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!

The cultural legacy of Balinese Art

Balinese art covers a wide range of skills that have been nurtured and preserved for centuries. Each art form tells a unique story and reflects the rich cultural heritage of the Balinese people. In this blog, we will explore the significance of traditional Balinese art and why it is crucial to preserve these invaluable treasures.

Dance: A gateway to spiritual expression

One cannot speak of Balinese art without mentioning its captivating dance forms. Balinese dances are not simply performances but can be spiritual expressions deeply rooted in Hindu belief and mythology. They serve as a medium to connect with the gods and transmit the island's cultural narratives. The sophisticated hand and eye movements, graceful gestures, and colourful costumes all contribute to the mesmerizing beauty of Balinese dance.

Woodwork: A celebration of nature and mythology

Wood carving is another popular art form in Bali, showcasing the exceptional craftsmanship and mastery of local artisans. Balinese woodwork combines elements of nature and mythology, creating intricate sculptures, masks, and architectural features. These artworks often depict Hindu deities, mystical creatures, or scenes from Balinese folklore.

Painting: Colourful narratives on canvas

Balinese painting has a unique style characterized by vivid colours, meticulous details, and intricate brushwork. The compositions range from religious themes and mythological tales to scenes from daily life and nature. Traditional Balinese painting applies specific techniques and styles, such as the Kamasan style, characterized by its flat and stylized forms.

Jewellery Making: Ancient inspirations, modern creations

Balinese jewellery holds a unique charm that sets it apart. Delicately designed and crafted with exquisite attention to detail, it reflects the island's rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions. The use of colourful gemstones, precious metals, and traditional techniques further enhances its allure. Balinese jewellery represents the island's identity and connects local people to their roots.

Music: Harmonizing cultural traditions

Balinese music, with its mesmerizing gamelan orchestra, is an integral part of the island's cultural harmony. The resonant sounds of gongs, metallophones, and drums create a rhythmic tapestry that accompanies various ceremonies, rituals, and performances. Balinese music is a communal experience that brings people together and preserves the spirit of collective identity.

Stone Sculpture: Carving timeless beauty

The art of stone sculpture in Bali is a testament to the mastery and patience of Balinese artisans. Intricately carved statues and reliefs can be found in temples, palaces, and public spaces throughout the island. These stone sculptures often depict deities, mythological figures, or scenes from Hindu epics. The ancient art form is not only a testimony of the remarkable skills of Balinese sculptors but also perpetuates the visual language that embodies the island's cultural identity.

Weaving: Ancient techniques and designs

Balinese weaving is a highly skilled craft that produces exquisite textiles renowned for their intricate patterns and vibrant colours. The weavers employ ancient techniques passed down through generations, using traditional tools and natural plant dyes. The elaborate motifs and designs found in woven textiles often carry symbolic meanings, representing aspects of nature, deities, or local folklore.

Traditional Balinese art forms hold immense cultural, spiritual, and historical significance. They are not merely aesthetic expressions but represent cultural heritage and identity. Preserving these artistic traditions ensures the continuity of ancient techniques, cultural narratives, and communal experiences. By valuing and supporting Balinese artisans, Volunteer Programs Forever's affiliated brand Bali Touch honours the rich tapestry of the island's history. Its sustainable products encourage the flourishing of local artisans and offer future generations a career in the vibrant and diverse world of Balinese creativity.

Expanding horizons: A future beyond tourism in Bali

Bali, the Indonesian island renowned for its picturesque beauty and rich cultural heritage, has long flourished in its tourism industry. However, as we focus on the future, the long-term sustainability and well-being of Balinese generations becomes increasingly important to consider. While tourism has been a vital source of income for many locals, diversifying job opportunities outside the industry may offer a sustainable path forward. In this blog, we will explore why it is valuable for future generations to seek employment outside the Balinese tourism sector and how higher education can play a powerful role in this transition.

Economic Resilience

Being dependent on a single industry, such as tourism, can make a region vulnerable to economic downturns and swings. Balinese communities have witnessed first-hand the impact of crises like the eruption of Mount Agung in 2017 and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, both severely affecting tourism. Future generations can therefore benefit from more diversified employment opportunities in order to become more economically resilient. Higher education provides individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in various sectors, such as health care, technology, finance, renewable energy, and disaster risk reduction, nursing a more stable and sustainable economy.

Preserving Culture and Tradition

As tourism has boomed, concerns about the impact on Balinese culture and traditions have been raised. Local customs sometimes fall short due to the over-commercialisation in areas exposed to mass tourism. By encouraging young generations to pursue higher education and seek employment in fields related to culture, anthropology, or the arts, they can become ambassadors for their Balinese heritage. With a deeper understanding of their traditions and a solid academic foundation, they can work towards preserving and promoting the richness of Balinese culture to the world while maintaining its authenticity.

Sustainable Development

Extensive tourism often comes with environmental consequences, such as overexploitation of resources, pollution, and habitat destruction. Balinese youth, equipped with higher education, can actively contribute to sustainable development efforts. For instance, studying environmental sciences or sustainable architecture can empower them to find innovative solutions to ecological challenges. By engaging in sustainable practices and promoting eco-tourism initiatives, they can help preserve Bali's natural beauty for generations to come.

Job Creation

By diversifying the job market, higher education enables Balinese youth to create new employment opportunities rather than merely seeking jobs in an already saturated sector. They can develop the skills needed to create and run their own businesses through studies in entrepreneurship or business management. These companies can then cater to emerging industries, such as technology start-ups, agroecology, or sustainable fashion, thereby generating employment for themselves and others.


Higher education plays a vital role in empowering individuals, fostering personal growth, and enhancing social welfare. By gaining advanced knowledge and critical thinking, Balinese youth can become leaders and changemakers in their communities. Higher education allows them to explore various career paths, discover their passions, and contribute meaningfully to society. As future generations exceed outside the tourism sector, they can uplift their communities, address social issues, and advocate for sustainable development.

While the tourism sector has undeniably provided economic opportunities for Balinese communities for a long time, it is essential to consider the long-term sustainability and well-being of future generations. By expanding their horizons through higher education and creating diverse job opportunities, the young minds can contribute to economic resilience, preserve their culture, promote sustainable development, create new jobs, and empower themselves and their communities.

Volunteer Programs Forever embraces the potential of Balinese youth by fundraising scholarships through Soul Projects to pave the way towards a sustainable and prosperous future beyond tourism.

The hidden crisis: Inadequate housing and insufficient healthcare in Bali

Known for its stunning landscapes and cultural richness, Bali attracts millions of visitors yearly. But behind the tourist façade of the tropical island hides a lesser-known reality, as many of its population struggle with inadequate housing and lack of access to healthcare services.

In this blog, we seek to understand the impact of these two challenges on underprivileged communities in Bali and their deep link.

While the island is popular for its luxurious villas and beachfront resorts, poor housing conditions are a harsh reality for many Balinese families, especially in remote areas. The shortage of proper sanitation, limited access to clean water, and inadequate living space can contribute to the spread of diseases and affect overall well-being. Furthermore, the lack of solid housing exposes vulnerable individuals to the risk of homelessness due to a natural disaster such as an earthquake, forcing them to live in constant uncertainty.

The link between inadequate housing and poor health is undeniable. Poor housing conditions can lead to various health issues, including respiratory problems, skin infections, and mental health disorders. Mould, dampness, and poor ventilation in overcrowded spaces contribute to the prevalence of respiratory ailments, while unhygienic living conditions increase the risk of infectious diseases.

While healthcare should be a basic right for every human being, it feels like a luxury for many Balinese. Public healthcare facilities are often overburdened and may struggle to provide quality care due to resource constraints and limited financial resources.

Moreso, the remote nature of some rural communities makes it challenging for many residents in Bali to access services. Factors such as geographic location and transportation limitations create barriers preventing individuals from seeking medical attention. This is particularly problematic for individuals requiring specialized care or emergency treatment, as delays can have dire consequences for their health and well-being. Without proper medical care, preventable illnesses become chronic and debilitating, affecting an individual's productivity and ability to escape the cycle of poverty.

Limited access to decent healthcare and employment opportunities in remote communities make it difficult for some Balinese to escape the poverty cycle, and the resulting financial constraints often restrict their ability to prioritize health-related expenses.

Additionally, the lack of health education and awareness within these communities hinders the prevention and management of diseases. During the pandemic, Volunteer Programs Forever offered health classes through the Forever Learning Centres to raise awareness and educated communities about disease prevention and hygiene practices. By empowering individuals with knowledge, such preventive healthcare measures reduce the burden on the healthcare system in the long run.

The link between inadequate housing and lack of healthcare in underprivileged communities in Bali creates a big challenge. Improving housing conditions is an essential step toward breaking the poverty cycle and enhancing the well-being of marginalized individuals. By addressing the issue with a comprehensive and collaborative approach through our Soul Projects, Volunteer Programs Forever works towards creating a brighter future for Bali's most vulnerable populations.