Five years ago, when I first started my blog and Twitter was a free-for-all every-night house party, I met Cate Bolt. I say “met”, although I’ve never seen her in the flesh in my life. She could be a 13-year-old called Steve, for all I know. But that’s quite a commitment to an extensive back story – Steve has nine children and an orphanage in Bali keeping vulnerable young girls out of sex trafficking.
I liked her tweets. They were feisty, opinionated, educated, feminist, loud, and interesting. Every now and then she would pop up, swear, ask us all for money to get kids off the street – and I’d give it to her. I couldn’t ignore her very sensible (yet incredibly pointed about our white privilege) requests, as confronting as they were. The more confronting she got, the more I couldn’t help but well, want to help.
When this blog started making money, I pledged a portion of it to Foundation 18. In addition to my private sponsorship of the orphanage (YOU CAN GO HERE TO MAKE A DONATION YOU TOTALLY SHOULD GO GO!), I’ve given more than $1000 of Veggie Mama money to her humanitarian efforts. I’d tell you more about how awesome she is but she’d already hate how long this intro is.
That donation page again, folks *ahem* is here.
Without further ado – the foul mouthed, big-hearted, rad bird in her own words:
Who are you?
My name is Cate Bolt, I’m 43 years old, I am a single mum with nine children – eight boys aged eight, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21 and 23, and one girl aged 11. I’m an ex-heavy metal music journo/prison officer/bouncer turned Buddhist, humanitarian, activist, hippie, fibre/textile artist, and I swear quite a lot – actually a real fucking lot. I am essentially nomadic and spend most of my time travelling, but my feet like the earth on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland the most, so that’s where I return to and call home. I work, eat, sleep and sing loudly in a little, old, renovated caravan called “The Orchid”. I’m obsessed with the TV show Lost, and I wear black a lot but my favourite colour is pink. John Lennon’s son once held the elevator for me but I wasn’t actually getting in the lift, but it was OK ‘cause it was only Sean, not Julian.
What do you do?
Fark. A fair bit. About five years ago I decided I could have a crack at starting an orphanage, so I now I run the Yayasan Dharma Sadana group home for abandoned girls, which houses 14 girls aged 2- 17 in a family environment.Then we also have:
an education outreach program in the same village that provides food, education, clothing and medical care to another 80ish children who still remain in the care of a relative.
medical outreach program that provides emergency medical treatment to people who would otherwise not be able to access hospital treatment.
an elder care program, which provides for elderly people in our village who don’t have a living relative to care for them. Predominantly provides food but also medical costs and funeral expenses.
a fair trade women’s workshop that provides employment to women who are escaping from/or at risk of slavery, prostitution, human trafficking and exploitation.
we also have an open kitchen at the orphanage, so any child in the village can come in and have a free meal if they’re hungry. We provide about 6,000 meals every month to kids who would normally go hungry.
Our humanitarian projects are supported financially by the businesses I run, and also partially by donations and sponsorship.
I support myself mostly by sewing swear words on things and then selling those things – true story. #prettyfknembroidery www.prettyfknembroidery.com
Why do you do it?
Because I can, mostly. Without sounding too wanky, I feel like I have a calling to serve humanity. I genuinely want to leave everything I touch better than it was before I touched it – places, people, the earth in general. Because it makes me happy. I get a great deal of joy out of knowing that girls are going to high school because I took the time to care and to act. Girls that come from a village where no girl had ever been to high school in the entire history of that village. Essentially I’m just being selfish and doing what makes me happy.
I used to believe I could change the world but I don’t really believe that any more. I just want to help people but I will never feel like I’ve done enough. I feel like I’ve just about found the sweet spot which allows me to balance helping others with being a self-indulgent artist/hippie/nomad.
How did it start?
Geez, it’s all a bit lame to be honest. I had an epiphany. I went out one day headed in one direction and then suddenly decided to go in the other direction, which lead me to somewhere I really didn’t need to be but I ran into this woman, who I didn’t really even know that well, and we started having a conversation. She started telling me about her travel plans and I hadn’t ever been out of Australia so I just added that I wouldn’t mind going to Indonesia one day and she looked at me and said “If you went to Indonesia you would start an orphanage”… just a stupid throw away line that I probably should have just laughed off but I didn’t. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous to assume that someone with as many children as me would start an orphanage, but I think within about an hour I started Googling ‘homeless children in Indonesia’ and that lead me to a report into the Indonesian child sex trade and that document was so hideous and disgusting that I just couldn’t walk away from it. I think most people would have had trouble reading it. A lot of it I read through tears but I couldn’t just close it. It made me feel incredibly sick and ashamed that I didn’t know what was going on. I think it’s really easy to see something like that and just be completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of it and throw your hands up in the air and say “I can’t fix that”… and realistically, I can’t fix it – but I can save some children, so I’m doing what I can.
Were you scared, or did you know you had the determination to see it through?
I’m always scared. I’m scared crossing the road. I’m a ridiculously nervous person. I thought about it for a few months before I decided to do it. I talked to my kids about it and I asked them how they felt about it. I told them that it would mean that we would have to make a lot of sacrifices and that our once comfortable lifestyle would essentially be over. I think I’d hoped they would talk me out of it, but they were all totally up for it. My daughter, Ailish, was only about 5 at the time and she wanted to know a lot more about the situation over there so I tried to explain it to her in child-friendly terms and she asked “why hasn’t anyone done anything about this yet?” and I told her that many people had probably tried to, and that perhaps some people just don’t know how to try to help them, and she looked at me and she smiled and said “well it’s a good thing you know what to do!” and she just skipped off like I had it all under control.
When I actually landed in Indonesia for the first time, I was on my own and I’d never even been there before and I had a budget and 16 days to make it happen, that day I actually thought I’d completely lost my mind – it was just blind panic – How am I going to do this? Where do I start? Who do I speak to? I have NO idea what I’m doing! There was one particular night when I had been sticking my nose in places it probably wasn’t welcome, walking down a street alone and I was accosted by a young guy who was yelling at me in Bahasa and I should have been terrified but I had an overwhelming sense of calm come over me and I just thought, ‘this is my path, it’s led me to this place at this time on this day, this is what I am supposed to do so I’ll be OK, and if I’m not OK then that’s OK because this is my path – wherever it leads’. On day 15, I was sitting on the floor of my new orphanage, assembling flat-pack furniture, listening to chickens and just going “holy fucking shit…I just started a motherfucking orphanage”.
I think that I’ve just always believed that this is what I’m supposed to do and that whatever happens, happens. It’s not always easy, but the Universe always provides in the end. Sometimes the Universe could try showing up to the party a little earlier though, just quietly.
Have there been rough patches where you doubted yourself and your choice to create an orphanage and the businesses that support it? What did you do?
Yes. Sometimes it’s every single day. I take what I do very seriously – very personally. I take every single donation or sponsorship as an indication that someone is putting their faith and trust in me to do something with it. I am an incredibly sensitive person. Probably far too sensitive to be doing this sort of work, I can’t say no to people, I take on far more than I should. So when a sponsor cancels, no matter what the reason for it, I take it personally. I know in my rational thinking mind that it’s not personal, but it hurts – deeply. I knew that would always be my biggest challenge – dealing with my own emotions. So, I think that’s the main motivation for having the businesses that I run to cover most of the expenses – and I think now I’m up to about 90% of the costs are covered by me, through running Skull Buttonry, Cabo Pickles and Bu Fair Trade.
I think, in answer to the second part of that question, it’s a matter of just having to get on with it – it’s not a lifestyle that you can just say ‘ok, I’m sick of this now, I’m going to put it back on the shelf’. I’m a mum of kids with special needs and I’ve been through a few pretty horrific experiences in my life so I’ve become a bit of a stiff-upper-lip specialist. I don’t tend to take any nonsense from myself in terms of self-pity or feeling sorry for myself. I tend to give myself a kick up the arse and say ‘just fucking get on with it, you big fucking sook’. I’m not an overly sociable person but I’m very fortunate to have a good circle of friends on social media who will give me a pat on the back occasionally and say ‘cheer up’ when I need it.
How do you make it work with your family and your lifestyle?
Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. One foot in front of the other and off you go. There’s no special secret – just make it happen. I think you can make anything happen if you want it bad enough and you’re prepared to make sacrifices.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I think this is what I like most about my life. There really isn’t a typical day for me. I’ve created an environment where there is quite a lot of variety, I get to be creative which is my oxygen, I get to travel which gets me out of my comfort zone, and I get to help people. I honestly don’t keep a diary or calendar, I rarely look at the clock except to know when the post office closes. I get out of bed whenever I feel ready, I eat when I’m hungry and I go to bed when I’m tired. I generally don’t know what I’m doing on any given day until I wake up in the morning and see what orders came in over night. I just follow the sun and do what ever needs to be done each day to survive.
Would you recommend this work/way of life to someone else?
Short answer – no. I wouldn’t recommend anything much to anyone. Except watching Lost. Everyone should watch Lost. I feel like I’m on the way to living the best possible lifestyle *for me* but I don’t think it’s the best way there is for everyone. If you’re obsessed with money or you need to own a new pair of shoes every month, and you need to have your hair and nails done – then this isn’t going to work for you. I’ve gradually reduced my attachment to most things, I can happily live with very little and I’m almost always in the process of downsizing something. But everyone has their own way, their own journey.
What is the best piece of work advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m not really very good at listening to advice, to be perfectly honest. I really think people should just do what makes them happy and work shit out for themselves.
Vegemite or peanut butter?
This is actually the hardest question you’ve asked me. I follow a way of eating which loosely resembles a Paleo lifestyle so I don’t eat bread or peanuts. Which leaves Vegemite by default but I wouldn’t take a spoon to a jar of Vegemite and just eat it off the spoon. Before I became Paleo though, we used to make our own bread and my favourite thing to do was cut a thick crust off the bread while it was still hot – you know, just to make sure the loaf was OK. I usually just put some olive oil on it but I think if I was going to put anything else on it, Vegemite would win.
I love her! I’m not about to watch Lost, though.
Cate has very generously offered set of three tea towels from Pretty Fkn Embroidery, winner’s choice (value $53.85 plus free postage worldwide) for one reader – all you have to do is head over to the online store and come back and comment which tea towels you would like and why.
Entries close a week from today on April 8 at midnight. Good luck!