“To me, love is the most important thing. What could be more healing than love?”
These words, like lines from a poem, the sort of thing most people would be embarrassed to say in public, are easy to agree with coming from Robin. I was caught off guard, not usually concerned with love, but she spoke gently as she shared her story of working as a midwife.
In central Ubud, the setting for the film Eat, Pray, Love, if you pass through the Monkey Forest, stone homes here and there through the greenery, and down the gentle hills traversed by motorbikes, you’ll find the Bumi Sehat Bali Clinic that she founded. The costs of management are entirely covered by donations, and expecting mothers are welcomed free of charge, all day every day. The clinic got its start shortly after Robin relocated from the U.S. to Bali, when she began helping out with childbirth in the community. Twenty- five years later, the clinic provides treatment or educational support to over 100,000 people annually. In 2019 alone, 643 babies were born here. With the help of her hustling staff, “Ibu (Mother) Robin,” as she’s known affectionately, looks after births at the clinic to this day, ready with a hug for the mothers in their beds.
“What’s my favorite thing about this place? When I leave my house and walk around the village, I know that we delivered every child I see.” Robin smiles, looking happier than anyone imaginable. One might think she must have dreamt of being a midwife from an early age, but she received her certification in her late thirties. What caused her to change course? Born in the Philippines and raised in the United States, Robin decided to pursue midwifery after losing her younger sister.
Giving birth to her first child at nineteen, Robin moved to Hawaii after college, working for several years on a farm, where she taught farming practices and poetry, but in 1991, she received devastating news. Her existence in Hawaii, which she described as “an idyllic way of life,” turned upside down.“My sister, expecting a child in Alabama, died of pregnancy complications. This was still a deeply racist part of the country, and none of the doctors took a Filipina woman like her seriously when she voiced concerns about her health. I had donated books and things for children and the mothers raising them, but when my dear sister passed away, I wanted to give back. I realized mothers were dying everywhere. Women whose lives could have been spared if there was someone there to help. Disappearing all the time, leaving a void of sadness. Even in countries with advanced medicine, mortality rates for mothers and children vary tremendously by race. In countries with increased poverty, some people can’t afford to go to the hospital. What motivated me initially was my love for my sister, but this soon grew into a concern for mothers and children all over the world.” Robin’s feelings for the sister that she couldn’t save transformed into a desire to help women everywhere in need, a feeling with her to this day.
Hence why the clinic doesn’t charge for services. To ensure that children are born healthy, nutritionally balanced meals are provided to expecting mothers free of charge. Furthermore, due to the risks of feeding babies powdered milk in areas without access to potable water, mothers are monitored for several days, until they can breastfeed. Those who lack housing are free to stay as long as necessary.
In an effort to support these women in their work, UNIQLO donates clothing for newborns every month. “These baby clothes are very precious to the clinic. So incredibly beautiful. The perfect present for a mother who can’t afford quality clothes. The midwives love to pass them out. It makes these women so happy,” Robin says.
On our first visit to the clinic, the UNIQLO team spotted Robin wearing a worn-out T-shirt. In another gesture of support, UNIQLO offered to donate T-shirts for the entire staff. As the clinic’s work gained attention, its network of support expanded, and at this point Bumi Sehat has a total of six facilities in Indonesia and the Philippines. Not bound by location, Robin and her staff will rush to the scene in the event of a disaster or disturbance.
The clinic also sees patients of all ages who have symptoms unrelated to childbirth, while providing facilities for language learning and IT education, and annually training over 6,000 nursing and midwifery students, backed by a scholarship program. What prompted this expansion from a maternity facility to an educational institution? “The staff kept telling me, ‘We’re ready to help out the next generation,” Robin said with a laugh. “In your eyes, I must look like an old woman. Your generation is bursting with enthusiasm for creating a better future and a better world. Meanwhile, mine is concerned about the legacy we’ll leave our children and grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, too. The earth is tired and stressed out, but by devoting ourselves to the next generation, we can see some hope over the horizon. When I was a little girl in the Philippines, my grandmother, who was a midwife, told me to ‘be someone who’s always helping others.’ She ran around delivering children for the people who had nothing, not even homes, during the war. And here I am, following in her footsteps.”
As the pleasant morning breeze came through the window, with the occasional birdsong, Robin told her tale, and I realized this was tenderness. Just as Robin said, love is to be found inside the Bumi Sehat Clinic. It may sound a little corny, but it’s true. Showing tenderness toward others, and wanting to make the world a better place. Perhaps this feeling is the key to a brighter tomorrow.
Bumi Sehat Bali Clinic
The Bumi Sehat Bali Clinic, founded by Robin, continues to provide free midwifery and medical care.
Jalan Nyuh Bulan, Banjar Nyuh Kuning, Mas, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali, 80571, Indonesia
UNIQLO Mal Bali Galeria
In 2018, UNIQLO opened on the second floor of the expansive Mal Bali Galeria shopping mall, located in central Bali near the airport and Kuta Beach. Despite the tropical setting, the store carries winter clothes as well, making it a perfect final stop on your way home.
Jl. By Pass Ngurah Rai, Kuta, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361
OPEN 10:00-22:00 Dialy