Loola…

2 pm, a day of august as usual, dying under the Singaporean sun, roaming in some residential areas, we don’t really know what we are looking for … We heard about this eco resort in Indonesia with an interesting way of treating the waste water. But in reality we don’t really know what we can wait for, we just threw a bottle in the sea and we finally had an answer, and a proposition for a meeting: so here we are!

We are not disappointed, meeting Marc in his garden, between a crazy scientist and a businessman, the character worth the visit. Loola it’s not only an eco resort, it’s also a fantastic experimentation field for sustainable technologies and as Marc Van Loo is unstoppable, it also became a social experiment over the years.

In Loola, there is the « Loo » and the « La », there is Marc and his wife Isabelle, there are a story which began long time ago with a road trip in South East Asia, a meeting with Indonesian welcoming, one PhD later, Marc jumps into the adventure, and what had to be a backpackers hostel become the best eco resort of Asia.

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If we only focus on our favourite subject: water, in Loola place they do rain water harvesting and wastewater garden. In fact, its position very close of the sea turns the water supply in a burning issue .

At the beginning, Loola only used groundwater but quickly, a problem appeared: the dryness of boreholes. Today, with an armada of tanks and an ingenious system which lets to evacuate polluted water of the first rain, water harvesting supplies water for all showers and toilets of the resort. And to close the loop, Marc has been interested in a UNICEF wastewater treatment model.

A septic tank, a layer of gravels, a layer of ultra pur sand with none nutrients and some banana trees: easy as pie to pick up !

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Wastewater go to a septic tank, where inlet pipe and outlet pipe are arranged to create a permanent move to break the solid waste. Water stays about 2 days in the septic tank, where with the help of micro-organisms, some harmful bacterium are killed and the waste is processed by other micro-organism so as to make it ready for consumption by plants. The Wastewater then goes from the septic tank to a banana plantation, which occupies a gravel layer and a sand layer. This substrate is extremely pure, and so the banana trees have for only food the organic matter from wastewater, which means that the banana trees remove much of the nutrients from the wastewater, which is globally important, because nutrient-rich waste water flows to the sea, where it promotes algae-growth, lack of oxygen, and therefore is very detrimental to the health of the sea.

LooLa has just obtained a grant to do research together with 3 universities to find ways of optimising these gardens, and make them hopefully even more efficient for less money, so that such wastewater gardens hopefully become within reach of every Indonesian villager!

But to be the best, Loola decided to solve other problems. In fact, energy issue is one of the Loola focus, as you can see with the large area of solar panels which are on the roof of the canteen and of the nautical base. These solar panels are used to provide energy to the first air conditioning system in the world fed by solar energy.

In fact, the solar panel energy is used during the day to create a big ice block which can be seen like a big battery. During the night, the air goes around the ice block before being sent to conditioners in the villa : you have a green cooling system!

To improve the results of those experiments, Mark set up a partnership with the National Univeristy of Singapore. And so, some postgraduates will follow this year Loola, which will become a real experiment field.

And like it is never enough, we understand during the discussion that Loola is a little social revolution. Firstly, because all the staff comes from little villages around. Here, there is no site chief, no manager, no hostel director and no expatriates who has this kind of jobs. The organization is horizontal and the staff is only local. Key words are independence and initiative. The employees have a shop inside the resort: they are responsible for this and all the profits are for them. And as our hyperactive host seems to never stop : LooLa goes further concerning social impact: All Singaporean, included families in the villa or school which benefit of dormitories and activities, are very interesting in “humanitarian” experiences and team building, and so few years ago Marc set up some projects with local communities.

It is very close from humanitarian tourism with all the dangers it can bring. We were at the beginning very skeptical and reluctant on the idea: we flooded Marc with our questions about the operation of those “activities” which seem at the end be very successful. Loola sets up partnership with villages around and sets up different kind of projects, depending of the local need: building road, house renovation, distribution of mosquito nets, implementation of wastewater treatment projects with banana trees. The principle is simple: local families who want to take part in those activities register to the village chief. When groups come with the necessary funding : Indonesian families ask for what they absolutely need and set up the project with the group.

If the resort doesn’t have the professionalism of NGO, they are not less conscientious. They are very interested in measuring its impact: that is not common in all NGO! They have launched inquiries for the local people trying to see their real impact! Moreover, they perfectly know the local situation because all the staff in charge of those projects comes from those villages. So, yes, you can always find ways to criticize, and ethically we can’t say that we don’t wonder about it. But if all is not perfect, LooLa seems to do a really good job, according to the first inquiries which show that they have a great impact. So why be skeptical if it helps to improve the life quality of some Indonesian villages.

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