WEN has initiated it’s newest Kawah Ijen Project (KIP) to help the community of sulfur miners and their families living in Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia. In the documentary film, Where Heaven Meets Hell, (2011) directed by Sasha Friedlander, we learned about the miners who work in the active volcano, Kawah Ijen, home to a grueling, labor-intensive sulfur mining operation. Hundreds of independent miners collect and haul loads of pure sulfur weighing up to 200 pounds. They trek the treacherous four-kilometer path out of the crater, engulfed in billowing clouds of toxic sulfur dioxide gases. Then they climb down to the village at the base of the volcano to unload, only to repeat the round trip journey several times before the day ends. The miners sell the sulfur for subsistence wages equivalent to ten dollars a day, barely enough for food and basic needs, but insufficient to cover schooling costs for their children. Unfortunately this lack of education perpetuates the cycle of poverty, which prevents future generations from breaking away from the mine. Without their high school diplomas, few job opportunities await these miners within their communities. They continue mining in hopes of building financial security for their families, and ensuring that their sons won’t follow in their footsteps. Their wives, mothers and daughters remain uneducated and unskilled and raise their families with little assistance and little awareness of the dangerous work their husbands, fathers and sons are doing. Life-threatening accidents are common and exposure to the noxious gases leads to chronic lung disease, and shortened life expectancy (45 years). Many of the children walk as much as two hours each way to attend under-equipped schools, if and when their parents can afford the fees for books and uniforms. The children often drop out by the 7th grade.
WEN is working with the established Community Service Organization (CSO) in Indonesia, IKAWANGI, who, inspired by the film, took on this project and has spent time assessing the community and family needs in the Banuwangi area. They have already completed building the first library in one of the most remote villages in the region. On a recent visit, Sasha and her family were thrilled to help deliver the first load of books to the library. In addition IKAWANGI is organizing a school fee assistance program, trainings for women in home industry-style empowerment projects, as well as addressing the miners’ health and safety needs.