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Rumah Berdaya pushing for schizophrenia awareness

I Wayan Juniarta

The Jakarta Post

Denpasar  /  Thu, February 22, 2018  /  08:56 am
Rumah Berdaya pushing for schizophrenia awareness

Productive day: Two participants of Rumah Berdaya’s life-skill training wash a customer’s motorbike. (JP/Wayan Martino)

He spoke in a low, soft tone as he escorted the visitors into a room, where scores of drawings, paintings and art objects were on display.

“Wayan loves drawing, this one and that one were created by Wayan,” he said, referring to himself in the third person.

His name is Wayan Mudita, a 49-year-old man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year earlier.

He was calm but his narrative was a bit erratic. One minute he narrated his tragic love story with a Muslim girl during his university years in Yogyakarta, an episode that triggered his schizophrenia, and the next minute he enthusiastically told a story about his father, a soldier who was wounded in combat after parachuting into East Timor in 1975.

“Wayan is much better now. Wayan spends weekdays here, learning to farm and painting, and weekends helping in the family rice field as well as babysitting my nieces and nephew,” he said.

His father, I Ketut Murka, who attended the exhibition with a proud look on his face, corroborated that statement.  

Murka recalled how Wayan returned from Yogyakarta a shaken and withdrawn young man. He lived in his own world for years until regular medication and, later on, his involvement with Rumah Berdaya gradually tore that psychotic shell of isolation.

Homemade: A Rumah Berdaya activist shows a screen-printed T-shirt and packages of incense produced by participants of the life-skill training.Homemade: A Rumah Berdaya activist shows a screen-printed T-shirt and packages of incense produced by participants of the life-skill training. (JP/Wayan Martino)

Rumah Berdaya, meaning house of empowerment, is a community initiative aimed at providing a platform for people with schizophrenia to gather and share stories, learn new skills, express themselves as well as engaging in a constructive interaction with members of the public.

The initiative was first conceived in 2015 by Rai Putra Wiguna, a psychiatrist at Denpasar Regional Hospital in Wangaya, and seven of his patients.

“Schizophrenia is not only a medical problem, but also a social one,” Putra Wiguna said.

“Efforts to assist the sufferers to be able to regain their status as a functional and productive member of society as well as to educate the public to dispel the stigma associated with schizophrenia are very important.”

The small group started a weekly meeting, during which attendees share their problems. Soon, the families of people with schizophrenia joined the meeting.

In October 2015, the group made its first public appearance during an event at Taman Baca Kesiman, a privately run public library and favorite haunt of Denpasar’s activists and intellectuals. The event pushed schizophrenia and the struggle its sufferers face on daily basis into public consciousness, giving it the momentum it needed.

The following year, the initiative was strengthened by the participation of promising filmmaker Oka Sudarsana and visual artist Budi Agung Kuswara, co-founder of transnational art collective and social enterprise the Ketemu Project. 

Budi organized a regular art class for people with schizophrenia, while Oka created a short film about them.  

Upcycle: A Rumah Berdaya activist demonstrates how to make trays using recycled papers.Upcycle: A Rumah Berdaya activist demonstrates how to make trays using recycled papers. (JP/Wayan Martino)

The initiative gained exposure through the movie and caught the attention of Denpasar Mayor Rai Dharmawijaya Mantra who in early 2017 agreed to give an empty city-owned office building on Jl. Hayam Wuruk in East Denpasar to the initiative.

In a first-of-its kind move, the city administration later employed four people with schizophrenia — all ardent activists of the initiative — as contract workers assigned to Rumah Berdaya.

The building is now the Rumah Berdaya initiative’s home base. Its day-care program provides activities and life-skills training — ranging from a motorcycle washing service and urban farming to screen printing and incense making — to more than 20 people with schizophrenia.

“Individuals with schizophrenia are free to come and join our programs. There are only two requirements: they must continue their medication and members of their families should also play an active part in the programs,” Putra Wiguna said.

One room in the building has been turned into an art gallery to display the works of people with schizophrenia, while another room was dedicated to the memory of the late Komang Ayu, a female staffer at Denpasar Health Office who had passionately assisted the initiative in its formative years.

The initiative has also drawn growing support from local communities — a food expert offers regular cooking classes, Lala Studio provides regular gymnastic classes, Minikino short movies community offers therapeutic movie screenings and students from Denpasar’s Indonesia Arts Institute give art classes.

Family support: Rumah Berdaya activists and participants pose with their family portraits.Family support: Rumah Berdaya activists and participants pose with their family portraits. (JP/Wayan Martino)

Rumah Berdaya has grown into a model that several regions across Bali intend to emulate.

“It is a good model for an urban area, where people usually work outside their houses throughout the day and people with schizophrenia are often left alone at home,” Putra Wiguna said.

For the rural area, the initiative has established cooperation with local public health centers by training the centers’ nurses with sufficient skills in treating people with schizophrenia.

“There are around 540 people with schizophrenia in Denpasar and around 110 of them are still in our home-care program. The remaining have completed the program and now access their medication through a normal channel,” Putra Wiguna said. 

For Wayan, and many people with schizophrenia, Rumah Berdaya has provided them with more than just activities and new friends — it has given them a new purpose.

Wayan still remembered his love story, but he is no longer frustrated by its tragic end.

“All Wayan wants to do know is work hard so Wayan can buy something nice for the nieces and nephew,” he said before asking a visitor to buy a pack of fragrant incense.