Certified Professional Midwife, Ibu Robin Lim, founded Yayasan Bumi Sehat (Healthy Earth Mother Foundation) in 1995, and though starting by providing reproductive healthcare services to local communities, their good work transcends these boundaries with operations in four clinics in Indonesia and two in the Philippines. Their ‘mothership’ in Bali is based in Nyuh Kuning, Ubud, where Ibu Robin herself first lived when arriving on the island in 1993.

Ibu Robin Lim first shares her journey to Bali:-

“In 1991-1992, my sister, my best friend, and my midwife, the most loving people in my life, all died tragically, within a few months. The grief was overpowering.  So I asked myself, ‘Why are we alive?’ The answer was strong and resolute, “I was born to LOVE.” Full stop. Then the next question was, “Am I living every minute of every day for LOVE?” The answer was, “Almost, mostly, but not fully.” In the face of the sudden deaths of my close people, that was not enough. So I became committed to making any changes needed so that I would be living absolutely and fully, every day, for LOVE.

Next came the opportunity to travel to Bali with my husband and our many children. We took the leap to come for three months, with four of our children, a duffel bag of their clothing, a copy of ‘Rise Up Singing’ (best songbook) and a tenor ukulele.

I was a student midwife and Poet in the Schools for Maui County, Hawaii, so I was leaving a job I loved. But I was determined to understand the observations about parenting that Margret Mead spoke of in her writings about Bali. Fate stepped in, and Linda Garland offered me a one-year placement, teaching children of mixed origin, who at that time were not able to go to Indonesian schools, nor were they welcomed at International schools.

During that year of teaching children by the River Wos, in a bamboo schoolhouse, I became pregnant. We were blessed to live very simply, in a Balinese Family compound, our baby was given all of the traditional Balinese Upacara Adat, that welcomes a new human EarthSide. This was not something we planned, it was just part of being integrated into life in the village. There was no internet in 1993, no mobile phones. Electricity came to our village by way of an extension cord strung through the rice fields. Our entertainment was hanging out with the gamelan in the evenings, or reading to our children by the light of a 10-watt bulb, or singing together. Naturally, we spent time with the people of Banjar Nyuh Kuning and were welcomed into village life.  

Robin Lim Bumi Sehat Foundation

Ibu Robin Lim on the beginnings of Bumi Sehat Foundation:

“Soon after settling in Bali, I became pregnant with our son… As a student midwife, I sought prenatal care with two midwives in the Ubud area, who supported me to birth my child at home. They explained to me that there was a very high maternal mortality rate in Bali,” shares Ibu Robin. Dr. Inne Susante then shared a study she had for UNICEF, which showed that the lion’s share of deaths were mothers bleeding to death in childbirth. “These were young women in the prime of their lives, perishing just because they had had a baby.”

“Dr Susante and I tried to find out why so many mothers in Bali were dying. Haemorrhage in the third stage of labour (after the baby is born when the placenta is being born), is largely due to malnutrition. But why was it so prevalent in Bali?”

Ibu Robin sought answers by speaking with Mangku Liyar, who held the lontar Bali and who has been a Dukun Bayi (traditional birth attendant). He explained that after the ‘new white rice’ was introduced in the 1970s, women began to haemorrhage profoundly after childbirth. “It was shocking to me that the high maternal mortality rate was a relatively modern problem,” adds Ibu Robin. “Dr Susante and I concluded that the high-yield white rice introduced in Bali was producing 3 crops a year, compared to the real red/brown rice of Bali, but it did not have the nutrients necessary to maintain the lives of the mothers facing the nutritional demands of pregnancy and childbirth. The eruption of Gunung Agung volcano in 1963 caused the crops to fail and famine brought strife and death of tens of thousands of Balinese families. American scientists wished to try out their highbred rice varieties, RI8 and RI36. There was definitely less hunger, but malnutrition became widespread, with a profound effect on mothers. Vandana Shiva later confirmed our theory, as her organisation had made the same observations when the new varieties of white high-yield rice were introduced in India.”

The Work of Bumi Sehat Foundation

Ibu Robin’s own home birth, her experience as a training midwife and as the author of ‘After the Baby’s Birth’ was noted in nearby communities. “Husbands of women in labour began to come when their wives were in labour, asking me to help,” she adds. With assistance clearly needed in this area, Yayasan Bumi Sehat was founded in 1995.  “The midwives at Bumi Sehat are committed to reducing the number of maternal and infant deaths via the simple and effective model of Midwife-to-Mother care,” explains Ibu Robin Lim, 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. “Optimal healthcare, regardless of one’s financial situation, is a human right. This is why Bumi Sehat’s services are free or for those who have the means to pay, our services are by donation.”

Since their founding, Bumi Sehat’s services have expanded, aiming to treat both the symptoms and causes of healthcare and well-being challenges. They run a Rehabilitation Center for those needing mobility assistance, helping seniors to special needs children; a program to help patients living with HIV/AIDS; run a Youth Center providing English and computer skills, a teen health education program, and provide scholarships for young students. In 2022 alone, at Bumi Sehat Bali, they brought 290 new babies into the world, provided 4,312 prenatal checkups, paediatric care for 308 patients and 13,830 general medical checkups. The list goes on. And services extend to their other five clinics.

Further to that, Bumi Sehat are also an early responders to disaster. “The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was the first disaster that team Bumi Sehat attended,” Ibu Robin shares. Since then, they are always on the scene, assisting post-earthquakes of Jogja (2006), Padang (2008), Haiti (2010), Nepal (2015), Lombok (2018), Sulawesi (2018) and of course the Mt.Agung eruption evacuation (2018).

As a midwife, mother and grandmother, it is clear that Ibu Robin’s work with ‘MotherBabies’, as she calls them, is where her heart lies. “Each time I hear the midwives in the birth rooms receiving a newborn baby EarthSide, I sit outside and listen to them singing Gayatri Mantra, or praying Bismillāh, or singing Amazing Grace, to welcome the baby in the tradition of his or her family, my heart swells with gratitude for what we have achieved together. When that first cry rings out, I am often moved to tears.”

@iburobin | bumisehat.org

Edward Speirs

Edward Speirs

Edward, or Eddy as he prefers to be called, is the Managing Editor of NOW! Bali and host of the NOW! Bali Podcast. He enjoys photography, rural travel and loves that his work introduces him to people from all walks of life.