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Volunteer Experience: Bali

From February-March, 2008, I had the honor and privilege of volunteering at Yayasan Bumi Sehat (, a midwifery birthing center in Bali, Indonesia.

The clinic is nonprofit and approximately 60 women a month give birth there, each making whatever donation they can. Many cannot afford a hospital, so Bumi Sehat gives them an option besides giving birth at home, unattended.

The center was founded by Robin Lim, an American CPM. As part of a team with Indonesian staff as well as other international volunteers, I attended 30 births during this time. The clinic is nonprofit and approximately 60 women a month give birth there, each making whatever donation they can. Many cannot afford a hospital, so Bumi Sehat gives them an option besides giving birth at home, unattended. Bumi Sehat is working to change the high infant and maternal morbidity/mortality in Bali.

The clinic provides prenatal care and gives free prenatal vitamins (thanks to sponsor New Chapter) in addition to birth and postpartum care. The clinic also provides basic medical care to anyone who shows up sick or injured. (Note: You can make an IRS approved donation to Bumi Sehat from their website, mentioned earlier. They are currently fundraising to build a larger clinic which they will own and not just rent.)

Here are two other local mommas with their newborns! Although I spent a lot of time at the clinic, I also did enjoy leaving the village of Nyuh Kuning and walking the 25 min into Ubud, an artistic tourist town. The walk included going through the Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

It was a delight to get to know the Indonesian staff including 6 midwives, despite our language challenges. Some speak English fairly well. I worked hard to learn some Indonesian language, and do OK in the birth setting. I can say,”You’re doing great!” “Breathe!” “Relax” “I have to sew (suture).” “Do you need to pee?” “The baby wants to breastfeed.” I also can say a few more technical things like “the membranes are intact” and “umbilical cord”, and yet there are many common everyday words I do not know. I tried enough to make the Indonesian staff laugh frequently. Here I am with Ibu Kadek, the youngest midwife, and Ibu Ketut, one of the older midwives. (“Ibu” means “mother”, and is used as the respectful title of adult women.)

Unlike the rest of largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is Hindu and daily trips to the temples and offerings are very important, in addition to a myriad of special offerings for holidays. Here is a picture of a woman placing the daily offerings (that she has already made and had blessed at a temple) in the doorway of each of the rooms at Bumi Sehat clinic.

To learn a bit more about the offerings, I took a class at the local library with 3 other volunteer midwives: Olivia from California, and Maria and Lisa, from Italy. I really enjoyed meeting and learning from midwives from many backgrounds! We had great discussions comparing birth practices in various countries, and sharing “tricks”.

Around Ubud, and indeed on much of Bali, there are the famous terraced rice fields. I went on a guided herb walk on paths among the rice fields- it is gorgeous. I saw turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, pineapple, tapioca, taro and papaya, clove and coconut (palm) trees, most of which had been planted to be harvested. Bali is just south of the equator, so it is tropical- hot and humid. It was the rainy season so many days had an hour or two of rain, but I took 2-3 cold showers/day and still usually felt hot and sweaty.

One adventure was hiking with four other volunteers up Mt. Batur by flashlight in the early am, to reach the top by sunrise. It was a steep 1.5 hr. scramble up, but then it was delightful to watch the world below slowly be revealed. Mt. Batur is an active volcano, with steamy areas and dark areas below from eruptions within the last 20 years.

I did indulge in some of the self-care treatments readily available in Ubud at amazing prices (the exchange rate is such that everything is very cheap for most foreigners). For example, a 1 hr. massage followed by a mud treatment, cool yogurt, and soak in a tub with flowers… was about $14. So I had to do some of that, in the interest of supporting the local economy, of course! Here is the lovely woman who gave me a great 1 hr. $7 pedicure, which finally got the last of Mt. Batur out from under my toenails.

Finally, the day before I left I was able to visit a beautiful beach and do a bit of great snorkeling (1 hr away on the back of a motorscooter- a very exciting ride), then that night visit a temple for a ceremony and watching some traditional Balinese dance, which includes some very complicated hand/finger and eye movements. Later in the program there were two men dressed as traditional women dancers, who were very funny even without understanding their jokes.

So I had some fun, and even the work was a bit of a vacation with little paperwork (minimal charting and no billing!), almost no phone calls and almost no driving. I could focus on being with birthing women and babies, the work I love most.

I am grateful to Robin Lim for creating this amazing clinic, I am grateful to the other international volunteers for their support, and I am grateful to the welcoming gentle, artistic, and spiritual Balinese people. I can’t wait to go back again in a year or two!

I am also grateful to my colleagues Mary Grabowska and Shawna Celnicker-Chong, for covering my practice while I was gone, and Katie, for keeping our office running smoothly, as usual. They are amazing.


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