Meet Muriel Ydo, a sailor, human rights activist, wife and mother. The tall, attractive President of Bali International Women’s Association shares her long love affair with Indonesia and her commitment to human rights and the environment.
What is BIWA?
BIWA was set up in 1974 by what I like to call seven fearless women, some Indonesian and an eclectic mix of foreign women who came together regularly to support each other. It grew and grew. They did activities together and sought simple solutions to problems they shared. To raise funds they would sell the goods they made together. Logically they started to focus on other women who lacked access to society as men do.
The whole concept of a money society came to Bali quite late. It was more a barter system before with most jobs directly related to life. There was less stress, more food and less debt. The transition to our present money based society has been very difficult for an agrarian based society like Bali, where the Subak system is the security of the banjar. It is what you must do to please the Gods, the ancestors and the harmony of life.
To continue these traditions in the modern society of capitalism has many challenges. We are a resource for women in Bali who have been left indigent as the result of the rapid changes in society. We help women access what they need. Our social welfare efforts encompass women’s and children’s health and education, assistance for HIV/AIDS prevention and rehabilitation programs as well as environmental projects and education.
Tell me about yourself. Where were you born? How many languages do you speak?
I was born in The Hague and grew up in Belgium. I speak seven languages. I received my baccalaureate in Social Economics and Languages when I was eighteen years old. I started working in the hospitality industry while waiting for an opening at a hotel school. I went to Cambridge to study English and back to Amsterdam to study International law.
While studying International law I worked for Amnesty International at the main office in Amsterdam. I then did the hotel management school in Holland. After various jobs in restaurant and hotel management, I moved into the tourism sector. It’s a people based business and I love working with people. There is responsible tourism and sustainable tourism, which takes into account ethics and accountability.
What brought you to Indonesia?
After working in Paris for four years as ground operator for an American company, my husband Willem and I decided to move to Indonesia. We had travelled to and through Indonesia several times and always said we would return to start a cruise business. We are both sailors.
After sailing a beautiful schooner with an American friend from Chesapeake Bay to Maine, we decided it was time to make a change in our lives and make good on our plans to go to Indonesia. I got a position with a travel firm leading thirty-day tours over sea and land from Singapore to Sumatra to Java, Sulawesi to Bali.
Back then, facilities varied. Tourists stayed at whatever hotel was available, which were often simple. People got sick or lost their passports. I learned to deal with all the problems of a diverse group of people travelling far away from home in a different cultural setting. There were no computers; communication was by telex or phone. In between tours we looked for a boat to buy.
Did you come to Bali with a boat?
Yes, we found a boat and named her MataHari. We did sunset cruises from Benoa Harbour here in Bali. We chartered to groups and for events. We had some great events and parties on that boat! No one was doing this then. After the Gulf War, we had to give up the boat and started working for Lotus Tours. Meanwhile, I also scouted film locations and did pre-production. I was a buying agent, opened a restaurant and helped a friend set-up a recycled accessory business.
With some like-minded people, we started lobbying hotels and business for better waste management and responsibility. I volunteered with the Vishnu Foundation, the first environmental foundation in Bali. In the year 2000, I coordinated the first Bali wide clean up, activities and programs for the Clean Up the World campaign. We educated people to be aware of their environments through competitions and games in schools and their communities.
When did you join forces with BIWA?
Mid-nineties I joined as a member. In 2002 I was approached to be the President. That was the year of the bomb. BIWA coordinated the hotline. We took phone calls for missing people, referring them to resources and keeping track of the many people unaccounted for. There was so much to do and to organize. We are always involved in emergency assistance if there is a major crisis. We make sure basic needs are met and locate the resources necessary.
Our main function is helping women and children access what they need. We are like a hotline for women in need of referrals and resources. We get them placement to learn basic work and life skills and vocational skills. We connect them to organizations and health services. Women are in the greatest need. They are not given the opportunities men are in education and skills training. Mothers are the ones responsible for raising the children and keeping the family together.
We work with organizations to educate women on environmental and health issues such as AIDS and how to prevent diseases. For us, the word ’cannot’ does not exist. We have wonderful events to raise awareness and funds for our works. Members make new friends, network and give back! Together we are able to pool our many resources and meet the challenges ahead with the tools of education, awareness, and compassion.
BIWA sounds like a great organization to be a member of.
An organization is as strong as its members. Our membership is diverse and members benefit in many ways. There are some 20 nationalities represented. BIWA is about fostering friendship among women of different cultures and nationalities. Women make friends, help each other and work together to raise awareness and helping women in crisis. Our mission revolves around the wellbeing, health and welfare of our local communities.