The Indonesian island of Bali is mostly known for its beauty and tourism industry.  But a large segment of its population, mostly the poor, lacks access to sanitation. Many many live the dangerous lives of scavengers in the trash piles.  In recent years, an Indonesian environmental engineer put aside her well paid job to come to their rescue. In VOA's weekly series, Making a Difference, is the story about Yuyun Ismawati and her struggle to improve lives and environment. 

For Indonesian environmental engineer Yuyun Ismawati, this was a satisfying moment after years of struggle.  She was awarded the 2009 Goldman Environment Prize in a U.S. ceremony for her work in the poorest communities of Bali. "I realized then, when people are empowered and trusted to help themselves they will succeed," she said.

Almost a decade ago Ismawati was working as consulting engineer, when she began helping some of Indonesia's worst slums with their waste problems.  The government only collects about one third of the nation's solid waste, mostly from high income areas. "Indonesia population is around 235 million people and 100 million of them have no access to proper sanitation," Yuyun explains.

While Bali's island beauty attracts tourists, Indonesians often come here looking for work.  But many end up as scavengers, collecting discarded food scraps from hotels to deliver to pig farms.  They risk sickness and she says the remaining trash is burned, spreading environmental hazards.

Yuyun and her organization called Bali Focus Foundation negotiated with the hotels and the pig farmers.  She persuaded the hotels to provide about 200 jobs to recycle much of the waste.

"Previously some of them were scavengers and now they are working as employee of a company.  Of course, maybe the salary is not much different from their previous salary as scavengers, but it builds people dignity," she said.

Later, Yuyun helped develop SANIMAS, a series of community-based sanitation projects for poverty-stricken areas which can be easily replicated.  The concept has been introduced in India, Zambia and the Philippines.

"We have been benefiting 200 community clusters in 200 cities all over Indonesia," she states.

Yuyun also trained women in waste separation and composting.  The program now involves 500 households.  According to her records, waste in participating villages has been reduced by 50 percent.  Yuyun says her fight relates to the problem of global warming.

"I am going to promote more about this community-based approach: zero waste approach will lead to zero warming" she said.

Yuyun's program, begun in Mali's slums, is now a nationwide initiative, rapidly expanding to many other communities.