Divorce in Bali. If this topic is raised, you may hear about the work of Ibu Sari. She is well known on the island and her story is an important one to tell. Ibu Sari (Ni Komang Sariadi) is the founder of an organisation where Balinese women can go for support if they have left a marriage. It is a nurturing and safe place for divorcees who seek comfort and support. Led by women and run by women, the community centre and housing shelter, PKP or Pusat Kegiatan Perempuan Women’s Centre, is a safe hub for women, located in North of Ubud.
I sat on Ibu Sari’s cool tiled floor at her centre for woman and heard from her, what happens in Balinese society when a woman divorces her husband. “Bali is known for its patriarchal society, and if you are a woman fleeing a marriage, you are often ostracized,” she explained, “You are seen as bringing shame on yourself, your village and your immediate family. It is customary for children to stay with the father, with access sometimes denied for several years to the mother. This was the case for me,” she said with a far-away look in her eye.
Ibu Sari has been a divorcee of 16 years now and spoke candidly to me about the challenges faced in Bali when you leave your husband. In her case, among these challenges is the fact that she has not seen her daughter in six years. Ibu Sari explained to me after marrying in Bali, you must move to your husband’s village. It is customary to do this in Balinese society. But where do you go when you seek a divorce? If you return to your original village, people will regard you with disdain. Other women will fear you and think that you will take their husbands. Men often view you as promiscuous. In short, she explained, it is very uncomfortable to return. Divorce in Bali is complicated because of these cultural norms.
Nevertheless, Ibu Sari was kind enough to share the tale about her divorce in Bali with Indonesia Expat magazine and the writer, Stephanie Brookes.
Why did you build the women’s centre?
I needed a safe place to live. I also needed a place of my own, a place where my daughter could visit. A female divorcee has a hard life in Bali. You must face the community and society. The first three years were the hardest. I had to leave my daughter with my ex-husband’s family.
However, I am a determined woman and I made a commitment to turn my pain into something positive. I decided to get an education, studying in Denpasar. Here, I met many women with different issues. I met women unable to bear children who were ousted from their marriage and women hit with economic issues after deciding to divorce. So I had to do something. I decided to create a place of harmony – and the PKP Centre was formed. Now, some 3 years later we have established a the larger, PKP Centre and offer many classes; cooking, sewing, bamboo bike building, education, health & body, family and gardening.
How did the centre get built?
Well, this is my biggest dream come true. I networked with people, and in three years, I have received overwhelming support and love from everyone – from all over the world.
What were you involved in before PKP and the Kim Womens Centre?
I am the director of the Sari Hati Foundation, a school for mentally disabled Balinese children. A man from Israel and a Swiss lady started the foundation. I became a teacher for Sari Hati, and the biggest benefit was for myself. I learned a lot from the children – how to make myself happy no matter how rich or poor I was, or whatever my situation was. Only you can control your happiness. My early training taught me to believe in the five K’s: kebersamaan (togetherness), kepedulian (caring), kerukunan (harmony), kepercayaan (trust) and kasih sayang (love).
I embraced the 5 Ks from a very deep place inside me. Every day I kept learning and used this philosophy to strengthen myself within. I also learned to embrace the three E’s: everyone is a teacher, every place is a school and every moment is a lesson.
With the three E’s, I broadened my horizons and learned more about myself. Above all, I developed an understanding of other people. Lastly, because things come in threes, I maintain the three P’s – passion, patience and perseverance – and apply them to my life. For me, life is one continuous momentum of learning and working.
Can you tell me about the programme?
For three years we ran English and computer classes for women and children plus yoga sessions and a support group. We love to dance and look after our health. Luckily for us, a dynamic jazzercise teacher offers fitness classes at the former PKP centre. We now have expanded and moved to a larger facility and we now teach our members how to cook healthy food and how to cut down on oil and sugar and eliminate MSG. We also conduct a very successful littering awareness programme, telling communities why, when and how to care for the environment.
What is the most exciting event you have held?
The first year anniversary celebration of PKP in February of 2016 was by far the most exciting, with more than 200 people attending. We decorated the trees with little stories. Some were personal stories told by centre women, and some explained Balinese tradition and village rules. We wrote centre accomplishments on the branches. The concept was that the trees could talk.
Tell me about the catering business.
We established a Facebook site, and orders started to flow in. As I mentioned, we cook healthy, clean food without MSG or excess oil. We do the cooking here on-site and deliver. For our first year anniversary, we had 25 woven baskets lined with banana leaves hanging off a long pole on pieces of string. The baskets were overflowing with steamed rice, grilled eggplant, tofu curry, tempeh dishes, several types of cassava dishes and desserts. Everyone loved the dishes, our homemade sauces and accompaniments. We catered without using plastic – and the word spread like wildfire.
Tell me about the PKP documentary.
After I left my husband’s village, I moved to Denpasar and enrolled in study. I had to make a new life. I met many Westerners. My Hungarian friend was keen to make a documentary about the Centre. After seeing that documentary, many ex-pat friends and associates have helped me and donated equipment and helped set up some of the programmes. It’s a beautiful thing.
How does the sewing circle work?
We teach people to sew. We get donations of second-hand clothing and make items like aprons, reusable shopping bags and children’s clothing. The sewing circle is pretty much self-sustaining. We make clothes from recycled material. We love donations.
How has the philosophy of PKP and now the new centre changed over time?
In the beginning, we were a centre associated with problems, but now we have moved forward. We are a centre for all women. Young people have come to hear about us and join our activities.
PKP Community Centre, formerly known as KIM Women’s Centre, is for everyone wanting to embrace self-esteem, empowerment, courage and a healthy mind and body. We work together to tackle issues. It is a place to collaborate with all members of the Balinese Community, working hand in hand as equals for their collective growth. PKP is part of the KIM Foundation. Divorce in Bali, with all its ramifications, can be made easier when women can support each other.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
UPDATED: October 2020
Ibu Sari email@example.com or call +62 822 3795 7829
Donations are welcomed at the centre: books, computers, educational supplies, used clothing, new material, dry goods and financial donations.
Please donate via our DONATE BUTTON on the website: www.pkpcommunitycentre.org