In the course of our Discover Bali tour, we stopped off in a small town on the way to Bali’s yoga capital, Ubud. Our in-transit stop wasn’t to visit a famous temple or historical site. Instead, it was to Senang Hati, an NGO working with disabled Balinese from across the island.
Senang Hati – Contented Heart
Balinese Hinduism believes in karma and reincarnation. Unfortunately, this means that disabilities are often seen as punishment for a person’s sins in a previous life. Balinese families consider it shameful to have a child born with disabilities, and they hide it away from society to avoid embarrassment. In the worst cases, a child with disabilities might even be abandoned.
The child grows up without a lot of support from the family and with a sense of guilt. Often, their living conditions are poor, the education and work opportunities few, and their self-esteem is understandably low.
This is where Senang Hati comes in. For the last decade, this organization has been working on the island of Bali to break down the stigma and stereotypes associated with disabilities. For people with disabilities, they provide facilities and support to enable continued education and skills training – with the aim of social integration and a life of dignity.
Through hard work and persistent outreach to the community highlighting disability issues, Senang Hati has made progress in altering stereotypes. These days, they no longer have to go to the villages searching for children with disabilities. Now, everyone is aware of Senang Hati and knows to reach out for their own children and relatives with disabilities. While there is still stigma, the outlook is changing.
Full Stomachs – Lunchtime
When we arrived at Senang Hati, we were treated to a delicious Balinese lunch made by members of the organization. Each of us was given a banana leaf with a pile of rice on it. From there, we had the choice of mixed vegetables, spicy chicken curry, crunchy fried tempeh, curry tofu, corn cakes and more. A variety of flavors and textures — this is what real nasi campur (traditional Balinese mixed rice) is all about. The quality of the food far surpassed that of most restaurants, particularly those accustomed to preparing bland dishes for foreign palates.
During our meal, traditional Balinese music played in the background as we went back for second and third helpings of food. While food was plentiful, we also knew that none of it would go to waste; whatever we didn’t eat would be eaten by by Senang Hati residents.
After lunch we watched a video about the organization and walked around the grounds. We passed several classrooms of children — some were learning English, others were focused on math. For adults, Senang Hati offers training in arts (painting, ceramics, jewelry), salon skills (massage, hair dressing, manicure/pedicure, etc.), cooking, English, and office skills. The aim: provide practical training and build confidence.
We asked whether local shops and businesses were now open to hiring people with disabilities: “These days, companies hire disabled people because our people are better trained in English and professional skills. We may be physically disabled, but we have an advantage in our skills.”
True confidence. You can’t help but smile.
Our visit ended at the gift shop; all the paintings, jewelry, weavings, ceramics, carvings, and other items had been created by Senang Hati members. Some of the artists were in the shop, eager to show off their own work and the inspiration behind it.
Interactions like these offer insight into local culture and a deliver a feeling like what we were doing was directly impacting the local community in a positive way. We left Senang Hati not just with full stomachs, but with a personal experience that offered grounding and brought an additional human dimension to our Bali tour experience.