Life in Indonesia for an unwanted baby is grim. They are often left in rice fields to die or sold illegally. Older children are often abandoned when a relationship breaks down, or the child is of mixed ethnicity or religion. Babies and children with disabilities are considered shameful and often abandoned. Illness, particularly mental illness, is misunderstood and there is little compassion shown to those suffering. Babies born from rape and incest are particularly vulnerable, as are their mothers who are often teenagers.
Domestic violence against women is prevalent. Many women are living in undesirable situations with their husband and his family. There is often little support from the woman’s family and their respective villages. There is little external infrastructure to support these children and women.
The Bali Mother and Baby House was founded in 2015 by a Balinese woman in the memory of her son who passed away at 16. The Bali Mother and Baby House is a safe place for women and children who have nowhere else to go.
“We look after women and children in Bali who need somewhere to live when they have nowhere else to go. We provide food and shelter, medical and dental treatment, relationship and job advice to the mothers, and pay for the children to go to kindergarten and school. The House is small and crowded but is full of love and hope.” Explains Karen Sims, Co-Manager of the Bali Mother and Baby House.
Karen, originally from Melbourne, Australia, divides her time between Melbourne and Bali, depending on work, family and Mother and Baby House commitments. “I worked in communications for many years and ran a few businesses. Eventually, spending a significant amount of time in Bali led me to becoming involved in the Bali Mother and Baby House and now it’s my major focus – more so than strolls on the beach, although they are still important. I have the time and resources to help others and as a big softie who has always been involved in issues relating to women and children, it was a natural fit to co-manage the House.” She says.
“What we do depends on the ages and needs of who we have with us. Our aim is to give the children in our care the best possible childhood. When we can afford it, we arrange vaccinations, take them to the dentist and general practitioner for check-ups, provide lice and worm treatments, and organise psychological treatment where necessary.” She explains.
Karen gives an example of the type of situation she encounters while working at the House, “One of our residents came to us with a two-year-old son and eight months pregnant. Her boyfriend left the relationship a few weeks earlier and she was cooking many hours a day to raise money for a caesarean, needed because of previous birth trauma. By the time she was to deliver, she did not have enough money to pay the hospital, so we metaphorically passed the hat around to help pay for the c-section. She delivered a healthy baby boy and is recovering nicely. All three of them are staying with us until the situation improves and she can return to cooking. I can tell you from experience her rissoles are excellent!”
“Because the mothers and children in our care have come from extremely tough situations, there is a great deal of post-traumatic stress that manifests as anxiety, depression and compromised anger control, among other issues. Similarly, there is often remorse and shame about a relationship ending, and a strong sense of abandonment is felt by the children. We do everything we can to help the mothers and children heal and find peace in their new lives.” She explains.
When asked how the coronavirus crisis has impacted the situation in Bali Karen explains, “Prior to COVID-19 life was already very tough for single mothers and pregnant women without support…now it is even more difficult. Many Indonesians living in Bali are employed in tourism and hospitality, which came to a screeching halt earlier this year.”
Karen tells the story of another resident, “A very young woman who now lives at the house with her three children lost her hotel job and her husband was jailed for selling drugs. She was evicted from her rooming house because she couldn’t pay her rent and being from eastern Java did not have family in Bali to go to. Bus fares to Java were out of reach. She was very underweight and stressed. We took her in and she is helping around the house for a small stipend. She is also learning English online on a free site and improving daily. The children are settled, eating well, and have several full-time playmates.”
“The children we have in the House all had a troubled start to life. Some were left in ditches as newborns, some were abandoned on the streets, and some were rescued from abusive situations. They all have significant mental and physical trauma, which is difficult to manage with social isolation and distancing. They cannot attend school or medical appointments and their mentors cannot visit because they are out in the community and pose a health risk. It has been very hard on the children but their positivity and ability to adapt is inspirational.” She continues.
“We survive purely on donations. We have a donation page on our website www.balimotherandbabyhouse.org and an Indonesian bank account for transfers if that is preferred. Prior to COVID-19 we had a network of locals and expats who provided groceries and supplies, and who also came to the House to give homework assistance, run art and music classes, and fix things around the House. We had an excursion roster so the children could get out of the House on Sundays. Plus, over the years, we’ve had many visits from tourists all over the world who have given us cash and supplies. Sadly, none of this is happening at present due to the decimation of tourism in Bali and many locals being unable to give because they are no longer working.”
“I’m proud of everything I have done for the mothers and children and I have benefited enormously as a person from knowing my time is well spent. Done properly, volunteering really is a two-way street.” Says Karen proudly. With a sense of hope and pride she adds, “We do our best to shower the children with love and support. They are resilient, kind, decent children and make us and each other laugh every day.”
If you are interested in becoming involved please email email@example.com to get in touch.
You can learn more about the Bali Mother and Baby House on their website and social media:
Facebook: Bali Mother and Baby House