martedì 24 marzo 2015

Ibu Robin's secret

On her way out from the restaurant in Ubud, the blonde young woman stops at my table, smiling. I’m wearing my Bumi Sehat T-shirt, the one with the big beautiful logo of a birthing mother, and every time I’m wearing it women either smile or talk to me: ”I’m a midwife from California” she says ”are you a volunteer at Bumi Sehat? Isn’t it such a beautiful place? Aren’t they doing a great job?”. Bumi Sehat is a birthing centre that gives free-care and free-prenatal assistance to poor Indonesian women, the warm attention that its logo draws from locals and westerners is the evidence of how much well known Bumi Sehat is around Ubud. The driving force behind the clinic is CNN Hero for 2011 Ibu Robin Lim, an American midwife who’s been living in Ubud since 1993 together with her large family of eight children and a husband. A very energetic woman on her 50ish, Robin is also a poet and a writer. A restless campaigner, she regularly tours Europe and The States talking on gentle birth and advocating infant human rights. Passionate and devoted to her cause, Robin is a woman firmly grounded on her mission to bring peace in the world fostering gentle and healthy births, one baby at a time. At Bumi Sehat birthing clinic, mothers are warmly welcomed and nurtured with love and vitamins, the broad experience of Ibu Robin and her team of local Indonesian midwives guarantee for a safe environment, that is, a natural birth in water, the reassuring presence of family around mothers, the full activation of hormones in the women’s body allowing for a birth without trauma. “One baby at a time” to Ibu Robin means to guarantee to each woman and child a birth free of trauma. A loving birth will ensure the grow of a loving family and a loving new human being. For her achievements in Indonesia, since 2004 tsunami there’s another Bumi Sehat birthing centre in Aceh, Sumatra, Ibu Robin has been awarded with Alexander Langer International Peace Award in 2006  and also she’s the recipient  of the first Birthkeeper’s Award in 2012 

 Ibu Robin’s Secret
First a girl has a daughter, a being born when a sparrow and a sea turtle mate impossibly.   […] As the girl rolls her baby in autumn leaves, dioxins kills babies in Italy. Boats full of refugees are sunk by governments. […]A slow revolution and six more babies woke her up to the truth, that she cannot protect her seven children or the owls, unless she takes the yellow dress her Filipino grandmother offers her in a dream.       Ibu Robin’s poem “You ask how a midwife is made”

The secret behind Ibu Robin’s accomplishments as a birth keeper is a very simple yet powerful one. It was embedded in her soul at a very young age, Robin says at 11 years old, when her Philippine grandma didn’t let her go with the U.S. Army‘s helicopter from their little mountain hamlet in The Philippines, to the military base in the plain where her American father worked, to get proper treatment from a massive kidney stone infection. Robin was totally scared to separate from her mother’s world in the mountain to fly to a place unknown to her, away from daily walks with grandma searching for herbs and swimming into mountain streams. Robin’s grandma kidnapped her from her parents, hid her in a shack and taught Robin her first life-long lesson: “Never trust the white men medicine. They’ll cook you, they’ll catch you up and they’ll kill you.” Robin’s grandma was a hilot in The Philippines, a midwife and also a herbalist, once in the shack, she fed the granddaughter with herbal teas, took the heir of the corn from her garden instructing Robin: ”Corn is woman, you boil it and it’ll heal you” and eventually healed the granddaughter. She must have been a very special woman and very dear to Robin, grandma got pregnant for the first time at 13 years old and breastfed her first child against e reluctant father who threatened her, she waited the night to come and hit the husband to kick him out.
Few decades later, as a teenager, Robin migrated with the family to the U.S.A., her father’s home country and soon enough showed everybody to be the worthy descendant of such a lineage of strong women in refusing, at 16 y.o. a vaginal check to a doctor gynaecologist who was supposed to prescribe her a birth-control pill. Here comes the second life-long lesson taught by grandma: “Your body is your temple, never trust anyone to come inside without your permission”. Robin believes that grandmother placed under her skin as a child what the Philippine people call the antin-antin: “Like the grain of sand inside the oyster that grows into a pearl, it forces you to embrace your life-long passion. No matter what I do, I wouldn’t feel comfortable unless I dedicate myself to building peace in the way I’m doing now. If I have to set a beginning point in the past, for what I am now, I guess it all started 38 years ago, I was a teenager mother, and I was poor in the U.S.A with no insurance, living in a 6mx25m trailer-house. We were people virtually at the end of the road in California, I rode my bicycle to school pregnant, and instead of panicking for being poor and uninsured, I started meeting midwives, young, inexperienced, junior midwives training with doctors or training as nurses at hospital, and then one day I said: ‘You know what? I’m not going to hospital because how many times did I go there and saw mothers standing in front of the window, wearing their robe just after childbirth, bleeding and crying, watching their babies on the other side of the glass in plastic boxes!’ This to me seemed totally unnatural especially since my grandma was a hilot who gave birth to ten children at home, and everybody I knew in my village was born at home and there wasn’t any need for hospital in our mountain village, then. In the end, my daughter was born safely at home and the birthing was as gentle and as loving as it can be”.

The setup of a birth centre on Bali
As soon as Robin moved on Bali with her husband and their six children in 1992, she got pregnant of Mike, her last son, and very early realised that for her and other Balinese pregnant women there was very little adequate healthcare and found themselves in very hard time. Again, Robin’s personal story push her to taking charge: very sadly, Robin’s younger sister Christine died of heart complication during the last weeks of her pregnancy, due also to her doctor negligence, being her underprivileged. Since Ubud was then a very unsafe environment for pregnant women, together with other Balinese women Robin started a sort of facility at her home which eventually, thanks to the involvement and support of other bodies, like The Gyaniar Regency, led to the foundation of the birthing centre Bumi Sehat “Healthy mother-earth”!  What does it mean to give free-midwifery-care, free-birthing, free-treatment like Bumi Sehat does on a daily basis? In Indonesia hospitals charge you for any treatments from a stich on your head to give birth and it does come with a high bill, delivering is as much as 1.300 US$, the Balinese average wage for a woman is less than 130 US$ a month, a large part of the population is left without healthcare, to these people Bumi Sehat offers her help. Even though Ubud and surroundings have become rather wealthy thanks to mass-tourism, still there are underprivileged people or discriminated people like HIV positive. It has been a year since at the Clinic has been open a lab where you can have a confidential HIV test and counselling. Tika is the young woman in charge of the lab and the counselling and she looks very proud of her job that requires educating patients to the real risk and development of the disease. Single mothers are really underprivileged in this part of the world and they become easy prey of pimps who hire and offer them a house together with other single mothers, where they can support each other in taking care of their children otherwise left unattended. The pimps provide them with food, a steady income, a home and all that can sound very attractive for women who have no support at all, even though the chance to become HIV positive is very real for them and their baby.  Robin told me that when run away pregnant women knock at the clinic door because the family turned abusive once they have found out their pregnancy, the clinic gets soon into action in giving them shelter, assistance and a job to prevent pimps to be the girl only option to survive: “Few days ago a girl showed up at my kitchen coming as far as Java and since her village is run by sharia law her father was going to stoned her because she was raped! She took a bus with no money in her pocket and arrived here”. Robin feels very sensitive about the problem of single mothers without support because she was herself a single mother for many years struggling to make ends meet in the States. Ibu Robin sounds very, very proud about Bumi Sehat achievements: “I don’t know many other places in the world where you can have a community healthcare for free, the protection of human rights, a place that does midwifery to mother care, that does recycling in the village-and because we started that 20 years ago we’ve been named “The cleanest village in Indonesia” mind, not just Bali, but Indonesia the fourth largest country in the world, and we’ve achieved that because we were able to motivate the whole village. No wonder people give us donation!
Women’s and children rights are human rights
Robin is very committed to the belief that we can build peace; we can make the world a sustainable place if we protect the rights of our youngest citizens: “Researches say that all our capacity to love and trust is set at birth. Is not the first 18 months as they used to say, we now know that is the very first hour of life, is the actual birth and is about how the mother has been treated in pregnancy, how she’s been fed and nourished, because also love is a nutrient, also support is a nutrient, trust and safety are nutrients. Those are the elements that make people become the next peace builder or not”. She is very much involved in advocating Children Human Rights and the cause is campaigning now is delaying the clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord thus allowing the intake of cord-blood- that sums up to one-third of the total blood- in new-born babies:” At Bumi Sehat we have received nearly 7,000 babies safely into the world, in high-risk, low resource settings. ALL of them enjoyed delayed umbilical cord clamping and cutting. Normally we wait 3 hours before doing anything with the Babies’ umbilical cords. Our MotherBabies enjoy a breastfeeding rate of 100% upon discharge from all of our three Childbirth centres, in Indonesia and the Philippines. We attribute the success of mothers to breastfeed to the bright, enthusiastic way in which babies, born at our birth centres, bond wide-eyed, and go directly to the breast to self-attach and feed. Babies who are compromised by new-born anaemia, caused by the immediate or early clamping and cutting of their umbilical cords, are withered in comparison, and have more difficulty finding the energy required to self-attach and robustly feed at Mother’s breasts”.
The teak house
Her biggest dream now is to find a way to get some  donation land where to lay a teak house that somebody has recently donated:  that is going to be a very big thing, a women’s shelter for single mothers with no support, or women fleeing an abusive spouse, but it'll be also a research centre collecting data from all over the world about pregnancy and birthing- like the one that has been carried on in Italy under the leadership of gynaecologist Niccolò Giovannini who collected questionnaires of 7000 women, The research aim is to promote the model of gentle birth worldwide. "The teak house wll be also a place where women can share their knowledge like is happening during our workshops “Loving the mother” with Giuditta Tornetta and many other women involved in the art of birthing, “Eat Pray Doula” also is sharing wisdom and knowledge."

Midwives’ wisdom
Committed and accomplished midwives all around the world are rolling their sleeves up and getting ready to be as loud as they can to get the news spread: home-birthing is safer than hospital, says midwife and researcher Saraswathi Vedam from North America in her 2013 TED Talks and in her many research papers. The medicalization of birthing has brought America to a costly and unnecessary use of caesarean in deliveries says most acclaimed Ina May Gaskin the midwife who gave her name to a manoeuvring that save women painful cuts on their vaginas. Ina May firmly condemn the stigma placed upon women‘s bodies that has led men first and then women to believe that women's bodies are inept to give birth therefore must be injured to “free” babies. 
Gaskin called "the midwife that gave birth to modern midwifery", was awarded The Right Livelihood Prize in Stockholm in 2011, the prize was established in 1980 to honourand support those "offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today". The motivation goes like that: "Ina May Gasking is awarded
 for her whole-life's work teaching and advocating safe, woman-centred childbirth methods that best promote the physical and mental health of mother and child. 

   Some midwives get as daring as Debra P. Bonaro in reclaiming orgasmic birth, freeing partum from the Bible-long curse of being torn in pain. The word pleasure is more and more connected with the word birthing and yet it sounds to most people, unnatural and impossible. 

It’s midwives’ time at the movies
From the margin of a little considered profession, to which everyone thought nothing special and actually, most people think is a dying out work, something like an extinguishing species, some movies have recently started portraying a midwife’s story. Most acclaimed British film director Mike Leigh won The Leon d’Or Prize at Venice International Film Festival in 2004 with his movie Vera Drake telling the story of a sweet British woman in a working-class neighbourhood in the 1950s who performs illegally miscarriages without charging the young women in order to help them out. In the long run Vera got caught and imprisoned, sentenced to two years and a half for her deeds. The director of the film, himself a son of a midwife and a doctor, wrote a very realistic portrait of a woman and actress Imelda Staunton who portrayed her received massive acclamations for her performance. BBC1 aired in the last decade a TV series “Called the Midwife” about a group of midwives set in London East End in the 1950s.The series have proven very successful and is now ready for its fourth edition. The United States joined the midwives’ celebration with a multi-awarded 2012 movie “Birth Story “about Ina May Gaskin and The Farm centre in Tennessee.
[to be continued..]  Fiorella Connie Carollo

Tra solidarietà & empowerment

Sono la protagonista di una storia di empowerment …mio
malgrado, una storia iniziata nella primavera del 2014 quando ideai il progetto “I Reportage di Donna Reporter. Diamo voce e visibilità alle donne che in Asia stanno cambiando il mondo”. Una storia che a tutt’oggi ancora non ha la parola fine perché quello che stai leggendo, cara lettrice e caro lettore, è l’ennesima trasformazione di quanto ha visto la luce la scorsa primavera. La consuetudine vuole che una reporter scriva un reportage dopo che le è stato commissionato da un giornale o una rivista.  Nel mio caso, i commissionari sono state una trentina di finanziatrici che, nel maggio 2014, hanno aderito alla proposta di co-produrre i miei reportage in Asia.
Invece di avvilirmi per non avere le conoscenze nel mondo dell’editoria e i soldi per affrontare il viaggio in Asia, la scorsa primavera, decisi di by-passare questi ostacoli facendo leva sulle risorse a mia disposizione. Il blog DonnaReporter, su cui scrivo da più di un anno, e la passione per l’attivismo delle donne, mi hanno fatto capire dove sta il mio cuore. Decisi di investire su questo e sulle persone che mi conoscono come ad una risorsa fatta di anima e  sogni, non meri numeri di telefono o indirizzi email. Ho messo insieme il tutto ed è nata l’idea del Crowdfunding per finanziare il reportage.

Un po’ Oriana Fallaci un po’ Margaret Mead
Ci sono tanti modi di essere una reporter, lo stile più famoso per tanto tempo è stato quello di Oriana, uno stile provocatore, acuto, abile nel tratteggiare il profilo dei suoi interlocutori attraverso immagini e dettagli, tanto da essere studiato nelle scuole di giornalismo delle università americane, una conquista importante per una donna allora come oggi. Dopo alcuni tentativi insoddisfacenti nel redigere il mio reportage ho trovato conforto nell’esempio di Oriana e di Margaret Mead, la più famosa antropologa americana del Novecento. Margaret, al ritorno dalla prima ricerca sul campo, scelse di scrivere i suoi resoconti dalle isole Samoa Coming of Age in the Samoa in un linguaggio accessibile a tutti; si era nel lontano 1928 e grazie alla sua scelta, l’antropologia nei decenni a seguire usciva dal ristretto circolo degli accademici per diventare “pane per tutti”. 

Molte persone sono venute a conoscenza attraverso i suoi libri dei costumi delle giovani samoane, imparando, com’era nelle intenzioni di Margaret, che molto di quello che noi pensiamo sia “naturale”,  frutto della “biologia” o inerente alla razza, come “qualcuno” andava dicendo in quei tristi anni che precedettero l’olocausto, in realtà è dato dalla cultura in cui siamo nati. Se l’esempio di queste due donne, Oriana e Margaret, da una parte mi ha ispirata, mi ha anche ricordato che io non ero né una reporter né un’antropologa, alimentando quella barriera interna che mi diceva: “Non sei qualificata per fare quello che stai facendo!” In quel frangente ho ritrovato il coraggio dicendo a me stessa che  le qualifiche mi venivano consegnate dalle trenta donne che credevano nella validità del progetto: loro credevano che ero qualificata per  farlo. La risposta entusiasta e solidale delle mie finanziatrici ha creato una tale energia, come un’onda lunga che mi ha trasportato per mesi sollevandomi rapida e forte. Sperimentare in prima persona l’effetto della solidarietà è stato rigenerante, un vero e proprio caso di empowerment femminile.

Ibu Robin
  Se la mia formazione di orientalista, con una tesi antropologica sulla natura della leadership religiosa delle donne nell’arcipelago giapponese delle Ryukyu, mi aiutava, dall’altra mi mancava una preparazione sul campo. Avevo proposto alle mie finanziatrici un reportage su Ibu Robin, l’ostetrica filippino- americana che era stata premiata dalla Tv americana CNN con il suo prestigioso “CNN Hero of the Year”. Trovavo notevole che una donna dai margini del mondo, qual è in effetti l’isola di Bali, fosse riuscita a conquistare il centro del palco grazie al suo sudatissimo lavoro, impegno e soprattutto visione. Quando arrivai a Bali però le cose presero un corso tutto loro e mi ci volle del tempo per capirne il senso: quella che avevo davanti a me aveva più il sapore di una prova, di una iniziazione.
Mi preparai per settimane prima di chiedere appuntamento a Robin, feci le mie  ricerche, riuscì a reperire tutte le interviste fatte in precedenza, lessi il suo libro, uno dei tanti. Stilai una scaletta di domande, una ventina, le telefonai e inaspettatamente mi diede appuntamento per la mattina seguente il nove agosto. Giunsi puntuale a casa sua, scesi dallo scooter e quando mi girai per prendere il “quaderno delle domande”  e non lo trovai, caddi nel panico. Pessimo segno, mi dissi. Dopo qualche secondo sentì distintamente una voce dentro di me che diceva: ”Sono sicura che fra non molto ti renderai conto perchè il quaderno non ti serve!!!”. Iniziai l’intervista con la prima domanda che mi venne alla mente  dopodichè per due ore Robin parlò più o meno a ruota libera, incurante delle domande che io e la mia giovane collega canadese, anche lei lì per un’intervista, le ponevamo.
Qualche giorno dopo notai un manifesto che pubblicizzava una conferenza della nota ambientalista Shiva Vandana per il 22 agosto proprio ad Ubud. Quasi non riuscivo a credere ai miei occhi: uhaw! Quella che era considerata una tra le dieci persone più influenti in Asia sarebbe stata a ..portata di mano. Nei giorni successivi, dopo un breve consulto con me stessa durato non più di un sonno e un risveglio ispirato,  decisi di mettere da parte la stesura del reportage su Ibu Robin e iniziai a fare altre ricerche, leggere altre interviste finchè mi resi conto che non c’era più niente da poter chiedere a Vandana che non fosse già stato chiesto nei venti cinque anni del suo attivismo ambientalista. O per lo meno non c’era niente che interessasse a me. Le domande personali che avrei voluto chiederle non era -possibile rivolgerle perchè ci mancava quella conoscenza reciproca che le avrebbe giustificate. Non ebbi il tempo per elaborare qualcosa di diverso così andai alla conferenza sfiduciata ma pur sempre di buonora per prendermi un buon posto e intanto curiosare. Ed ecco un’altra fortunata sincronia farsi avanti mentre sfogliavo un libro sull’Eco-femminismo stupita di essermi persa quest’ultima trasformazione del pensiero femminile. Mi misi a chiacchierare con la giovane donna che li vendeva, il banchetto di libri era inteso per sostenere un’associazione di Giakarta, la stessa che aveva organizzato l’evento della conferenza, la cosa mi sembrò degna di nota e così continuai ad interrogare la ragazza finchè mi resi conto che “the president” in realtà era una donna. “Potrei farle qualche domanda?” le chiesi, “Certo è qui in giro” mi disse disponibile. Quando vidi Hayu, questo era il suo nome, mi senti subito attratta dal suo volto aperto e sincero, era un tipico volto giavanese, come ne avevo visti altri. Mentre le facevo qualche domanda, improvvisando lì per lì un’intervista registrata, sentì distintamente che c’era qualcosa d’interessante ma non sapevo ancora che cosa. Mi informai se potevo chiedere un’intervista a Shiva e lei mi consigliò di aspettare la fine della conferenza e così feci. Nei due giorni successivi vissi in uno stato di trance incapace di assimilare il fatto che avevo avuto la mia prima intervista ufficiale- anche se si trattava in realtà di  una mini intervista- con un big della storia. Solo a posteriori ho realizzato che a scuotermi nel profondo del mio essere fu il simbolismo dell’accaduto: avevo ricevuto una vera e propria  autorizzazione, un riconoscimento del mio essere una reporter da una persona della statura di Shiva Vandana. Il pomeriggio successivo ascoltai il mio intuito che mi diceva che dietro alla piccola Hayu poteva esserci una storia interessante. Sapevo che il suo soggiorno ad Ubud era solo di pochi giorni, e come sempre accade con questo popolo antico e civilissimo, Hayu fu oltremodo gentile, interruppe il suo meritato riposo ed acconsentì per un’ultima intervista.
Porto con me molti tesori raccolti nei mesi di praticantato come reporter a Bali. Penso che in un tale lavoro possiamo sì ergerci a testimoni di quanto andiamo vedendo prima e raccontando poi, ma sempre sostenute dal nostro sapere e dalla nostra formazione, confidando nel sano istinto, lasciandoci guidare dall’intuito. Alla guida dell’ agire non può esserci il desiderio incondizionato di “farcela ad ogni costo” perché si diventa vulnerabili all’illusione, ci si espone all’inganno e all’auto-inganno. Al contrario è vitale rimanere al centro di se stesse e riguadagnare il centro non appena lo si perde. Le mie fonti d’ispirazione giovanili Oriana e Margaret sono state il motore propulsivo del progetto, poi una volta sul campo ho imparato che la passione per una idea non ha bisogno dei “requisiti”, delle “qualifiche” per essere portata a termine. Ho dovuto ricredermi, i requisiti non erano dove pensavo, cioè nei titoli accademici o nelle credenziali professionali, ma erano di natura totalmente diversa. Avevano a che fare con un allenamento costante della mente e del carattere; in un atteggiamento interiore e una predisposizione nel far bene quello che stai facendo. In definitiva sono questi requisiti che hanno reso Oriana la reporter che è diventata. Mi sono detta, ad un certo punto: “Non ho avuto bisogno dell’incarico dell’Europeo per seguire le orme di Oriana Fallaci !”. Nei mesi successivi, una volta rientrata in Italia, non sono riuscita a vendere i reportage e mi sono ritrovata immersa nel mare salato della delusione per molto tempo, scrivere quest’articolo m’ha riportato a galla. M’ha fatto capire che cosa è stato veramente importante in tutta l’esperienza che ho vissuto, e qual è la direzione davanti a me, esattamente dove è sempre stata: nel mio blog DonnaReporter e nella ricerca dell’attivismo delle donne. Nella foga di “devo farcela ad ogni costo”, avevo perso il mio centro. Ora sono di nuovo “in sella” e voglio mettere tutte le mie energie a disposizione del blog, dargli il massimo della visibilità che posso, postare i reportage affinchè raggiungano il cuore di più lettori e lettrici e contribuire, nel mio piccolo, ad un mondo buono e bello. Lo slogan che ho fatto mio è questo: “ Sarò la voce e le storie che ci fanno tutte più forti"

Buone cose a tutte voi e che la vita continui a regalarci la fede nel sostegno reciproco. [Fiorella Connie Carollo]