The Brunei Times, Monday, September 3, 2007
OPPORTUNITY shops (in America, "Thrift Shops" ) are a popular institution in much of the English-speaking world. Small shops tucked away in suburban shopping streets, crowded with a jumble of household items; pots and pans, teacups, baby clothes, ladies' coats, shoes, knitting needles... Here in Bali, we have our first "op-shop"; naturally, in Ubud, where most things seem to happen. Founded in December 2006 and initially opened 3 days a week, it is now up and running every day except Monday, staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers, both Indonesian and from overseas.
The function of an op-shop is to recirculate usable goods that someone no longer wants to other people who can use them. Sooner or later, you may find the very thing you have always wanted - even if you did not know you wanted it until you saw it! A confirmed op-shopper can tell you precisely what shop, in which shopping centre, is likely to have pretty silk shirts, ceramic teapots or embroidered pillow cases. The charm of op-shops is the unexpected. You can sift through piles of plates and racks of frocks, and be sure that there is a treasure hidden somewhere just for you.
Prices are very low, affordable for most people, and you never know what you may find. All goods are donated, the staff work for free, and the profits roll in. What happens to the money? All op-shops exist to finance some local charity; a hospital, a home for old people, a shelter for lost pets.
The Bali Op Shop is called the Smile Shop. It is a part of "Yayasan Senyum", established in 2005 at the urging of cranio-facial doctors from Australia and Indonesia. "Yayasan" defines us as a government accepted , non-profit organisation, while "Senyum" (smile) describes the reason behind the shop: to bring smiles to the repaired faces of children who would otherwise spend their lives with gross physical malformations.
Most of our donations to date have been from Western visitors, who bring us the clothing and household goods they do not want to take back to their home country; classy little frocks with designer labels from New York and Milan, and beaded and sequined chiffons from Bali's best boutiques, too tropical to wear in London or Paris. As in Australia or America, we attract a regular clientele for these luxury items, women with expensive tastes and international backgrounds looking for a bargain, and the fun of the hunt.
Increasingly, however, we are receiving humbler and more useful goods from local shops unloading old stock, and hotels recycling towels and sheets. Our customers for these are a fascinating mixture: expats on long-term visas to Indonesia and limited budgets, short-term tourists looking for thin t-shirts and skirts, and a growing number of local Balinese who have discovered that what we offer is good quality, inexpensive items they could not afford to buy in retail shops. (An example is a recent donation of used, but good, bed linens from a hotel group, which were snapped up by local families within hours.)
We sell everything - and the money goes to the Smile House.
Together, Smile Shop and Smile House bring medical care to children born with cleft lip, cleft palate, and other head or facial defects. Children from poor families, who could not possibly afford the cost of travel and surgical treatment, are brought from their home villages for assessment at Sanglah Public Hospital in Denpasar, and then either sent home to await an appropriate time for surgery, or operated on within a few days, staying with their family members in the Smile House until sufficiently recovered to return home. Severe cases beyond the scope of the local hospital are sent to a specialist hospital in Adelaide, Australia, where a team of international doctors work together to bring the child a normal, healthy life.
For five-year-old Ketut, born with the rare and drastic Goldenhar Syndrome, this meant nearly two months in Adelaide's Australian Craniofacial Unit, where a team of fifteen specialists reconstructed her face, implanted a hearing aid, and helped her learn to speak.
Ketut's treatment, like that of all the children, is free, all costs being paid from the profits of the Smile Shop and from private donations. Patients come from remote villages in Bali and the nearby island of Lombok, and their families may have to travel many hours or days to get here. They arrive dirty, fearful and exhausted, and the Smile House offers sanctuary from the journey and hope for the future.
If you should visit the Smile House, you would find a small villa in Denpasar, around the corner from the hospital. You would probably be greeted by Rusmini, a slight, shy woman from Lombok, and one of the earliest patients of the yayasan. Rusmini was born with a cleft lip and palate so severe she could not speak, and could only eat by pushing food through a hole in her cheek.
Although most patients are young children, and Rusmini is in her twenties, her condition was so shocking she was immediately flown to Adelaide for treatment.
Now, a year later, Rusmini can confidently look people in the face; her own face is almost normal, she has learned to speak and repairs to her jaw and teeth will soon be completed. Instead of being a burden to her family she now manages the complex affairs of the Smile House, greeting visitors, cooking meals for them, reassuring them from her own experience, and demonstrating in her shining, happy person the miracle that awaits each one.
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