Sumba has a paradox: it is one of Indonesia’s most beautiful islands yet it also is one of the most impoverished. Healthcare consists of five hospitals with 20 doctors—for a population of 650,000 spread over a island twice the size of Bali. Concerned about these conditions, American Claude Graves, the then-owner of the luxury Nihiwatu resort, established the Sumba Foundation, an NGO in 2001 dedicated to helping the Sumbanese, along with friend and Nihiwatu guest Sean Downs.
The charity’s success and close collaboraton with Nihiwatu gave birth to a long-term partnership between the resort, its guests and the Sumbanese, who work together to support the foundation. The resort dedicates part of its profits to the foundation. Guests are invited to donate both funds and holiday time to the foundation’s work. In 2012, U.K. billionaire Chris Burch bought majority control of Nihiwatu from Claude, and affirmed his commitment to continue the foundation’s work. To date, he has become the biggest single donor to the foundation. Nevertheless, the majority of the foundation’s donations come from guests and through international fundraising events.
Led by Sean, the foundation’s programs are developed and managed by Claude and Dr. Claus Bogh, a doctor who had done malaria research in three Africa countries before moving to Indonesia in 2001. Claus joined the Sumba Foundation in 2004 as the health program director after several years as a senior research consultant to the Indonesian Ministry of Health, working all over the country.
“When I first arrived in Sumba, I fell in love with its amazing landscape and beautiful people. But I found out Sumba also had the worst rate of malaria compared to other places I’d worked in. It was the island that needed the most help,” said Claus. The discovery was rather shocking. “Over 65% of children in the area had malaria,” Claus says. “Malnutrition and poor sanitation were rife.” Claus’s malaria expertise helped prevent the further spread of malaria on Sumba.
The first challenge tackled by the foundation in 2001 was the lack of water across the relatively arid Sumba. Many Sumbanese had walk for several kilometers to fetch water. So far 50 wells have been built with more than 150 water stations providing around 20,000 with potable water, for personal and agricultural use.
In 2004 the Health and Malaria Program started and now has four medical clinics that provide healthcare for about 20,000 patients per year to help treat and prevent malaria. “Over the years, Sumba Foundation has helped tens of thousands of people get diagnosed and treated for malaria,” says Claus.