Robin Lim is a medicine woman, mother, midwife, and the 2011 “CNN Hero of the Year” for her inspirational work in the field of childbirth. In Indonesia, where many families cannot afford medical care, “Mother Robin,” or “Ibu Robin” as she is called by the locals, runs Bumi Sehat health clinics, which offer free prenatal care, birthing services and medical aid.

Polly Armstrong: What is Bumi Sehat?

Robin Lim: In Bahasa Indonesia, Yayasan means “Not-for-profit,” Bumi is “the Earth as a Mother,” Sehat means “healthy,” so Yayasan Bumi Sehat means “Healthy Mother Earth Foundation.”

Bumi Sehat is built on three simple principals: Respect for Nature,
Respect for Culture, and the wise implementation of the Science of Medicine.

Our focus is equality in reproductive health, including prenatal care, birth services, postpartum and breastfeeding support.  We also run projects that support education, capacity-building, recycling, and environmental protection. We build clinics, and we staff them, we educate midwifery students, we pick up trash, we patch up wounds, treat illnesses, and we receive babies into the world. We advocate for marginalized, displaced, low-income people from all islands, faiths and cultures.

After disasters, reproductive healthcare falls by the wayside. Yet babies continue to be born. When all infrastructure falls apart, when the hospitals and all their technological equipment are destroyed, midwives come in handy.  They can help women give birth with or without electricity, running water, equipment—even shelter is optional. When babies are ready, they come.

In December 2004 a 9.3 earthquake and subsequent Tsunami devastated Aceh, Indonesia. Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Maldives were all affected.  Bumi Sehat was an early responder: we transported supplies, some tents, and we trucked in food and drinking water. When Aceh was utterly destroyed, we helped with our hearts and our hands.

We trained midwives and grandmothers in protocols to safely deliver babies, even in a disaster zone. With a lot of help from International and Indonesian donors, especially the Rotary and Direct Relief Int., we built a Bumi Sehat Community Health clinic in Samatiga, West Aceh.

Long after other NGOs have left Aceh, the Bumi Sehat Tsunami Relief Clinic continues to be the only viable medical care resource the people of Samatiga have. Bumi Sehat has no exit strategy. We work hard, and we’re stubborn.
This is how from our humble beginning as a community health and childbirth clinic in Bali, we ended up going to Aceh following the Tsunami of 2004. And when earthquakes struck, we took Bumi Sehat’s heart and hands to Yogyakarta in 2006, Padang in 2008 and to Haiti in 2010.

PA: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what motivates you?

RL: Huge question… In a nutshell, I am a mom, a grandma, and a midwife.  35 years ago I became a teenage mom. My daughter, Déjà, was born gently and safely at home.

My first experience of having a baby was about as natural as birth can be, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it set my feet on a path that eventually led me to become a childbirth author and a midwife. I became a passionate seeker of childbirth knowledge.

And then, something else happened that fired my passion into action: 20 years ago my younger sister Christine Jehle Kim died due to a complication of her third pregnancy.  Medical interventions beginning in her youth led to hypertension-related difficulties with her heart and circulation.  Toward the end of her pregnancy, she suffered a stroke in her sleep, and never woke up. My sister and the baby she was carrying died in the United States of America.  They died in the country that spends more money on pregnancy and birth technology than any other country in this world.

Statistically, the United States rates number 39 in maternal mortality. This means that it is safer to be pregnant and to give birth in 38 other countries than the USA…and less expensive too.

According to Amnesty International’s report Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the US, there is a largely-ignored healthcare calamity in the United States that sees between two and three women die every day during pregnancy and childbirth.

Like my sister, 981 women die every day on Earth from pregnancy and birth-related complications. What is even more discouraging is that according to Amnesty International, the number of maternal deaths is significantly understated because of a lack of effective data collection both in the US and around the world.

Pregnant women who are at risk for suffering complications and even death are in the prime of their lives. The most affected populations are minorities, Native Americans, immigrants, and women living in poverty and who speak little or no English.

My sister had health insurance; she should have been warned by her doctors that she was at risk. But she was a minority. The doctors took little interest in her as an individual, and she fell through the cracks. And died.

My passion for maternal and child health led me to continue my studies and pursue the path of midwifery. And here I am now… still catching babies.

PA: Why do you do what you do?

RL: I believe passionately in the Midwife to Mother model of care, if we are to preserve lives. Most us are aware of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and their target of fulfillment by 2015.  2015 is less than four years away.

The goals our Team at Bumi Sehat foundation is most involved with attaining are Goal 4 (Reduce Child Mortality rate), Goal 5 (Improve Maternal Health), and Goal 6 (Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases).

Unfortunately, the world is not nearly close enough to reaching these goals, which advocate for the basic human right to decent healthcare.  I am just one of many many thousands of midwives, who are devoted to saving lives gently.

PA: How many babies have you seen come in to the world?

RL: Bumi Sehat has received about 4,000 babies since 2005. Prior to that I received about 1,000 more Babies in homes, shacks, even in tents in disaster zones.

PA: How has Michael Franti’s involvement with your organization affected or helped your work?

RL: Michael is an amazing support.  His network of caring fans had a huge impact on me being chosen the CNN Hero of the Year.  He really cares, and he signs our messages, “for Building Peace, one Baby at a time.”  The day we signed the contracts on the land, where the new clinic will be built, I walked onto the land, and I called Michael and we cried together.

PA: How did you become involved in the work you do?

RL: I had amazing midwives when I first became a teen-aged mom, and each of the five times I gave birth. My sister did not have midwives, and I feel she may have made it had a midwife been looking after her and alerted her to the risks she was facing.  We midwives at Bumi Sehat have a close relationship with the doctors, so that if there is a problem we can make sure the moms get the special care they need.

PA: What is the best thing about your chosen path?

RL: Oxytocin is the hormone of love. We share it when we have a good conversation, we share it when we make love, and when we hug, and BIRTH is the biggest brightest time of rich oxytocin-sharing. Oxytocin rocks the world.  As a midwife, I am immersed in Oxytocin day and night.

PA: How can people become involved?

RL: We do have a very limited number of volunteers per year, but it is very regulated by the Department of Health here. However, if you cannot volunteer, you can always become a Bumi Sehat supporter.

PA: How has the CNN hero award affected your life?

RL: Well, I am crazy busy, even more than before.  However, basically,

I love to receive babies into this world, so crawling around on my knees in the birth room is my best place, and most often you can still find me there. Because a midwife was chosen—it could have been any midwife—my FAITH in the Goodness of the world has really increased, in fact, gone off the scale. I feel like we—all the millions of voters and the midwives and the doulas and the moms & grandmoms and dads, and children—we all occupied Birth on CNN in front of millions of viewers. In fact, we occupied LOVE!!

PA: What are your biggest influences in Life, Work and Art?

RL: I love my husband and my sons, Hanoman and Thor’s music.  They have a band called Soul Doctors.  My other son, Zion is an amazing artist.  They inspire and influence me.  I love Ina May Gaskin.  Michael Franti is more than a friend, his music makes me smile and sing, so I guess I am one of his millions of fans. My daughter, Deja is an incredible filmmaker and inspiration. My granddaughter is an inspired dancer. My daughter Zhouie is the most intelligent woman I have ever met. Our daughter Lakota is the mastermind behind Indonesia’s most amazing media network: Akarumput (a.k.a. “Grassroots”).

PA: How would you describe yourself in five words?

RL: Mom, Grandmother, Midwife, Lover, Poet.

PA: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

RL: Right here, at Bumi Sehat, catching babies, and at home… being with my family.

PA: What can people do for the planet today to make it a better place?

RL: Research points to the fact that being born without trauma is the foundation for having an intact capacity to love and trust.  I learned that a healthy society is made up of loving, trusting individuals, and that these individuals in turn protect their environment, become stewards of our land, air and water, and they make peace, rather than war. I came to the conclusion that bringing Humans to earth with an intact ability to LOVE is essential if we are to survive as a species. So, I became a fierce advocate for gentle birth as a solution for the most pressing problems of our times—a solution that begins at the source. Gentle Birth, protecting mother and baby, is a solution that I believe will result in positive change for our society.

PA: What makes you most vulnerable personally?

RL: I get crazy upset when I feel mothers or babies are not getting the loving care they need.  I cry when I work in the garden, because the Sun, the rain, the wind and the Earth all work together to make us food and flowers. It just blows me away.

PA: How do you transform your pain?

RL: I sing, I clean house, I write poetry. I cry. And I tell everyone I can, “I Believe in YOU.”

PA: How do you let go?

RL: I cry.

PA: What inspires you?

RL: My family. The amazing heroic women in labor, they are the truest inspiration, and when they push their babies into the light… I am astonished every time.

PA: What makes you happy?

RL: Rain, my children, Sun, my grandchildren, clouds, my husband, my daughter-in-love, and the entire Bumi Sehat Team. The pregnant moms, the new babies. I get happy very easily and very often.

PA: What is your biggest hope for the planet and the world?

RL: Peace between people. Peace for our Mother Earth. I believe that Gentle Birth is a huge step toward Peace for the coming generations.

OM Shanti!

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