How small villages in Indonesia are surviving the pandemic

By Nora Ebaid
Photography by Nora Ebaid

In a country like Indonesia where tourism is one of the main sources of income, COVID-19 hit hard for the region. Islands like Bali and Lombok depend on tourism more than anything else for their economy. As reported by the New York Times, more than 50% of Bali’s economy depends on tourism.

Tio, a 26-year-old surfing instructor who was living in Bali at the time when the pandemic hit said that no one expected things to turn out the way it did.

“When we first heard of the news, we thought it was nothing, but after a while shops started to close down, there was panic on the island, and then I thought to myself, things are getting serious,” he said.

Indonesia banned international visitors from entering the country in March 2020, earlier this year. Bali also banned domestic travel in May, going in full lockdown. Indonesia was one of the countries that was hit hard with more than 45.000 cases and 15.000 deaths by November 2020. This forced offices, hotels, and businesses to lay off some workers and cut the pay for the remaining workers.

Tio explained that just like him, most instructors and people who were working in Bali in the tourism industry, once the Island shut down had to go back to their villages and find different forms of making a living and surviving.

“Everything was closed. All the shops, all the restaurants, all the places, you couldn’t get anything on the Island,” said Tio.

“Most of my friends went back home, to their own villages, they’re farming or fishing, waiting for the country to open up again.”

Tio is a young Indonesian surfer from a small village named Batu Karas which is located in West Java Island in Indonesia. It is approximately 344 km from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia and is accessible through flight, public transport and private shuttles. In a village like Batu Karas, things were no different. The return to the villages helped bring families back together, some who only saw each other once a year on high holidays.

A local villager fishing.

While Batu Karas is a surfing village, it is also known for being a fishing village. Aceng, a resident and worker at a Villa Monyet Homestay in the village explained how the pandemic brought him back to fishing.

“We go out at least once a day. Fishing is hard because sometimes you catch something, and sometimes you don’t,” he explained. But some people have no choice, for most young adults who are so accustomed to tourists, farming and fishing is a new skill they have to learn.

Farmer working in rice field farms in Batu Karas.

Farmers also took this opportunity to produce and sell locally, mainly rice and Kangkung (local spinach). While some people were able to make a living by selling to different villages and bigger cities in Indonesia, others used other means by exchanging goods and services. Exchanging fish with veggies and rice and other forms of survival.

There was also governmental help on a monthly basis, as well as community and organisational help who gave food and monetary aid to the unemployed, such as rice, instant noodles, oil and sugar. Families and friends also bonded together in support during the rough times.

Coconut trees in coconut farm in Batu Karas village.

Another way locals in this village have found ways to survive is by selling coconuts. “You can rent coconut trees and sell the coconut to different cities in the country,” said 21-year-old Jenal. He explained that if they owned land with coconut trees, it was simple, you would just get someone or do it yourself; climb the tree and retrieve coconuts and sell them within the village or to the nearby cities. Otherwise, you can also rent a tree and do the work, giving the owner a piece of your winnings.

Luckily, local travel is still open in Indonesia, and a village like Batu Karas gets weekend visitors from all over the country. As the country slowly opens up, with news that Bali will reopen to international travels by the 1st of December, locals were hoping that the bad luck the pandemic brought was about to turn.


Batu Karas is a small fishing village in the East Parahyangan region on the south coast of Java. It is known for its surfing spots and its main source of income include fishing and farming. Tio and Jenal are two locals of Batu Karang who worked in Bali, unfortunately, due to COVID-19 many businesses were forced to shut down and many were forced to move back to their villages with their families.

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