Project Sulphur Porters Kawah Ijen
Mountain of surreal pain and beauty
It all started in September 2007 when I followed my desire and addiction to climb as many volcanoes in Indonesia as possible. This time it was Gunung Merapi sitting just above the sulfur mines of Kawah Ijen.
Every volcano and mountain climbed in Indonesia is special in its own way and leaves behind long lasting memories. Gunung Merapi is definitely very different as it shows you life from the hardest perspective. Volcanoes can be spectacular because of their sheer size like Gunung Rinjani on Lombok or Gunung Semeru in East Java. Merapi can definitely not match them in size but will give you a chance to think a step further in life. Witness how 400 of the world’s strongest and most enduring people harvest 60-90 kg of sulfur out of toxic smoking fumes right in the center of an active volcano. Then carry this brutal load in two baskets on their shoulders up a steep, at times almost vertical 250-meter deep crater and then 3.8 km downhill to the collection point. Speechless, shocked, saddened and often on the edge of tears we were when watching this pour fellers carrying this immensely painful heavy load, one very slow step after the other up this seemingly endless hill. There was total silence on the hill which was only broken by heavy breading when passing one of this porters and there painful coughing when clearing their thoughts from the poisonous fumes of the volcano. A cough that sounded to me more like a cry for help or a wakeup call to our way of life. A small block of sulfur from that very heartbreaking day on my desk remains me for the rest of my days, that stress is self-inflicted and what hard work really is. I honestly do not think that I ever have worked hard. In total disbelief I returned back to Bali, described my emotions to my wife Puji and then started to look for ways to assist each porter and their families.
Please do spare a few minutes to watch bellows progress videos, which are proudly produced by Fabian von Holzen From the Woods Production
Back in 2013 I send out a note for help through our social network
Looking for a design or creative idea or something for the porters to transport the sulphur from the lake to the crater rim and then 3.8km down the mountain side to the collection point not on their shoulders but……..?
As we can see from the images the load between 60 to 90 kg sulfur sits always on one shoulder. Frequently during their brutal 200 meters’ assent to the crater rim the burden moves from one side to the other. Meaning that the entire load weights continuously down on one shoulder. Anyone ever carried 75 kg (most of us struggle with 30 kg) know that this is a serious inhumane task. Now there is no point of thinking of developing mechanical ways of mining, which would mean no more work and income for many of the porters. Why not to design a something device, that is simple, ingenious, cost effective to build, environmental friendly and foremost super practical.
Within a few days I received a first replay from the Swiss Ambassador in Jakarta which offered his assistance and a micro loan between $6-8000 to assist the porters. Almost immediately I replayed and declined this generous offer with another thought. I mentioned to Mr. Heinz the Ambassador that I heard of rumors that there are still very clever and kind people back in Switzerland…….? Why not as the Government to bring us in contact with a Swiss university which might be interested to take our Kawah Ijen project up as a design project.
I was totally surprised and overwhelmed that within two weeks 4 Universities from Switzerland contacted me and offered their help. It was then Thomas Studer a student from the University of Applied Science and Art in Luzern, Switzerland which took on this challenging task to design and develop a devise that enables the porters to bring back their heavy loads in a more humane way. Within an incredible 8 weeks Thomas designed and constructed a prototype of a wheel barrow which we tested extensively during several visits. With grate anticipation and skepticism, we where welcomed by many porters which already buried this new device before we even unveiled Thomas’s invention.
Without much instruction we handed over the wheelbarrow to the porters for assembly. Obviously the construction needed to be lightweight and at the same time super durable for the porters to load around 100 kg of sulfur to be wheeled for 3.8 km down the mountain along a often rough path which in several areas descends over 20%. Once the first trolley was loaded and the first 500 meters behind us, the porters gradually started to realize that this is not just another trolley but definitely has the potential to seriously assist in their every day quest to make a living. Each and ever porter that we passed wanted to have a go with this new device and the feed back that we received was just astonishing. Obviously no prototype is perfect and as such our local artisans here in Bali where busy making the necessary modification.
Once we handed over the first “production run” trolley Miss Helga and Mr. Hanspeter Fischer a super kind couple with a huge heart from Switzerland joined us on our adventure to East Java. After experiencing the heart ship of the porters they took out their wallet, gave me $30’000 and ordered me to build each and every porter a trolley Within a year we build and handed over 180 trolleys. The porters which missed out on a trolley took the idea in their own hand and build their own version for a better life. Today trolleys are not only used to transport sulfur but also as taxis to pull lazy tourist up to the crater rim.
At present we no longer supply trolleys, but spare part to maintain, tires, rims and breaks to keep the carriages well maintained.
Please help and donate generously
Perhaps you wish to join us in our efforts to bring just a little sunshine into the dull lives of these incredible hard working people. To do so, simply bring your aged cloth to Bali, give us a call and we will pick them up from your hotel. We will wash each piece and make 100% certain that each and every piece of cloth or shoes will reach the right person.
To help please transfer funds to following accounts
- Ketut Puji Aniki Oka
- Bank Maybank Indonesia TBK
- AC # Rupiah 1037023939
- SWIFT / BIC CODE # IBBKIDJAXXX
- von Holzen Heinz Karl
- ANZ Bank
- Account # 5110 99532
- BSB # 014 672
Please do mention Kawah Ijen Children Fund
Regardless how big or small your contribution, it will bring a little glimpse of hope for a better life. You can make a great difference in a harsh world.
Giving and helping has to be one of the greatest joys in life
The creation on an idea
After many visits to east Java since 2007 our caring project gradually spread its roots across the globe, and with it we started to get gracious support from many great people that are willing to help the needy.
The Swiss Government contacted me and congratulated our team for their efforts to help this brutally hard working mining community. Generously they offered between US$6000-US$8000 and ask me to make a proposal how I would spend this money. Almost instantly I replayed to the Ambassador of Switzerland here in Indonesia that at this stage I would not so much be interested in their money but more so in their connections back in Switzerland. Together with my replay I drafted the following note with the hope that we would be able to find some help in Swiss Universities.
As we can see from the above images the load between 60 to 100 kg sits always on one shoulder. Frequently during their brutal 4.5 km journey the load moves from one shoulder to the other. Meaning that the entire load weights continuously down on one shoulder. Anyone ever carried 75 kg (most of us struggle with 30 kg) know that this is a serious inhumane task. Now there is no point of thinking of developing mechanical ways of mining, which would mean no more work and income for many of the porters. Why not to design a yoke like device, perhaps manufactured by super strong, light weight and bouncing carbon fiber, that allows to attach two baskets. The carbon fiber device bends around the neck and is cushioned by some sort of material offering some protection to the bear skin. It would be amazing if as part of an engineering project a university could design a device that makes the brutally hard work of the porters a little more bearable
- April 2014
- To my greatest surprise within less then 1 month I was contacted by not one but four universities showing interest in our project.
- May 2014
- Three weeks later I flew back to Switzerland and visited the Fach Hochschule Luzern, Technik & Architektur and brought with me a Bamboo pole that holds the two baskets. Two weeks later Mr. Marco de Angelis, Professor for Product Development visit us here on Bali and joined us on our regular journey to Kawah Ijen.
- October 2014
- Thomas Studer a design engineer student contacted me and confirmed his arrival dates. He brought with him a first trial trolley. Rather sceptical we presented this first prototype to the porters and had small hope that the reception would be so overwhelming. As with any prototype areas of changes where noted and then made instantly to the trolley here on Bali.
- Late October 2014
- We brought the modified trolley back and gave it to the porters with the hope that they would us it in their daily struggle for survival.
- November 2014
- We build the first prototype trolley here on Bali following the design from Thomas Studer including locally available aluminium and parts.
- December 2014
- We handed over the locally build trolley to the porters to be tested and used daily.
- February 2015
- After two months of serious usage both trolleys are still in perfect working order. We obviously identified areas that need adjustments and modification in the construction, changes that will be included in the next trolleys build. Currently we have one more trolley that is being build including the latest changes. Two more prototypes are being build in Switzerland which we will be delivered in May.
- March 2015 – Conclusion
- With the progress that we have made and the feed back that we have received and seen I am extremely optimistic that by August 2015 we will commission 200 trolleys to be build which will then gradually handed over to the porters by the end of 2015. This will mean that the porters then have to pair up and work as a team. That way the porters can increase their daily productivity by about 50%, and with it earn a little more, and at the same time reduce the stress level on their bodies by properly 75%
- July 2016
- Within a little more than a year we produced and handed over 171 trolleys to the porters. For mainly financial limitation we where not able to supply each and every porter with a trolley. The Porters which missed out build their own version which resulted in the fact that after 18 months not a single porters carried the sulphur on their shoulders the 3.8km down to the collection point.
- Perhaps one of our biggest achievements in our lives. This would not have been possible without the whole hearted support form many great people around the planet.