A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraising dinner at Ayana, the proceeds of which were going to a group called Bali WISE. I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of the group before, so I was looking forward to learning more. The young women from Bali WISE spoke to us and then performed two songs (Katy Perry’s Flashlight and then Michael Jackson’s Heal the World which had me crying), and after hearing about their stories, they inspired me to become involved.

Bali WISE is a program for young women from Bali’s registered poor families scheme. They have practices set up throughout schools and villages that identify girls that would benefit from additional education, skills training, and life skills education. The girls all need to speak a basic level of English to start, which is taught throughout schools, and their families need to approve of the girls leaving for village for this program.

Bali WISE has an annual intake of 110 young women, with half being ‘in-house’ students and the other being in the field doing career training. The 6 month course includes 3 months of Basic Work and Life skills training, then another 3 months with a 5 star hotel or tour and travel group. They learn vocational studies such as Front Office, Chefs Assistant, Waitress, Spa, Housekeeping and Adminstration within Tour and Travel.

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But it clearly works – with the last group of graduates all being employed at the end of the course. I don’t know too many other education based programs that have a 100% strike rate on gainful employment so well done to everyone! Their average placement is 85.4% which is still incredibly high and a credit to all in the program.

The first three months of the course is in-house with a team of educators and instructors that care about the wellbeing of these young women. The villages they come from are very poor and everyone’s salary counts towards the family income, so to ensure the young women are able to stay in the course, Bali WISE pays each young woman a monthly allowance which would cover their normal earned salary. The students can then send this money home to help relieve some of the financial pressure, particularly with them being away and not earning an income to help support the family.

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During these ‘in-house’ education months, they learn all about women’s health, family planning and sex education and further develop their English. The girls all live on the campus and have a 9pm curfew. As they are away from home, they become a second family to each other, supporting their learning and also helping each other. And it’s a multi-generational learning, as the program also supports older women who are now ‘displaced’ because the seaweed farms they worked on for years, are now no longer in operation. Bali Wise bring these older women into the program and teach them other skills such as looming and weaving so they are able to support themselves by selling their handicrafts.

With students coming from Karangasem, East Java, Flores, Sulawesi and Sumatra, while they share the same story of coming from financially challenged backgrounds, they have different life stories and supporting one another through new friendships is part of their development. These young marginalised but courageous women all come from different religious backgrounds and when I saw them all working together, heads together solving problems and smiling at each other, I had one thought: these women are a symbol of the future of Bali, everyone working together to help each other. It’s like they have formed their own village and during my visit, it was inspiring to see it.

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After the three months of in -house training and education, the young women then go to work in the field with partner companies in hospitality, five star hotels, tour or travel companies. Here they learn career building skills working in the kitchen, in reception, in house-keeping and in the spa. The training they get at these businesses gives them skills they can take to any role in any business – and the impact this has on their families and villages is huge. Financially they can help support their families and work towards breaking the poverty cycle. But I also think they act as an inspiration to other girls and young women within their community.

When I think back to being that age (a long long time ago), I know I took my education for granted. At least I took the privilege of having a good education for granted. I get the feeling these girls don’t take anything for granted and I’m hoping I can stay in touch with them via their amazing coorindator Ibu Fena. When I first ‘met’ her, she spoke in front of a room of about 100 people – a thought which reduces most people to nervous wrecks. Not Ibu Fena. She was a professional, calm and thought about every word. And made us all stop and think. When I properly met with her at their Nusa Dua campus, she was the same. But also incredibly humble in her work. She said ‘these girls can do anything’…she’s right.

Over the next few months, I’m going to interview some of the students, tell their stories and keep up with their progress. I’m sure the young women would love words of encouragement so please don’t hesitate to get in touch and leave messages for them.

Now here’s the other thing, this program isn’t free…it costs Bali Wise approximately $20K AUD every month to provide the programs, qualified instructors, care and board, plus a monthly salary. So if you are as inspired by these amazing people as much as I am, please think about making a donation and click on the logo to head to the link. Even the smallest amount makes a huge difference in the lives of these marginalised women.

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