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Project 18: One woman's quest to give orphans and women a better life.

Agus, just one of the children Cate Bolt helps.

It seems every other week in Australia there’s a conversation going on about the disparity in gender pay levels, the ‘glass ceiling’ or some other issue relating to the rights of women, usually driven by pseudo-intellectual feminists.

I’m far from being a feminist – or an intellectual, for that matter – but my experiences in third world countries as a humanitarian make me incredibly grateful for what progress we have made in this country.

When I founded Project 18 Inc. in 2009, fighting for the rights of women was the last thing on my mind. Our agenda was purely children and conservation. My vision for our first orphanage was a family-based group home, no dormitory style accommodation where children were numbers but children being raised in a family unit, with a belief that they could be whatever they wanted to be. The same way I raise my own children in Australia. The children would be raised to live in harmony with their environment and eventually be part of a large conservation project.

In Indonesia today there are 1.8 million children homeless. That’s a group of children the size of the entire city of Brisbane living on the streets and at risk of exploitation. The child sex trade is rife. On a visit to Bali last year I made conversation with a 15-year-old career prostitute who told me she was happy. “Oh yes, always food. Very happy” were her words. Moments later she ran across the busy street and slipped into the back of a car. She knows nothing else. My stomach churned.

In 2010 we established our orphanage in a small village in Bali’s north, away from the tourist areas, away from exploitation but also away from long term employment opportunities. There is no industry in Ringdikit. Women in the village are left with whatever work the men don’t want to do. Usually this involves carrying rocks on their heads for road works or construction. The teenage girls in our program are the only teenage girls in the district that go to high school. Girls aren’t worthy of education. You don’t need to know how to read or write to carry rocks on your head.

Last month on a routine visit to our village I was made aware of a single mother with two young boys. Manik was suffering active Tuberculosis, without urgent treatment she would die. Over the last couple of years I’ve struggled greatly with ‘maintaining focus’ – keeping my eyes on the prize and remembering why we started the project in the first place. I didn’t go to Indonesia to heal the sick, I went to save children. I immediately offered to take her children into our non-residential program – where children can still access education, food and healthcare while staying with their family.

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I left Manik’s house with the chorus of “You can’t save everyone, Cate” ringing in my ears. But I couldn’t turn my back on her. I couldn’t meet someone who, without my help, will die and do nothing. So I went back to my hotel and between beating myself up over the fact that I was sitting in air-conditioned luxury – I blogged about Manik. By the end of the day we had enough money to save Manik and help her rebuild her life.

What women like Manik need now is work. A simple opportunity that we tend to take for granted in Australia. Not back-breaking work for which they will be paid a pittance but fair work in fair conditions for a fair day’s pay. I’ve been working towards establishing a fairtrade clothing and accessories range made entirely by Indonesian mothers to be exported for wholesale sale back here in Australia. Our industry will offer employment to dozens of women like Manik, provide stimulus to the economy of our village and, most importantly, all the profits will be used to run the orphanage and other humanitarian aid functions within the community.

In Australia the wholesale operations will allow us to provide traineeships for mature-aged, long-term unemployed or people with disabilities, with all profits going back into our humanitarian aid projects.

I’ve entered the Sunsuper Dreams competition to win a grant of $5,000. This money will be used to start industry NOW. But we need your help! We need votes – hundreds of them. We’re in second place but still a long way from first.
Please go here and vote to help us make my dream a reality.

I can’t save everyone. I probably can’t bring our village out of the dark ages when it comes to gender equality but giving women jobs and their daughters an education is the key to making generational change – and that’s priceless.

Cate Bolt is a mother of nine, writer, humanitarian & environmental activist. She is dedicated to improving the lives of others through compassion, fundraising, awareness and by motivating others to take action.
She is the President & Founder of Project 18 which exists to raise funds for humanitarian and conservation projects, the first of which was an orphanage in Bali, which is now operational. And the patron of Cate’s Cause a national campaign against homelessness in Australia. You can catch her blog here, the Project 18 website here and the orphanage website here.

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