Bali Blood Bank – The Rotarian August 1999

Bali Blood Bank – The Story

The Rotary Foundation GSE team leaders to the rescue With time and lives hanging in the balance, two Rotarians, 11 time zones apart, help save the Bali Blood Bank.

When U.S. Rotarian Marilyn Fitzgerald arrived on the lush shores of Bali, Indonesia, to lead a Group Study Exchange, she could scarcely believe her good fortune. After all, Bali is one of the most sought-after vacation destinations in the world, with its lavish resorts and easy lifestyle. “I have to admit, part of my Rotary dream was to lie on the beach, sipping fruit drinks,” she confesses.

But Marilyn, a member of the Rotary Club of Traverse City, Michigan, soon found that an entirely different fate awaited her.

Shortly after her arrival in April 1998, she was escorted by her Rotarian hosts to the local blood center. The tiny building (600 square feet; 55 square metres) served three islands and 7.5 million people. “I was horrified,” she recalls. “There was no air conditioning, so the windows were open and insects were flying in. The refrigerator door was broken and held closed with thin tape. Blood could only be stored for 48 hours. They had just two cots for donors.

“Most of the equipment dated back to the early 1970s. Staff, who lacked rubber gloves, were forced to re-use transfusion needles numerous times. Crowded, unsanitary conditions prevailed, with staff cooking facilities located next t blood-sorting areas.

The Bali Rotarians described the mounting death toll. Rotarian George Fraser, Australian consul and a member of the Rotary Club of Bali Kuta, told her that just one month earlier, he watched helplessly, as two Australian tourists, victims of a car crash, bled to death because no blood was available. In April, she learned, 100 people died from Dengue fever, a blood borne virus that can be cured with a simple but life-saving transfusion.

Not long ago, it appeared a solution was in sight. In the mid-1990S Bali Rotarians answered a plea for help in building a new Blood Bank Center. After two years of hard they finally raised the funds began to plan the ground breaking ceremony.

Tragically, Indonesia suffered a massive devaluation of its currency, the rupiah, in 1997. The value of money saved for the new blood bank was savagely reduced and local sources of funds dried up as the economy plummeted. The Rotarians learned they would need to raise U.S. $80,000 by 1 October, or the building contractor would be forced to dramatically increase the pricetag, due to the deteriorating the deteriorating economy. It seemed as though the Bali Blood Bank project would be put on hold indefinitely.

Around the family dining room table, Marilyn and her Bali host, Freddy Subiyanto, a member of the Rotary Club of Denpasar, plotted ways to save the center. “It was very hard to ask for help,” says Freddy, “But so many people were dying. Knowing Marilyn as I do, I knew she could make a difference.

“When I saw the blood center, all could think was, “Of course we’ll help” Marilyn says. “It never occurred to me what a task this would be.”

In May 1998, Freddy led a Group Study Exchange team from Bali (District, 3400) to Michigan and Canada (District 6290). The pair talked informally with local Rotarians and determined that there was interest and support. So in August, he returned to wage a full-scale.

“People said it would take a couple of years to raise that kind ‘Marilyn says. “But we only had two months. We thought of all kinds of fundraising gimmicks. We thought we’d raffle off a car or a vacation. But we just didn’t have the time.

“So we stood in front of one Rotary Club after another and told our story. When Freddy said that people were literally bleeding to death every day – indeed, that very day – because there wasn’t enough blood, they pulled out their checkbooks.

“In 14 days, Marilyn and Freddy gave 12 formal presentations and numerous informal presentations around District 6290. They presented a video produced by the Rotarians in Bali showing the current Blood Bank Center.” Many days the task, seemed overwhelming and some days even close to impossible,” Marilyn says. “But there always seemed to be a Rotarian around to us encouragement and let us know that Rotary dreams can come true if we all work together.

“Freddy gave me courage,” she adds. “The first time he stood at the podium, he said simply, ‘Look, we’re desperate.’ He couldn’t finish the sentence. I realized then how very hard it was for him to ask for help.”

She also says she was inspired by watching the Bali Rotarians in action. During the GSE tour, Marilyn’s team visited many humanitarian projects, including orphanages, village for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients, polio immunization drives, a mobile health care unit, and a cataract replacement surgery center. “It really helped to see such hard-working Rotarians,” she says.

Traverse City Rotarians responded with $17,500, and Rotary Charities of Traverse City stepped in with $10,000. With the aid of then District Governor Tom Bos and Rotary clubs throughout the district, the pair managed to raise an additional $20,500 in two weeks.

But one final problem remained. Most of the contributions were in pledges, and, therefore, not immediately available. The pair again approached Rotary Charities of Traverse City, which advanced the needed funds. When Freddy returned to Bali with his good news from District 6290, his fellow Rotarians shared some good news of their own. While he was away, two Japanese Rotarians arrived carrying five million yen (U.S. $36,000) -in cash- from the Rotary Club of Hiroshima East, for a grand total $86,000.

The new Bali Blood Bank opened its doors in February 1999. Thanks to the extra money, the new center was furnished with necessities such as air conditioning.

The project also received a Matching Grant totaling $30,000, with $12,000 contributed by District 6290. The Rotarians used the grant to buy two new bloodmobiles, urgently needed to travel to outlying villages, where most of the people live.

In June, Freddy was back in Traverse City. He and Marilyn are making the rounds, thanking local Rotarians. They’re also on a mission to replace the center’s 30-yearold equipment and provide staff training.

“People need to see beyond the Group Study Exchange as just a nice trip to another country,” Marilyn says. “We really learned how districts can. link up and become partners.” The Rotary Foundation of R.I. sends about 550 teams on GSEs each year, she observes. “Imagine the impact on the world if only half of those teams worked on humanitarian projects with the host countries.”

-Paul LaPorte & Janice Somerville Chambers (The Rotarian, Aug. 1999)