In the Shadow of Bali’s Luxury, an Orphanage Stays Afloat Thanks to a Monk

Healthy simplicity is the philosophy at the children’s home.
Children gather at the Ananda Kurjana Ashram and Children's Home. (Photo: Matt Alesevich)
Oct 30, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Matt Alesevich is a New York City based travel journalist who covers human interest stories, meditation and marginalized members of society.

First came Bob Hope’s film Road to Bali, showcasing the island as an escapist’s haven for exotic, backslapping adventure. Decades later came Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts, portraying the island as a midlife-crisis oasis. For decades, tourists inspired by films and photos have been drawn to the beautiful beaches and relaxing resorts, and the small Indonesian island’s $6 billion a year tourism income shows no signs of slowing.

But just a few winding dirt roads from the locations romanticized by films and Facebook photos, there are people and places struggling to make ends meet. One of these places is the Ananda Kurjana Ashram and Children’s Home, an orphanage for 25 children ages six to 20, located just outside Singaraja, Bali’s second-biggest city. The home, just 60 miles from luxury resorts that charge $15,000 a night, runs on $15,000 a year.

In its third year as a safe place for impoverished, neglected, and abandoned children, Ananda Kurjana has operated on little more than the unwavering optimism of its caretaker, Dada Sutapananda.

“In the beginning, I was not even thinking. I found out I had eight boys coming to [live at] my place, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll take care [of them],’ ” recalls Sutapananda, 47, a monk with a philosophy of selfless giving. “Actually, I didn’t know where the money would come from! I thought, I will just start and go with the flow.”

Dada Sutapananda. (Photo: Matt Alesevich)

Two and a half years later, Sutapananda continues to meet financial uncertainty with confidence and community support.

“Money sometimes lacks a little, but I don’t have a problem with the minimum requirement of food and clothes,” he says. “This place is run by regular people and friends. No one knows of this place. I have no website. I have no leaflet.”

Teenagers care for their juniors, and all the children pitch in to cook and clean, including six-year-old Rita, the home’s newest addition. Two months ago, Rita’s mother dropped her off after her new husband refused to care for another man’s child.

“Every day the boys and girls do karma yoga of planting and home scale farming for our consumption of vegetables,” says Sutapananda. “I tell the children that here we learn to live simple but healthy. That is my motto: healthy simplicity.”

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While some children, like Rita, come from broken homes, others, surprisingly, do not.

“Many parents have lots of children and just don’t make enough money to raise them,” says Sutapananda. “If they could take care of them by themselves, they wouldn’t be here.”

Aiming to provide more than just dietary nourishment, Sutapananda’s philosophy of healthy simplicity extends to the physical, mental, and social aspects of life. Every morning before school, the children rise at 5 a.m. for yoga and meditation. In the evening after dinner, an hour and a half is dedicated to homework in the open-air dining hall.

“I feel so blessed, relaxed, and nice during meditation,” says 18-year-old Purna, who has lived in three different children’s homes in northern Bali.

But it’s not just the children being held accountable. “I want the parents and grandparents involved. I want us all to raise the children together,” says Sutapananda. “It’s not just my responsibility.”

Encouraging family members to stay in contact, Sutapananda invites them to his home for holidays and festivals, and he requests tuition fees be split 50/50, costs that range from $2 to $10 per month for high school and $30 per month for college.

Looking to provide supplementary educational opportunities, Sutapananda has slowly succeeded in bringing in outside volunteers through word of mouth. Tri, a 20-year-old local university student, teaches English for two hours every Sunday, and the New Zealand–based Brighten Foundation, a nonprofit that puts on self-esteem-building youth camps, wrapped up a three-day workshop in September, which included children from two nearby homes.

Children participate in a team-building game. (Photo: Matt Alesevich)

“Coming here has become a tradition, and we’ll be back for years to come,” says Giuseppe Martegani, the Brighten Foundation’s founder. “To see the lightbulb go off in the minds of these kids is unforgettable.”

With continued support by local donors and outsiders like Tri and Martegani, Ananda Kurjana and Bali’s tourist trade will continue to evolve and grow to meet demand. Just as any great host does, Sutapananda will continue to measure success by the satisfaction of his guests.

“Whether the kids remember me or I don’t even get a thank-you, it doesn’t matter to me,” he says. “As long as they are happy, I will be happy. My success is if my children are a success.”