As told by Love Is Project photographer, Shayna Pitch, and videographer, Brandon Nadeau
“STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD AND ENJOY THE JOURNEY” - BABS HOFFMAN
I was introduced to Chrissie’s and Love is Project over a doubles game of tennis arranged by a mutual friend. I know...how random. Chrissie and I shared our passion for capturing portraits of people we meet during our travels. She also shared the amazing work she is doing to empower women all over the world through Love Is Project.
I think we both felt there was some Bali magic and synchronicity in the air. So we made a plan to visit the over 300 women she employs in East Java to document the impact this project was having on their lives.
We left Bali at 3:00am to catch a ferry to Java. We then made an eight hour journey to Jember, the first village in East Java we planned on visiting. Java, as an island, is huge compared to Bali. You can fit roughly 20 Balis into Java. When travelling there, the scale of everything is bigger, and the drives are a little (ok, more than a little) longer. But these longer journeys mean plenty of time to soak in the beautiful landscape and scenery.
This would be our first time in Java, so we were both excited to see what adventures lie ahead, and who we would meet along the way. We had seen the travel vlogs and articles, but nothing compares to the actual experience.
A little stop at JAWATA BENCULUK, a park filled with epic Cypress trees AND….
SHEEP! Here’s a herd all snuggled up together. So much love!
We convinced our driver to take a super sketchy jungle road to get here. So worth it!
The volcanoes, the beautiful coast lines, jungles, and forests, all made for a diverse visual buffet. But like all of our trips, it's the people who really drew us in.
Local women from Ledokombo, unsure how to react to the new visitors who just arrived.
Indonesians have the best smiles. These are some of the amazing people we met on our journey.
A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.
A mother and son who we met on the way, selling apples on the hillside. You could feel the love.
We arrived at our first village, Ledokombo, which was tucked away deep in a remote part of East Java. We connected with Eliza Rainbow, a very entrepreneurial Indonesian woman with a big heart. She immediately made us feel welcome and at home.
Eliza Rainbow, her husband, and a few of the kids who greeted us when we arrived.
Eliza is the main organizer for Love is Project in this area, and hundreds of women have been positively impacted because of her winning attitude, hustle, and ability to connect key people in order to create opportunities for herself and others.
Love Is Project artisans making bracelets and enjoying working together.
There is very little tourism and few job opportunities in this part of East Java. Before being employed by Love Is Project, many of these women were working for tobacco companies operating there, often getting paid as little as 25,000 rupiah ($1.85 US) per day. To say they were grateful for the opportunity to get paid to make bracelets, while staying close by their children and family, would be an understatement.
Just from traveling through the village, you could feel a renewed sense of hope, purpose, and joy among these women, simply from the ability to provide food and basics for their families. We heard women share with pride how they bought a new rice cooker or new serving plates for when guests come over. A few of them even shared their excitement about new clothes and makeup they purchased for special occasions--things we usually take for granted in the West.
Family is such a vital part of life in East Java. Here are a few of the workers with their children.
After a few lovely days connecting with these amazing women, we were on to the next village near Malang, about four hours away.
We arrived and met Ita, a young woman who lives in Bali, but is originally from Malang. She and her mother manage the local women in the village who make LOVE bracelets for Love Is Project.
Again, we were welcomed with open arms--not as strangers, but as friends. Ita and her mother provided a great example of what real hospitality feels like.
As we were introduced to the villagers, we could immediately see how central family and faith is to life in the village. When we would ask what “love” means to them, two responses stood out as the most popular: “love is happiness,” and “love is family.” These are the values driving their everyday lives.
There were a lot of lessons learned on this trip: going with the flow, releasing expectations, the inherent goodness of humanity, the power of love, the love of family, and the joy of travel and new experiences. But one lesson stood out the most as we spent a week with the amazing and joyful people we met in East Java: Remember that someone else is happy with less than what you have.
When we find ourselves going into comparison-mode and experiencing feelings of lack, we will always remember these smiling faces, and what LOVE really is.
By Shayna Pitch and Brandon Nadeau