Bali International Women’s Association, or BIWA, are a group of local and expat women, who first came together 45 years ago as a women’s support and friendship group. However, they quickly realised that not only could they play a vital role in each other’s lives, supporting members of their group through personal tragedy and hardship, but that they could also turn their support outwards, becoming a philanthropic organisation helping women and children in Bali and beyond.
BIWA started when a group of women who were living in Bali, noticed that while men had their local banjar or social clubs to meet at, women were on their own and lacking the same support. They started a ‘club’, with monthly lunches and events, where women could come and meet other women living in Bali, sharing stories, advice and friendship. Today BIWA has 125 active members, ranging in age from 18 to 86 years old, who all take great pride in contributing and helping as much as they are able, whether it’s at their regular get togethers, or at their coordinated charity events.
Very early on after the club first formed, the women at BIWA recognised the need to help the wider community, when the 1976 earthquake tore through and destroyed the former capital of Singaraja. They felt compelled to help those in need, who were trying to rebuild their lives, all while grieving the tragic loss of life around them. The women at BIWA banded together to support the victims during the crisis, and ever since then have played an important role in ongoing charitable efforts in the region, in particular where it benefits women, children, education or the environment.
Again, in 2002, BIWA were central to providing on the ground aid to the victims of the devastating ‘Bali Bombings.’ They worked day and night, making phone calls to families all over the world, trying to reconnect loved ones and bring people some comfort. The women at BIWA pulled together during this emergency, rallying to help in any way that they could, and their efforts were a vital part of rebuilding after the tragedy of the bombs.
The women at BIWA hold many fundraising lunches and events to provide ongoing support to a range of charities that are close to their heart. Charities are chosen based on a rigorous selection process, and must have the favour of the board who vote upon their approval, before a decision is made on how to best support the chosen charity. The board of BIWA demand full transparency on all funding and financial decisions, meaning that every charity presented to the board must go through the appropriate channels and paperwork before it is considered, and that every dollar raised is accounted for and spent in the most effective way. In fact, funds raised never go to paying the wages of the board, but instead they are used to support events like ‘Healthy Days’, where experts from all over Bali come together to provide free health care and check-ups to the poorest villages. The last ‘Healthy Day’, held on April 27th saw medical teams checking 106 pairs of ears, performing 195 dental check ups, carrying out 140 eye check-ups, with 100 pairs of glasses dispensed, and just as importantly, 180 teddy bears were given out to the children, many of whom had never had a toy before.
These teddy bears are hand-knitted by the women at BIWA, who spend every Friday together knitting brightly coloured bears to give to children who may never have had a toy of their own. The joy on the children’s faces when they pick out their lovingly knitted bear is enough to bring anyone to tears, and drives the women to keep on knitting for the kids. Many of the teddy bears are given to children who have recently had surgery, for example through the international children’s charity Smile Foundation Bali– a group who provide free cleft palate surgery to some of the world’s poorest children. The teddy bears are also taken to the children’s cancer centre at Sanglah Hospital, to bring smiles to the faces of sick children, and more recently the teddies were donated to babies born behind bars to incarcerated women. The wool is all donated to the knitters, who alongside the 8-20 women in Bali, are joined by knitters in Japan, Perth and Adelaide.
It was such a pleasure to be invited to join in with the BIWA women on a recent knitting day, but as my knitting skills are non-existent, I was able to instead sit back and enjoy the stories being spun and shared amongst this inspiring group of women.
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Contact BIWA Bali at: firstname.lastname@example.org