In HANDs! of The Experts / HANDs! bearing seeds of creativity

Jan 25, 2017 · 8 min read

Study Tour in Indonesia,Bali 2016/2017

In Bali, our 24 HANDs! 2016/17 fellows sought inspirations from the green gurus. By YEO LI SHIAN

One morning, as I cleared away clutters on my nearly non-existent desk space, something fell right onto my lap. A palm-sized booklet: Collins Gem’s Disaster Survival. 192 pages.

A red tagline on its cover reads “Be prepared for any eventuality”. As I leafed through the pages, I froze. “Oh God! I’m doomed (if natural calamity strikes)!” I thought.

Yes, DISASTER EDUCATION is not a sexy topic. In fact, most Malaysians I know rarely mention the two magical words. Well, never.

That’s not surprising, considering Malaysia — my kampung — is nearly disaster-free. Oh, not quite. Except for the yearly flood and haze issues from neighbouring country. But the devastating flood that swept away communities in various parts of Malaysia in recent years should serve as a grim reminder of our vulnerability.

Soon, I realised, disaster education is not just about awareness and life-saving skills. There’s more — a collective effort. Everyone has a role to play. Appropriate knowledge is essential to propel desired collective action.

Fast forward, here I was in Bali, Indonesia with 23 other brilliant young professionals from eight different countries — a ballet dancer, a neuro physiotherapist and a political cartoonist among others. Together, we discovered a trove of disaster risk reduction and environmental knowledge, in baby steps.

On a 13-day adventure, we journeyed to two countries including the Philippines. Thanks to Hope and Dreams (HANDs) Project, an initiative started in 2014 by the Japan Foundation Asia Center.

HANDSome Rewards

In Bali, we were moved by the passion, core principles and practices exhibited by individuals or organisations which have surpassed others in their fields.

Subak system is one of them.

Squatted on a trickling ditch, Harry Nyoman, a local villager illustrated to us the theories behind Bali’s famous rice-field irrigation system.

Operated in accordance to Balinese philosophy ‘Tri Hita Karana’, the centuries-old integrated system embodied good self-sustainability and resilient strategy. Designed to ensure fair distribution among its’ members, Subak system had elevated the life and rewarded the local communities handsomely — with greater food and income provisions.

“It’s my first trip to Bali,” enthused Phongthep Bunkla, our Thai fellow as his finger gently swept across his collection of DSLR shots. “But I am already impressed.”

As the 27-year-old documentary producer observed, the Balinese solution embraced ways to include community-operated waterways, better farming efficiency and resources conservation. Balinese’s lives and immense culture that geared toward nature were very eye-opening, he said.

Citing it as “my favourite activity in Bali”, Phongthep hopes to adopt the system design in his future Natural Resource Management project.

“Hands!” Us the Ideas

“The best practice is still practice”. So, they say. At Kopernik, one of my favourite parts of the trip, this statement rang true.

With years of practice, Kopernik has slowly lifted last miles’ communities out of poverty by creating self-sustaining cycle through life-changing technologies. For Kopernik, this isn’t just a business model but a mission to drive change. Today, its products had reached over 200,000 people in 21 countries.

Still, Kopernik’s current system isn’t entirely challenge-free. Here, in an hour-long idea-brewing session, we dissolved the bars of our creativity to help enhance its current system. Testing our ideas against reality while maintaining an unwavering focus on their vision was a good challenge for us.

Plus, the NPO also provided us with a handful of tips on project management and ways to secure get our projects funded.

Sense & Sustainability

Standing out among our Bali trips was this: Green School. Imagine going to work every day in a gorgeous bamboo-structured campus, surrounded by 23-acre of natural beauty. And savoring meals made of freshly harvested greens from the same plot of land.

Such are the daily luxuries experienced by the staff and students of Bali’s world renowned eco-school. Sights of kids settled comfortably for their happy meals or humming their best tunes instantly revved us up.

Our fellow, Rizqia Sadida, 23, was admittedly drawn to its visual identity, and jaw-droppingly green concept. The reason is simple: it’s both creative and practical in an urban setting.

For her, the award-winning school also challenged urban dwellers to rethink ways to foster greater relationship with nature.

“100% green including the toilets. Amazing!” gushed the Jakarta-based children’s books illustrator as she recalled the various approaches adopted by Green School. “Their serious commitment towards environmentally-friendly practices has inspired me to lead a greener lifestyle.”

Shortly after the excitement set in, our day continued with more activities. Past HANDs! fellows Bonni Rambatan and Vina Puspita generously dished out nuggets of action plans development advice. Over the next few hours, our creative juices and project design skills were also put to test during country groups’ brainstorming session.

As the day drew to an end, Navicula’s vocalist, Robi, a local rock musician heartthrob, left us breathless in a much-needed exclusive mini concert. Above all, the Rainbow Warrior has, in the last two decades exemplified the instrumental role of music in championing various social and environmental woes.

Grassroots Guru

The power of simple and practical designs cannot be underestimated. In Jembrana — some 22km away from Pulukan, Negara, a small award-winning kindergarten is a testament to this devotion.

There, Ibu Agnes Rini Astuti, Paud Cemara Kasih’s (PCK) principal, stood explaining a 3D game for calculations — improvised solely out of daily insignificant materials: used mineral water bottles. She demonstrated how simple games can be made interesting and effective to catch children’s attention.

These were clear evidence of passion and perseverance. In the hands of Ibu Agnes and her team, the kindergarten which began as a humble centre has now flourished meteorically with over 100 pupils. By exploring the best alternatives to stimulate children’s development and creativities, this to me, fitted our learning process beautifully too.

Real-life Applications

Our Filippino fellow, Victoria Almazan, 24, agreed heartily. Observing how fun was taken seriously at the kindergarten, she is ready to inject similar energy into her future visual communication projects too.

“I really enjoyed it,” shared the CNN Philippines’s graphic designer cheerfully. “Also, simple things like their (teachers) passions and the happiness of the kids and parents. You can just feel it!”

HANDs! project recognised PCK as the perfect testing ground for us. All through our two-day there, we survived the ‘gruelling’ episodes of — designing, constructing prototypes and conducting disaster education creatively on children.

“Everything the kids learned here has real-life applications,” observed Pranab Man Karmacharya, 29, a neuro physiotherapist from Nepal. “This really made them more confident and self-reliant.”

Both Victoria and Pranab were also deeply touched by the sheer effort and the warm community show of support.

Like Paud Cemara Kasih, HANDs! project adds joyful fragments of creativity fuelled by significant action, growth and realization of your dreams. In us, it has instilled a pivotal message that every action counts — large or small — to create ripples within our communities.

And now I can say, we too are transformed. For good.

Written by YEO LI SHIAN (HANDs! 2016 Fellow from the Malaysia)

For more information about HANDs! Project, visit its official website “HANDs! Project for Disaster Education” and its official Facebook page!


The HANDs!


The HANDs! Project is a human resource development program sponsored by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. The Project was created as a place for mutual learning, sharing knowledge, and cooperating to solve problems for disaster prevention and support for disaster-affected areas.


Written by


The HANDs! Project is a human resource development program sponsored by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. The Project was created as a place for mutual learning, sharing knowledge, and cooperating to solve problems for disaster prevention and support for disaster-affected areas.