacred mountain will continue blessing their island for generations to come.

Thus, mount Agung isn't merely a geographic wonder; it embodies Balinese spirituality, cultural richness, and resilience. Its presence weaves through the lives of the Balinese people, guiding them through trials and triumphs alike. This sacred mountain reminds us of the enduring power of nature and its ability to shape the soul of a community. As you gaze upon the awe-inspiring silhouette of Mount Agung, let its significance inspire you to embrace the interconnectivity of nature, spirituality, and culture – just as the Balinese people have done for generations.

Nourishing Balinese culture and families through local cuisine

As a traveller, honouring the local cuisine is one of the best ways to preserve Bali's culture. The island has a rich gastronomic tapestry, where each region boasts its own speciality reflecting the various landscapes and microclimates. By savouring this diversity, you help maintain traditional cooking methods and inspire future generations to carry forward their culinary heritage. Thus, if you plan to visit, read on and find out how you can promote sustainable tourism through your travels and nourish your taste buds and local families by indulging in authentic Balinese cuisine.

Preserving Balinese Culture

Bali is more than just a tropical paradise; it is an island rich in tradition and culture. The variety of dishes reflects its legacy, and traditional recipes are passed down through generations, keeping ancient culinary practices alive. Venturing into family-run warungs can offer a gateway into understanding Balinese life, as these cosy eateries pride themselves on dishes made from secret family recipes.

Empowering Local Communities

One of the most significant benefits of enjoying local food is the direct impact it has on Balinese communities. When you opt for street food or have a meal in local warungs, you directly contribute to the livelihoods of countless Balinese families. The money you spend goes into the hands of the locals, allowing them to support their families and pay for housing, education, and access to healthcare. Being a responsible traveller empowers Balinese families to thrive and prosper.

Sustainable Farming Practices

Choosing local food means supporting local farmers who often follow sustainable farming practices. Many of the ingredients used in traditional Balinese dishes come from nearby farms, where farmers cultivate the land with respect for nature. By supporting these sustainable practices, you encourage a harmonious coexistence between tourism and agriculture, minimizing the environmental impact of food production and helping families live off their land for years to come.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

Eating locally sourced food reduces your carbon footprint significantly. While imported goods require extensive transportation, they furthermore contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. Embracing the flavours of Bali's local produce means less reliance on imported goods and a more sustainable food ecosystem.

Strengthening Personal Bonds

Eating in local warungs and restaurants offers a unique opportunity to interact with the Balinese people more personally. The warm smiles and genuine hospitality you encounter create lasting memories and foster a strong bond between travellers and locals that may last beyond your travels. Engaging in these cultural exchanges can promote a deeper understanding of Balinese traditions, values, and way of life.

As you travel across the captivating island of Bali, remember that your choices can make a significant impact on the lives of its people. By indulging in street food, and eating at local warungs and restaurants, you become part of preserving Bali's cultural heritage while empowering local families. Explore everything from satays with delicate spice blends to Gado Gado, a hearty vegetable salad with peanut sauce. Try new exotic fruits plucked fresh from trees.

Sustainable tourism starts with mindful meal choices that support local families. Together, let's leave a positive mark on this unique island and ensure its beauty lasts for generations to come. Happy travels and bon appétit!

On the challenges of pursuing higher education in Bali

Education plays an essential role in reaching personal growth, economic development and social progress. While Balinese children are gifted with vibrant culture, rich traditions, and a spirit of resilience, accessing higher education can be a complex and challenging journey for many. Especially in remote, underprivileged communities, students experience a lack of opportunities and resources, which makes it harder for them to break the cycle of poverty in their later life. This post sheds light on the obstacles many Balinese children encounter when trying to pursue higher education in Bali and how we at Volunteer Programs Forever aim to support them towards a thriving and sustainable future.


School Fees

One of the primary challenges Balinese children experience is the financial burden, as for many families, affording the costs of higher education is daunting. School fees, books, uniforms, transportation, and in the higher classes, mobile phones and laptops can be overwhelming alongside living expenses, particularly for those living in underprivileged communities. The high cost of education creates a significant barrier, and promising students often find their dreams of further education crushed due to financial constraints.


Another significant challenge is the geographical isolation of certain villages in Bali. Many educational institutions offering higher education are concentrated in urban areas, leaving children from rural or remote regions with limited options or forcing them to travel long distances to reach the nearest schools. The distance to travel, along with transportation costs and time constraints, pose significant challenges for students aspiring to pursue higher education and adds to the financial burden and increase the risk of dropouts.

Limited Opportunities

The lack of higher education options often leads to limited career opportunities for Balinese children in all professions. Many industries require specialised skills and knowledge that are acquired through higher education. Thus, individuals are often confined to low-paying jobs in the tourism sector without the necessary qualifications. They may find it challenging to secure well-paying and stable employment, thus perpetuating the cycle of limited opportunities and economic inequality.


At Volunteer Programs Forever, we are dedicated to breaking the barriers that prevent Balinese children from accessing higher education. Through our various initiatives, most of them Soul Projects, we work tirelessly to create long-term solutions for a thriving and resilient future for these communities.

Soul Projects

Volunteer Programs Forever runs "Soul Projects," which focus on raising funds and awareness about the challenges faced by Balinese children in pursuing higher education. By engaging volunteers from around the world, we strive to make a positive impact on the lives of these children and their families.


Through creative and impactful fundraising campaigns, Volunteer Programs Forever gathers resources to support the educational needs of Balinese children.

These campaigns help families in lifting their burden by providing complete scholarships and learning materials to deserving students.

Bali Touch

The "Bali Touch" brand aims to bridge the gap between potential employers and skilled Balinese. By creating skill training programs, Volunteer Programs Forever equips artistic Balinese individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to secure employment opportunities that preserve the heritage of the beautiful arts and craftsmanship in Bali.


By providing better access to education, pre-employment programs, and job opportunities, Volunteer Programs Forever offers Balinese children a chance to break free from limited education and a future confined to the tourism sector.

A closer look at Bali's economic disparities

While Bali is a popular tourist destination, not all its residents enjoy the same level of economic welfare. Even though the island has experienced a decline in poverty over the last few years, inequality is on the rise.

The minimum wage in Bali is revised every year and varies across its nine regencies. As of January 2023, it averaged around 2,840073IDR (172€) per month, and a significant number of Balinese families earn just a little above the poverty line - especially those with many children or parents who only received a limited education.

Communities in the northern part of the island are particularly affected by hardship due to geographical and demographic factors. The mountainous terrain and less fertile land in these regions make it harder for them to earn a living from agriculture, which sets them apart from the more prosperous southern areas. It needs to be said that families whose primary source of income is agriculture are already more vulnerable than others.

The distance from popular tourist areas in the south, such as Canggu, Seminyak, and Ubud, also contributes to the economic disparity. These tourist hotspots provide job opportunities and drive the economy but are not equally accessible to everyone.

But even in tourist areas, it remains a challenge for Balinese workers to meet their basic needs. As prices rise faster than the yearly increase in the minimum wage, many families not only struggle with low income but need proper sanitation facilities, healthcare coverage, education opportunities, adequate housing, and sufficient nutrition.

Additionally, Bali's labour market is highly competitive because of its popularity as a tourist destination. The influx of workers from other parts of Indonesia seeking employment adds strain on the job market and can lead to lower salaries. Moreover, the seasonal nature of the tourism industry results in fluctuations in job availability and income. This instability makes it harder for workers to maintain stable finances, particularly during low seasons. As a result, many families go through cycles of poverty, even if they temporarily escape it.

While the minimum wage is meant to protect workers' rights, many Balinese face circumstances that make it hard to earn even the minimum wage. One significant issue is the prevalence of informal employment, such as domestic work, street vending, construction and jobs in the hospitality sector, such as waitressing or babysitting. These jobs often lack formal contracts and legal protections. They tend to pay less and fail to offer benefits and social security.

At Volunteer Programs Forever, we are dedicated to addressing these challenges and reducing income disparities. We do this by improving access to education and skill development programs in order to create alternative employment opportunities and reduce dependence on a single industry. Empowering workers with expertise and skills opens doors to higher-paying jobs and encourages a more diverse economy.

Parahyangan: Harmony with God

The first of the three relationships that make up the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, Parahyangan, is the basis for all religious ceremonies that make up most Balinese life. Through ceremonies, the Balinese show gratitude to the Creator and many gods and goddess in the Hindu pantheon, who, in return, will guide the Balinese through life.

Balinese believe all life comes from Sang Hyang Widhi or the Creator. The life we have been granted is a gift; thus, we should be thankful for that gift. Showing gratitude is often done through ceremonies. While differing in practice, the plethora of Balinese ceremonies is all based on this fundamental philosophy.

Unlike Abrahamic faiths, where God resides far above in heaven and watches over humans, Balinese Hinduism believes that gods and goddesses live close to humans. While they may reside in the divine realm (svah) somewhere in the heavens, they often manifest in the "middle world" (bvah) to guide humans. When they do arrive, major celebrations are held to welcome and appease them.

For example, every six months, on a particular Saturday, the goddess Sarasvati is said to descend and bring the gift of knowledge to humans. To show gratitude for knowledge, ceremonies are held to honour the goddess.

Every six months, the Balinese celebrate Galungan, when good wins a battle against evil. As a token of appreciation for their bravery, the Balinese celebrate three days of Galungan with festivities.

A much larger example would be the massive ceremonies held at the mother temple of Besakih. Held annually, the Betara Turun Kabeh (lit. "many gods descending") is a monumental occasion where it is believed that all the gods descend from heaven to "mingle" and provide blessings to humans. It is a festive occasion where people converge at the mother temple and show gratitude to the many gods present. Such are examples of the implementation of Parahyangan as a philosophy of life.

Maintaining good relations with the gods and goddesses is seen as one way to achieve balance in life. Thus, you can think of all the ceremonies that celebrate the gods and goddesses as labours of love to keep a healthy, balanced, and happy life!

Harvest moon in Bali

Walking around Bali, especially Ubud, around this time of year, you might notice empty rice fields or farmers burning crops. If so, consider yourself unlucky. You just missed the harvest moon in Bali!

Since the good old days, a majority of Balinese have chosen a life of agriculture. From tending rice fields to livestock, agriculture is an inseparable part of Balinese culture. The ceremonies that we have today came from this agricultural tradition.

Rice is a staple food for not only Balinese but also Indonesians. We even have a saying, "A meal's not a meal without rice". Hence, a large portion of farmland is rice fields.

Harvest moon used to come every six months, but now rice can be harvested every three months thanks to advancements in biotechnology. But, despite advances in farming technology, you can still see a fragment of an old tradition in Bali, where a little hard labour worked wonders.

Farmers organize themselves into several teams called sekaa when it's time to harvest. Each sekaa has a specific duty: preparing equipment, cutting rice stalks, and so on. Everyone works together to get the job done. One crucial sekaa, yet almost extinct, is the sekaa manyi. Their job is to collect rice grains by grabbing a handful of stalks and then thrashing them onto a board until the grains scatter. A tarp below collects the grains. Nowadays, harvesting machines help ease the work. Once sacks of rice have been collected, another sekaa transports it to the market using either motorcycles or trucks. But sometimes, you might catch a farmer carrying rice using baskets.

Once the harvest is complete, all that's left is celebrating the bounty by holding ceremonies and having a large feast with the neighbours!