In a modest office with no air conditioning, I sat behind the desk, and there he was walking into the room. He made no eye contact as I ushered him to a seat, but I noticed something on the other side of the desk, something familiar. It was pain, but with a mix of shame. "My name is Georges. I'm here to help and to talk about what happened." Like a punch in the gut. He couldn't breathe, and he grimaced out of an excruciating pain. He turned, and no words could come out. I took a deep breath just to give him time to recollect.
Well, he was twenty-five years old, and he had been sexually abused since he was seven years old for a period of ten years by a male missionary who was supposed to be his savior. He was not alone. There were another hundred children, male victims, who were hurt by the same man.
You see, their story changed me, and it all began in Miami, Florida, where I worked for a great company as a psychotherapist. I worked in my downtown office in Miami with air conditioning, a beautiful desk. And I walked down the hall to meet her for the first time. She was fourteen years old, a beautiful young girl. Best practice recommends that I introduce myself. And this same uncomfortable question resurfaced. "Tell me what happened." But this time, there was a glacial silence in the room. I took time and asked the same question again, but no words would come out.
And that continued for three months until I decided to change the strategies and apply some of the techniques that I'd learned in my multiple trainings. I left the room. I took her to a more child-friendly environment. And at that time, I did not sit in front of her behind a desk. I sat next to her. I faced the wall, and I started to talk. "You don't need to say anything today. You don't need to speak at all. I just want you to know that I understand it's not your fault. You did not do anything wrong. I know that many people don't believe you, even your own mother, but I want you to know that I believe you. You are a brave and strong young girl, and I respect your strength."
While I was talking, I glanced at her from the corner of my eyes, and I noticed a tear running down her cheek. And she turned and said, "Can you help me?" In turn, I said, "Yes, if you let me." That was one of my most joyful moments as a professional. After this great breakthrough, intervention, I ran down the hall, and I started screaming. "She speaks, she speaks, she speaks" like I was crazy.
And at that moment, I knew her life had changed for the better, but I had no idea that mine was going to change forever. Well, she was not alone. My journey continued as they referred more and more children who had been sexually abused to me. Many of them have been hurt by people they've trusted. People they knew—a father, an uncle, a cousin, clergy, a friend of the family, et cetera. But there's one who stood alone. She was about to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. As she worked in the therapeutic room, I noticed that she might have something unusual to share with me today.
But the truth is I had something that I wanted to share with her, but before she started to talk. And I said, "I need to share something with you. See, today is one of our last sessions because I have to leave this agency. She looked at me. She was like, "Is that because of a Word and Action thing?” (Word and Action is the name of my organization). And I said, "Yes," perplexed. I said, "How do you know about that?" She said, "Well, I went on the internet, and I searched you. And I saw your picture and what you are doing for children in the community. When I grow up, I want to be just like you."
"Really? You want to study psychology and become a psychotherapist just like me?"
"Yes, but I want to give life to children."
That time I took another deep breath, but to hold my tears because you don't wanna cry in front of your clients, especially a young kid. "Well," I said, "thank you. I am honored to have been able to work with you, and you and the other children have inspired me. You guys are my heroes. Thank you."
She said, "Well, in that case, you could leave." There she gave me permission to speak on behalf of the children who were hurt, on behalf of those voiceless, those innocent, gentle souls. See, the gift that we shared is what fuels me to do what I do every day. That gift is what would take me back home to Haiti to evaluate those twenty-four young men. After ten years of being sexually abused, for the first time, they'll talk to a professional who validated their feelings. For the first time, they've learned that they were not at fault. For the first time, they know they are not alone. For the first time, they could share their story without fear. For the first time, they receive a hug, not out of deceit, but out of compassion and empathy.
Their stories is what moved me. After I've seen every single one of them for one hour, for a one-year period, the very last day of my intervention, I closed my door, sat on my desk, and cried like a baby. For the first time, I intervened and evaluated children in my own language. Those young men, they were all born close to the town that I was born in. I looked at them, I saw myself. I said, "God, that could have been me." I was inducted in the cases. I was emotionally and psychologically drained. And I've experienced all sorts of emotions—anger, pain, frustration. But at the same time, I felt relieved. I felt empowered. I felt grateful for being entrusted with such a truth.
Well, their stories have become mine. You see, I've never been sexually abused before, but all I have is the story of those children, and their story made me the person that I am in the quest of fighting against this disease. I hope, just like me, their stories have become yours because this is the story of millions of people out there. This is the story of your friend, your neighbor, your family member, your spouse, even yourself. You see, that story is not my story. It is a shared story.
And I hope this story has become yours as well because if that is true, now we have a shared story. The children are now feeling empowered. They know that they are not alone. They know that they don't have to go through this by themselves. If that's true, if that story has become yours, child sexual abuse has been defeated by the mere fact that you are listening to this tonight. If that's true, we are becoming victorious because you and I are saving lives, and all of the other victims out there are grateful for it.
I was born in a small village about one hour west from here in the shadow of Batukaru Mountain. There were no cars, no electricity, and one transistor radio. I'm not one hundred years old. You know that! I'm still young. Every day I would sit around in the morning when my mom cooked. I just loved it, you know, because I knew she was gonna need something from me. Sure enough, "Hey Made, can you take the salt and then get some eggs from the neighbor." This is the moment that I was waiting for. I ran out the door and came back with the eggs. This is the barter system that we have in Bali. You know, I just love that feeling. You barter for something, and everybody in a whole village knows what we have.
At twelve years old, my dad called me in. Wow, this is a little bit serious, I thought, you know. And then I sat next to him, and he said, "Made, if you wanna be somebody, you need to get out from this village, and then come back again when the wind blows in this direction." I was confused. You know life in the village was so damn good. Why does he want me to go out? Well, I followed his directions literally.
In 1996, I found myself halfway around the world in San Francisco—the city I only saw when I was watching Hollywood movies. I was in awe. Oh my God, you know. This could not be more different than where I grew up. It was such a contrast. I'll just give you an example. My friend told me, "If you get in an accident, do not admit it's your fault because you will be libeled for it." What? In Bali, if you fall in somebody's house, you would find the host and say, "Oh, I'm sorry. That was my fault. I didn't see the hole." It was so different, but hey, I needed to learn. And the other thing is that I needed to call my friends to see them, and I needed to come on time. That was a new concept. In Bali, you just show up in somebody else's house, and they have all the time for you. And they even give you coffee.
Well, life is not black and white like that. You know, in Bali, we call it robineda, which is the duality. And I got lucky when I was in the United States. I worked for Outward Bound. I worked at a lot of different things. I just learned everything. I even skied. Can you believe a Balinese skier?! In the United States? I was telemarketing. People said, "That person is from Bali." But I'm not a dancer, sorry.
So I got lucky to meet two of my mentors in the United States. The first one was Yvon Chouinard at the company that I worked at for nine years. What I learned from him was, "Hold your vision and your mission." Up to this date, the most profitable company in the United States, and still owned privately.
The second mentor that I met was Richard Strozzi-Heckler, and I had the privilege to be uchi deshi, meaning that I lived with him like an intern. So he taught me aikido and somatics. From aikido, I really learned how to take care of others with dignity. From aikido, I learned how to fall, get up, move on, roll, get up, move on. From somatics, I learned how to really know myself. From somatics, I learned really just knowing myself that I didn't know before. And from both of those, Richard always said, "If you wanna change yourself, change your practice." This is what he said . . . "To remember, move one hundred times. To get it in your muscle memory, one thousand times. To embody it, ten thousand times." So think about it, one, two, three, four, and so on.
After a few years in the United States, I felt not lonely, but just felt a kind of loneliness. You know, I grew up with such a different way of life. And for the first time, I saw Bali from a different perspective. The community, the dancing, the ceremonies that I took for granted when I was in Bali. I missed them so much. And I told myself, One day when I'm back in Bali, when that wind blows me back to Bali, I will take care of you, Bali.
Of course, at the beginning of 2010, I found myself back in Bali. My experiences in the United States proved to be valuable. I ended up with job here as a guest liaison, as a somatic coach, and teaching aikido in one of the healing centers here in Bali.
In those four years that I worked over there, I met one of the most talented plant-based chefs in Bali or probably in Indonesia, chef Made Runatha. One day he asked me, "Hey, Janur, do you wanna open a restaurant with me?" And I said, "A restaurant?" I'd never run a restaurant before, you know, and I Googled it. It has an 80% failure, you know. Do I wanna put myself though that? But I remember when I was working at Howard Bond, one of my mentors said, "When you do something, think about these four things—learning, earning, sharing, and fun." Hmm. I'd never done this before. Well, I guess I can learn it. So I said, "Sure. Why not?" So then Moksa Plant-Based Permaculture Garden was born. I knew nothing about restaurants, knew nothing about permaculture, but what I learned from permaculture is that inside of a problem, there is a solution. That's one of the principles from permaculture that I really took to heart. Moksa was thriving until COVID-19 hit.
I sat in my home. My wife Hilary was in the United States at the time. (Hi, hon, love you long time!) So she was stuck in the United States with my kids. I found myself sipping a glass of wine. What should I do? I want to help my family in my village. And then I remembered inside of the crisis, there is an opportunity. What is the crisis that we are facing right now? Number one is COVID-19. Because of COVID-19 in Bali, we need rice. If we have rice, salt, and pepper, we live forever. Yeah. That's Bali. The second one. Plastic, plastic, plastic. That's the environment. The third one is like this. When there is a disaster, people bring what we call disaster relief—one hand on the bottom and one hand on the top. I really wanna bring this hand together. In Bollywood, we call it tatvamasi. You as me, me as you. The giver becomes a receiver. The receiver becomes a giver. So we all have an equal feeling what I call dignity.
So I thought to myself, I'm just gonna go to the village. I called the village leader and the youth leader. And I talked, and I presented my idea of exchanging plastic for rice. And then they loved it. And they said, "When should we start?" I said, "Tomorrow." "What?" "Hey, we are not waiting for an auspicious day to pick up plastic. Tomorrow is a good day," I said. "We don't need to wait for the full moon or the new moon. Tomorrow. If there is plastic tomorrow, there is rice tomorrow," I said. "Oh, Janur is crazy. He's been Americanized." But hey, it's good to be crazy.
So the next day, they picked up the plastic in two days. In my village there's only sixty households, which is two hundred and forty people. We collected five hundred kilos of plastic—a half-ton. I was so happy. Oh, my program is great. You know, I got all of this and then, Oh no. If in my village, this small village, I can pick up this much plastic, what about a bigger village? What about around Bali? If this thing works in my village, it's got to work in a different village. And I started the system. How I'm gonna bring it out and all of that, with the help of volunteers—dedicated volunteers—with me, and my wife's support which was really just relentless. Now the plastic exchange is spreading like wildfire. Two hundred villages. One hundred and thirty tons of plastic has been collected.
Thirty-five tons of rice has been distributed, and about four thousand five hundred households have been helped. So really, the core of Plastic Exchange is three—dignity, prosperity, environment. The mission is to empower Balinese people to prosper through the barter system by collecting non-organic stuff. And we give them rice. Assisting them for now.
I remember Richard said, "To get it in your muscle memory, one thousand times, to make it embodied, ten thousand times." I want my people here in Bali, stop doing this, but do this now. One, two . . . sooner or later, it's gonna be ten thousand times, and it'll become embodied. That's my hope. We can do this. All of you here have been donating to Plastic Exchange, supporting me. Now, here, we can do this for our self-worth, for our dignity, prosperity, and the environment.
In Bali, we believe in reincarnation. We're born again because we have work to do. Moksartham Jagadhita ya ca iti Dharma. It means There is liberation in this world when you do your work, when you do Dharma, and you wanna be one with the creation, and then you're not born again. This place we call Maya Pada—the place of illusion. We do our work to reach Moksha.
My dad is my hero. He pushed me out of my comfort zone. "Get out and come back," he said. Dad, I'll stay here in the world to do my work until I see you in heaven.
Lombok, September 20th, 2018. It has been one and a half months since the terrible earthquake of August 5th struck the island claiming 563 lives and made half a million people homeless. I was driving up this hill in northwest Lombok. Our mission was to bring water filters to this village, quite isolated. The road was winding and quite steep. Our car had to get back in first gear a couple of times. What I just saw was incredible. There was no house standing anymore. We saw only rubble. There's bricks, bricks, rubble, metal bars. No house. Like a war zone. Finally, after forty-five minutes and the last bend, the village appeared. As soon as we got out of the car people were very happy to see us. Came and almost hugged us. No COVID time then! It was a very isolated village, so people hadn't seen other people for a long time. The wind was blowing very strongly, and a lot of dust on top of this hill. On the left hand side, I saw a communal kitchen. And then I was asking the people, "What has been your main issue? What happened since the earthquake?" "Well access to water, to clean water." And then the terrible news struck. Two babies had just died from diarrhea. That night back in my hotel room in the city in Mataram, I was still devastated. I couldn't sleep. I found myself crying, actually. And suddenly, it all made sense to me. All these questions I'd been asking myself for so many years. "How can I give back? How can I be of service?" It just all made sense to me suddenly. I did the right thing. Well, this year's transitioning well, this month, transitioning from corporate world to social entrepreneurship, all these doubts, these fears was just a process to go through. I realized that was the right thing to do. I'm not a doctor, but I save lives.
Two weeks later, we went back up to that village to check on the kids and the babies, and they were fine. So water is life, and access to clean water is a human right. I'm privileged to be able to bring this beautiful gift to the communities here in Indonesia with my filtration systems.
Right now, since the pandemic started, there is another disaster. It's more like an economic disaster. A lot of people have lost jobs. So when the pandemic struck a couple of months ago, I was just wondering, "What can I do to help the communities in need, or what would be the thing to do?" And that filters were the answer once more because with them you just save money. You don't need to buy water, and you also basically don't need to boil it. It's just basically free and, in these difficult times, every penny saved counts.
So I decided to launch a fundraiser end of April early May, a couple of months ago, for the water filters. It's been quite successful. I raised about 30,000 plus dollars until now, which represent fifteen hundred units for fifteen hundred families. But yeah, that's all nice, but then comes the most difficult part. It's the execution. So where to bring them? Who really needs them most on this beautiful island? So I believe in the power of collaboration, and together we are stronger. So I reached out, and I've worked since the last four months with about twenty different organizations, which are mainly supplying food or seeds to grow vegetables or some people who provided land plots, and together we bring food or the seeds and the water filters. So people can save money and basically don't have to buy water.
I have been to places that I've never imagined would exist on this island to, let's say, houses and dwellings that I thought, "How can that exist?" People were actually a little bit shy to show their places. So it's a lot of places. These are for sure in Bali, in the west of Bali, but also in the city in Denpasar and people, not only Balinese people, but also people from Java, from Sumba, from Timor, which have jobs where they have all lost also income due to COVID like for instance, waste pickers, street food vendors, and drivers. So, these people have all been through this. And now the other day, actually it was one and a half weeks ago, I went to Denpasar to Padangsambian together with Crisis Kitchen, which is one of the organizations I work with. And this lady was there. This old lady was there sitting. And so I sat next to her, and I started to ask her how she was doing. And she was like having a smile and saying, "Oh, thank you for bringing some food and water so we can go through a couple of more weeks." And then what she said struck me, like she said, "You know, I had a stroke four years ago. I don't want to depend on my son the whole time. I have no friends. Thank you for being my friend." And I was like, wow. So then I realized that small acts of kindness can really change people's life.
I hope my story inspired you. And I'm just asking you to do a bit more small acts of kindness every day. You never know what it means to people. Thank you.
Tonight I'm gonna talk about why togetherness matters. And I wanted to do that by telling you three short stories of journeys in my life and experiences that I've had and why I believe that. So the first of those stories begins in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1980 when I attended a survival gathering of the Lakota - the indigenous people of that area - on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And this survival gathering was all about people from all over the world, environmentalists, activists, Native American leaders coming together to defend the land of the Lakota. The Lakota had experienced 200 years of colonialism. Four hundred and eighty treaties were made by the government, and every single one was broken by the government, not by the Lakota. So here they were in this situation. There was uranium under the ground, and that's what the people wanted. So they were there to fight for their lands. And when I was standing there, I was watching on the stage a young Lakota woman dancing, and there were some Lakota elders playing the sacred drum. This was an incredible sound. And this young Lakota woman was dancing, and her long black hair was trailing in the wind. It was one of the most beautiful things I've seen, and I still remember it very clearly today. But as she was dancing, this very scary thing happened.
A B-52 bomber flew low over the top of the stage. There was an air force base nearby. And I think it was a deliberate attempt by these people to say, "We're the boss. We're gonna take your land." But I felt with that sense of togetherness with these people from all over the world, with the same passion, with the same desire to work together, to protect their land, that it was possible.
I want to go forward about ten years to 1990. We'd just come through ten years or more of, I guess, the Cold War or America pointing nuclear missiles at Russia. And I was taught growing up that Russians were the enemy. And I could never quite understand that. I'd never met a Russian person. And I was always wondering "Why are they the enemy? What's so bad about these Russians. Why do they want to destroy us? Why do they want to blow us up and destroy our way of life and everything else?" But I realized that I had to go there to find out for myself.
So I was able to organize a private invitation to visit the Ukraine, which was part of Russia at that time. And I was invited by a woman by the name of Mira. Mira means peace. And she was head of the People's Diplomacy club in this town. But before I went to Krivoy Rog, I had this crazy idea with my wife Steph, who's sitting down here tonight, to cycle from Europe to Russia and carry an Earth flag, which represents the Earth and oneness - that we only have one planet and together we must protect it. So we cycled through Europe and Eastern Europe, and we got to Russia. And then we took a train to Red Square in Moscow, and we unfurled the Earth flag. All these people looked at us kind of strange. "What are you doing?" "What's all this about?" So we explained that we had some media coverage.
And then we went down to Krivoy Rog, and we met the family, the Russians, and we spent ten days with Mira, her family, her friends, and every day we got into these incredible conversations, explaining about our life, how we lived in the West. They told us all about life and Russia, all the difficulties they had, their dreams, their loves - all that was important to them. And we told them what ours were. And on the last day, they put on this lunch for us, and there were Cossacks, and there were World War II veterans. And there were young Russian people - Ukrainians - and teenagers. And we had this incredible experience. And when we went to leave, when we finished that lunch - we were leaving the next day - we embraced with the most incredible love and feeling and devotion and respect - respect for each other. And again, at that moment, I realized that togetherness really matters.
And the third story is an experience in Indonesia about eight years ago. And I was traveling with six Australian men up the rivers of Borneo in North Kalimantan. We were traveling on canoes up this river with engines on the back. And we were going up to this village called Setulang up in the original rainforest of Kalimantan. 130 million years old, the oldest rainforest on the planet. So we were going to this village for the first time. We were gonna spend a few days with the Dayak people, with the indigenous tribes of that area. And as we were traveling up this river, and I want you to just kinda come with me on this part of the journey. So we're traveling up on these boats, the sun setting coming down through the trees, two hornbills, which are the sacred birds of the Dayak, flew in front of us, in front of our path, which is a very good omen.
And then we came around the bend in the river, as we entered into the village. And there was about fifty of the Dayaks all lined up waiting for us in their traditional costumes. So happy to welcome us. These strangers from a country, Australia, New Zealand, whatever, they'd probably never heard of, but they were there to welcome us. And they were so honored that we'd come to their village. And then, for the next six days, they took us into the forest. We stayed in the forest. They danced. They sang. So much joy, so much connectedness, so much togetherness over those few days. And we got to understand about the way that they live their spiritual connection with the forest. And, of course, we tell them about our lives. And this was an incredible experience. And again, when we went to leave, we were like family. We were family.
But we left with some sense of sadness because what future do they have? You know, palm oil. I'm sure you know all about that. It's coming into those areas. But I really felt then, and I certainly believe it now that together we can make a difference. Together we can save those forests. We can help them preserve their culture. So coming to today, I decided to sort of put all this together. And what do we do with togetherness? How can we make it really impactful? So I decided to start a project called The Togetherness Project. And part of the reason why we're here tonight, The Togetherness Project is all about working together with people from different countries, nationalities, cultures, Balinese, Indonesians, Bule, foreigners from many different countries like you all are tonight.
And I really believe that if we can put our minds together, our creativity, our passion, our beliefs, we can do wonderful things. I think on this island in particular, during this time, it's such an incredible opportunity to do that, to forge a really powerful sustainable future on this island. And I think of what we've done so far with The Togetherness Project bringing back the traditions through the ikat, through the weaving revival, which you've seen tonight. That's probably one good example, where there's twenty-five women now in the community of Pesalakan, and they're employed, that stopped doing the ikat weaving twenty-five years ago, but have now brought it back and created some income during this time. The honey farm up in Karangasem. The traditional coffee in Munduk. We're supporting organic farmers here - indigenous farmers in Bali. If anybody wants to have their land turned into an organic farm, we're providing that service and supporting the local people as well. We're organizing events. The first one's gonna be next month in October.
So I really, really hope that all of you can get involved in some way. I mean, just tonight, you can buy a Bag of Hope if you wish. These sell for 850,000, and all that money goes to support the communities.
So I really believe that togetherness does matter and we can all play our part. Thank you.