Ibu Robin Lim receives the 2006 International Alexander Langer Award - REASONS
IBU ROBIN LIM, 49, lives in Bali with her husband, her seven children and one niece. She has a complex genealogy, which mixes American, Indonesian, Chinese, Philippine, German and Irish elements.
The complexity of her origins may be noticed not only in her personality, but also in the diverse nature of her work. She is an environmentalist, a pacifist, a poet. Above all, she is a midwife. Robin has been working for many years relying on both scientific and women’s traditional knowledge. She has a wide professional curriculum and is the author of books about birthing and motherhood.
The aims of her work are many and difficult. Ibu Robin strives to prevent the expropriation of women’s traditional knowledge by official medicine, a process which started in Europe at the end of the 19th Century and is still ongoing, in Indonesia as well. Her efforts are directed at granting caring, competent support to birthing mothers and a non-violent birth to their children. Robin endeavours to bring such practices wherever possible, even where “only he/she who flies” can arrive – which accounts for her nickname “Redrobin” and the image of “barefoot midwife” that is often associated with her. In 1994 Robin started in Bali the Yayasan Ibu Bumi Sehat (Healthy Mother Hearth) non-profit Foundation, so that she could rely on a steady health care and birth services clinic, while continuing her village to village working practice.
Following the December 2004 tsunami disaster, Robin decides to make a big change in her life. She moves to Banda Aceh (Sumatra), an area where 70% of the population died in the disaster, the social network is destroyed and survivors are heavily traumatised. There, Robin starts her extraordinary work as an emergency midwife. She is assisted by survival teams, “angels of vitamins” as they are defined in the website of the IDEP Foundation, based in Bali, which supports Ibu Robin’s work. In Italy, Robin is supported by the Association “Il Melograno” – Centri di Informazione Maternità e Nascita – with its many province-based centres.
In Bali problems are countless, but Robin can rely on her long experience. Knowing how desperate the health situation in Bali is, she welcomes in the clinic also the disabled relatives who sometimes come along with pregnant women. Robin’s health centre, therefore, became a “community clinic”, a safe harbour where state-level tensions between Muslims and Christians cease to exist. Given her professional use of natural remedies, Chinese medicine and homeopathy, Robin created a botanic garden, in order to obtain herbs and spread knowledge about them. While doing this, she united traditional knowledge from Bali, the Philippines, Malaysia and Hawaii, that is to say of the whole tropical area of South East Asia. Other initiatives which Robin took include the organisation of a small factory for the processing of herbal remedies, the interviewing of traditional healers, the employment of a number of mothers, who now prepare products such as baby powder, medicines, handicrafts, newborn babies’ equipment, and the creation of a small shop where these products are sold. All of this was done in a tiny village close to a town named Ubud.
In Aceh, Ibu Robin is promoting the creation of a community centre which will include a clinic, a school room, a library, a kitchen, a bathroom and a children’s playfield. Right after the tsunami disaster, Bumi Sehat and IDEP Foundation built a clinic which can take care of up to 1.500 patients per month – people who are sick with malaria, wounded to be operated immediately. All of this, in a situation of absolute emergency, where transfusion blood is impossible to obtain, electricity cables are destroyed, where it is impossible to buy and install equipment for solar energy, while petrol for generators is extremely expensive.
What is absolutely striking in Robin’s work is her intertwining of love, stubbornness and orientation to practice. When working in a Muslim environment for the first time, she discovered that women would not step out of their homes if they weren’t able to wear their head scarves. She solved this newly found problem simply by buying tens of meters of fabric to make sure that women could have their scarves. It’s undoubtedly thanks to such choices that she can claim to never have experienced communication problems.
It is not difficult to imagine Ibu Robin using the same promptness in extremely sensitive situations, as when she refuses to take sides in the decades-long struggle between governmental and separatist forces in Aceh: in fact, both forces are responsible for heavy violations of human rights. Even after the fragile truce which followed the tsunami, Ibu Robin kept her totally neutral attitude, which is what allows her to be helpful to everybody in the same way. Her reactions to protests that arise when Christian volunteers fall in love with Muslim local women are known to be very strong: the clinic, she says, belongs to everybody and nobody, without limits or exclusions. Rather than being a retreat from the realm of politics, this stance can be viewed as the precise will to conduct her work at the level of emotions, personal history, psychological and physical contact.
Among the many teachings that we owe to Ibu Robin, there stands out the idea that people who suffer need beauty, and that weakness can and must turn into a source of strength. One of her most important results is the fact that in Bali “the poorest women can enjoy the most beautiful birthing experiences, which not even the most expensive clinic could offer”. Finally, one of her most interesting initiatives is that she introduced a woman poet from Aceh at a writing contest in Bali, in order to contribute in changing Aceh’s image from “the place of the disaster” to a place that can also produce poetry and spiritual wealth. It is an example of how to value and empower victims, so that they can become key players of their destiny.
The Scientific and Guarantee Committee of the Alexander Langer Foundation, composed by Annamaria Gentili (President), Anna Bravo (spokesperson), Barbara Bertoncin, Edi Rabini, Fabio Levi, Francesco Palermo, Franco Travaglini, Gianni Tamino, Grazia Barbiero, Helmuth Moroder, Liliana Cori, Mao Valpiana, Margit Pieber, Pinuccia Montanari, Ursula Apitzsch, has decided to award the International Alexander Langer Prize for 2006, consisting in 10.000 Euro and granted by the Foundation Cassa di Risparmio di Bolzano/Südtiroler Sparkasse, Ibu Robin Lim, founder and advisor for the non-profit organisation Yayasan Ibu Bumi Sehat (Healthy Mother Hearth Foundation), based in Bali, Indonesia.