How The World's Best Resort Empowers the Community In Sumba


In addition to providing a splendid experience for guests, Nihiwatu makes it a priority to empower the Sumbanese people and elevate their quality of life. The previous owner and founder of Nihiwatu, Claude Graves, joined forces with a number of like-minded individuals to create the Sumba Foundation. Some resorts guests have expressed interests and willingness to return to get involved with the foundation’s work. Natasha Gan talks to Kenny Knickerbocker, general manager of Sumba Foundation to get acquainted with the organization.

Photo by Sumba Foundation doc.

How did you get involved with the foundation?

I’ve been here in Sumba for the last three years. I was the resort manager of Nihiwatu until recently, when I made the transition to the foundation on December 1st [2016].

How do you like it so far?

It’s incredible and very fulfilling, especially when you’re doing work that is touching the lives of tens and thousands of people.

Tell me a little bit about what Sumba Foundation does, and why Sumba in particular.

The foundation was founded in 2001 by Claude Graves and Sean Downs. Since then, we’ve been working on some key programs, specifically water, health, education, and economic programs. They have now grown to cover 170 square kilometre area here in West Sumba.

Claude, the original owner and founder of Nihiwatu and his then wife Petra Graves came to Sumba in 1988 to start a very unique project. They were looking for a tropical location that has a community of people with a culture that was rich, vibrant and intact–a community they can lend their assistance to as they continue to build their main project, which at the time was Nihiwatu.

The goal was always to do further work for the community and give the community better support. We help people in the area by providing better jobs, health care, living conditions and education, which would eventually raise their quality of life. With this goal in mind, one of our key philosophies is providing these essentials of life while respecting and preserving the culture of the Sumbanese people.

What do you think is Sumba’s biggest problem?

There are a number of aspects why poverty is so prevalent, but there is very little opportunity for economic growth across the island. With that said, one of the key leading factors to why we started our water projects is because the island is quite dry.

There’s very limited access to potable water for the people in the communities.

Much of the time spent by mothers and children during the day was actually leaving the village and walking 10, 15 sometimes 20 kilometres to the nearest water source in order to fetch water and bring it back for their villages to use. It’s the basic essence of life, and without it, survival would be difficult.

As the women were spending time doing this, they weren’t helping with farming and agriculture, they weren’t continuing on their tradition of the ikat [traditional Sumbanese textile] weaving. [Productivity] was being lost. In the same regard, children, they weren’t going to school and getting education. Children were being “left behind” instead of being raised up make things better in the future. Now, as we began to provide potable water, we’ve built 60 wells that disperse water to about 270 water stations.

Would you say that’s the biggest achievement of the foundation?

One of our other biggest highlights is our health program. In 2004, we initiated the health programs to focus on malaria eradication. Over the course of 13 years, we’ve reduced malaria in the area by 85 percent.

We operate four Malaria clinics that also do general health care. They are open 6 days a week, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The reason for that is because in the afternoons, our nurses would go out to do field operations like mass blood screenings, share best practices to eradicate Malaria in the villages. They would take all the equipment they need, catalogue individuals’ names, take the files back and diagnose the members they’ve taken samples from. In conjunction with this, we also do mosquito nets distribution as well.

How many people have the foundation affected so far?

Last year alone we treated over 26,000 patients at our clinics and in the villages. The water program provides potable water to about 23,000 people, or more, now that the population has increased.

What’s next on the agenda?

For our health programs, and for the overall operation of the Sumba Foundation as a yayasan [foundation],we work closely with the government and certain key individuals in the Ministry of Health. We get quite a little bit of support with the programs we’re doing here.

They have approached us to embark on a similar initiative but for tuberculosis. We are looking to start with a tuberculosis training program, which will operate and be legally certified under World Health Organization standards (technicians, nurses, diagnoses and treatments), as with our Malaria Training Centre. We’re looking to take the first class in October. We’re now building the [structure] work.

We’ve been gearing up for 2017 to give a bit of an injection to current projects and venture on new ones.

To get involved, visit the donations page on or liaise with Kenny ( Sumba Foundation’s social media platforms are also a great way to stay in touch and discover the foundation’s current initiatives.

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Natasha Gan
Natasha is a writer with 5+ years of experience and a digital marketing professional currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can view her past works on

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