“I think most of us would say that we want to “make a difference”. Whether that “difference” impacts one person or millions of people, it’s still important. If you have advantages, you also have responsibilities. I believe that very much.”
Arriving at the humble office in Denpasar, we were warmly welcomed by Mary Northmore-Aziz, the founder of Yayasan Senyum Bali, as she escorted us into their meeting room which was located in the centre of the house.
After a heartwarming and insightful conversation with Mary, we left with a new sense of empathy and awareness towards those who need us to help them to lead a normal life.
Can you give us a little background about the Yayasan Senyum Bali.
Yayasan Senyum Bali is a non-profit organization in Bali, more broadly in eastern Indonesia, which helps people with craniofacial disabilities to obtain healthcare. We facilitate operations for cleft lip, palate, and other craniofacial deformities, due to birth defects, accidents, or tumors. These can be quite complex problems to solve.
Some are easy, but some are very complicated. We do not only organise and fund operations, but we also find those people because they can’t find us. To understand it, you have to imagine that you are a very poor person living in a very remote village, you never see a doctor, you have no access to healthcare, and you have a baby with a cleft lip or palate. It must be very distressing. Because you see this baby with this problem and you do not know that there’s a solution.
This foundation helps poor people from Bali, Lombok and further east, and raises funds for operations whether in Bali or Adelaide, Australia at the Australian Craniofacial Unit.
Why is this foundation focused on the eastern part of Indonesia?
Simply because we’re in Bali, and this is the centre of healthcare in eastern Indonesia. Here we have the best hospital in eastern Indonesia, and so we reach out for the east, where perhaps health services are still in need of improvement.
This is critical. Because globally the statistics are warning that 600 babies a year will be born with a cleft lip or palate all over the world. We think that the incidents of cleft palates and lips in the eastern part of Indonesia will be even higher as people don’t have immediate access to healthcare.
If you imagine that in the past 20 or 30 years people have not had access to healthcare and there was nobody to help them, you will realise that there is a huge backlog. It’s not just babies we’re talking about, we’re talking about adults who didn’t get treatment at the best time.
What is this foundation doing to help these people?
We take care of all of the things needed to construct a social and healthcare programme which is successful. We find the people that need help, consult with them, make sure they understand exactly what it is that we’re offering, and that they are completely free to accept or reject. We also see whether they need to come to Bali or not, and if so, we ensure that they will come in the most stress-free way possible. We bring people here as a group, because that’s what they feel more comfortable doing; they have people who speak their language, they have people who they can trust.
So we bring them here together and we try to ensure that they always have someone to answer questions and offer advice; we even have staff who assist them through all the hospital procedures, to make sure they understand what’s happening step by step. It’s not to help the hospital, not to help the doctors, but to help the patients.
That’s what we’re trying to do: find people, and support them in getting whatever treatment is required. If it’s the cleft lip then maybe we can do operations locally. If it’s the palate, maybe they have to travel to Bali, but if it’s really complicated, well fortunately, we can send them to Adelaide, Australia, to The Australian Craniofacial Unit (ACFU), which is one of the best centres in the world. They can do incredible things. They can restructure faces and heads when there’s a very serious problem. After the operation, we also need to be sure the patients are healthy before they go home.
We don’t want any of them getting sick there, so we keep them here until they’re safe and the doctors confirm that they can go home. I am very conscious that we are not yet able to reach everybody that we want to reach. There are still many people out there who need our help and that we haven’t been able to reach yet; I do worry about that.
Wow! It requires such commitment! What triggered you to establish this foundation?
It was completely accidental. One day I was invited to have tea with David J David, a prominent Australian surgeon who set up The Australian Craniofacial Unit (ACFU) and who has been coming to Indonesia for 33 years. He was encouraging and supporting the development of cleft palate treatment here in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, China, and many other countries. He saw that there was a need for a foundation here to do what Yayasan Senyum Bali is now doing.
I didn’t really understand what he was talking about, I am not a health expert, I am certainly not a doctor, but I trusted him. So I started from a place of complete ignorance. We started, and we are still learning. But right now, I am trying to prepare for the regeneration. Because I think it’s very dangerous to be dependent on one person.
So part of my job is to ensure that this foundation is going to continue without me and this is why it’s important we now have a new board structure. I am trying to move back, but at the same time I can’t help getting involved because I like what we’re doing. I enjoy it, I find it very satisfying, very rewarding.
How do you get the donors to support the foundation?
We have fantastic donors, and they all come to us because they understand that these donations really make a difference to a child’s life.
The donors come forward because they see what we’re doing. Sometimes it’s just word of mouth, sometimes it’s from the website, Facebook, YouTube, or articles in magazines or websites. Hotels and restaurants also support us; they might have a donation box, tell their guests about us, or even support some patients. Some organisations also support us through their CSR programmes.
Some also donate their belongings to our Smile Shop in Ubud. As well as selling used and new goods, the Smile Shop has been highly successful in assisting in the generating of funds.
Visit and learn more about Yayasan Senyum Bali:
Jalan Sri Wedari Ubud
Tue Sun 10am – 4pm