Great capabilities, despite

Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Gianyar

Until she was 37 year of age, Putu Suriati of Yayasan Senang Hati (Happy Heart Foundation) believed she was the only disabled person in the world.

Putu, from Ubud, contracted the paralyzing and preventable disease polio at three years of age, and has been wheelchair-bound ever since.

""Until 2000 I thought I was the only person like this in the world. My mother also did not know other people had disabilities. I had never met any one else with a disability and basically spent my time at home,"" said Putu, founder of Senang Hati.

Because she was housebound, Putu took up painting at a young age, creating exquisite traditional Balinese artworks of infinitely fine detail. Her work was noticed and she held an exhibition in 2000 at the Bali Beach Hotel.

The exhibition was revelatory for Putu, not because of sales, but because of the number of other disabled people who attended the Social Welfare Ministry supported exhibition, which was also attended by Gus Dur, Indonesia's president at the time.

""During that exhibition I did not sell a lot, but I made a lot of friends. We sat up talking until 2 a.m. sharing stories. There was a lot to talk about with people who knew how I felt. I was very happy to meet people like me,"" said Putu in the garden of Senang Hati's Tampak Siring home.

Developing a foundation for disabled people was not on the horizon in 2000, says Putu, but the regular visits with other disabled people grew and soon there were dozens of people sharing activities such as swimming and excursions.

""We had a friend from Australia, Varn Cork, come to visit. He also needs a wheelchair and was looking for people he could travel around Bali with and have fun. We began the program through Varn,"" said Putu.

With the rapid rise in the number of people seeking companionship came the headaches of organizing transportation and accommodation.

""There were more and more people becoming involved and coming to my home, which was the base at that time. There was so much work to do preparing transportation and places to stay so we sought assistance from the Bali Hati (Bali Heart) Foundation.

""They helped us set up Senang Hati through a notary and then in 2003 an American businessman, Glen Adams, donated a five-year lease on this old school in Tampak Siring.

""We worked together to fix the place up and it has been home for us ever since,"" Putu said of the 32 residents now living and working together at Senang Hati.

Manicured gardens lead down to the foundation's pura, decked out in yellow and white for this week's Kuningan (a Balinese religious observance). Birds flit from flower to flower, stopping to roost in the boughs of trees.

The gardens are taken care of by members of Senang Hati, who also do all the cooking and cleaning.

""Those who can work in the garden do that; those who can cook do the cooking and those who can clean the rooms do that work,"" said Putu of the democratic foundation that focuses on what people can do -- not what they can't.

Three years after its opening, Senang Hati has a gallery filled with many very fine works created by its members, computer facilities with in-house training, a sandal making business, ceramics and woodcarving, along with their own young journalist, Dayu Wiadnyani.

Self-taught, Dayu reports on Senang Hati's activities and profiles its members. She could easily take her place alongside colleagues in the magazine and newspaper business due to her natural flair for a good story.

Senang Hati has been well supported by Bali's provincial government, with the Vice Governor Alit Kalakan visiting last Monday to celebrate International Disabilities Day, a day the members of Senang Hati hope will raise access to education and facilities for disabled people across the archipelago.

Into the future Senang Hati plans to build its permanent home in Gianyar. Paintings by Kartika Affandi have been donated by the artist for auction to assist in raising funds for the building.

But for now the members of Senang Hati would be pleased just to meet the Gianyar regent.

""I, as the head of Senang Hati, ask the Gianyar regent to visit because we would like to show him what we have achieved and the activities of our community of disabled people in Tampak Siring. We would be very happy to see the regent's kind face,"" said Putu.

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