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Sukacita shares knowledge with parents, children and schools

Sukacita: Information centre in Bali for children with an intellectual disability

By: Yvette Benningshof

‘Sukacita’ in Bali provides information about children with an intellectual disability for special schools, teachers and parents. The founders of Sukacita have their own distinct vision on development work: ‘We share our knowledge and help people to develop. We don’t build schools or give money.’

Sukacita shares knowledge with parents, children and schools

Sukacita shares knowledge with parents, children and schools

‘In Bali the circumstances for children with an intellectual disability, like the ‘Down syndrome’, are not too favorable. There is a lot of misunderstanding and that’s why we got the idea to start an information centre’, Yolanda Onderwater of Sukacita explains.

Sukacita, originally a Dutch organization, was founded one year ago by Yolanda Onderwater, Marieke Nijland and Mila van der Meer. Sukacita collaborates with the well-known Suryani Institute for Mental Health, led by Balinese professor Luh Ketut Suryani. This institute has several special programs to help people with a psychological disorder. ‘Ibu Suryani and I are both healers and mental coaches. We met in Bali and we immediately ‘clicked’, says Onderwater.

Sukacita (Indonesian for ‘happiness and joy’) stands for ‘working from the heart, while reaching for your ideals’. The foundation has a small office in Ubud, in the heart of Bali. Onderwater alternately lives in the Netherlands and Bali. Van der Meer and Nijland live and work in Bali since 2007 and have broad experience in training Indonesian teachers in special education.


Sukacita wants to build a bridge between their knowledge and expertise with the Indonesian way of life. The three Sukacita women found out that: ‘There is a lack of correct information and understanding amongst some of the parents who often hope for a miracle. They ask us: ‘do you have a pill to make my child become normal?’

Sukacita Children at work

Children at work

The past year Sukacita led several workshops for parents and teachers at special schools in Bali. ‘We aim to make the work for teachers easier and try to explain the parents what the ‘Down syndrome’ is’, says Nijland. ‘In an active way we let the parents and teachers participate in several ‘role games’. So they can really experience what the world of these children is like.’


One of the exercises during the workshop is playing someone who is asking for something in a language you don’t understand. Van der Meer: ‘I would ask in Dutch if they want a cookie. But they don’t understand, because we don’t speak the same language. You really have to show the cookie and point at it. This simple exercise of the importance to use body language gives the parents an ‘Aha! I get it’-experience.’

During the workshops professor Suryani from the Mental Health Institute joins Sukacita occasionally to help the parents accept the disability of their child. She uses meditation as a tool for acceptance. ‘Meditation is very effective and already a part of the Balinese culture’, says Onderwater. ‘It’s also important for the parents that a woman like Suryani acknowledges that it’s not easy to have such a child.’

Meditation plays a big role in Balinese culture

Meditation plays a big role in Balinese culture

‘Share the knowledge…’

Sukacita sees Indonesia as a developing country that needs to find its own way and pace of growing. ‘In Bali, commerce and tourism is growing visibly, while healthcare and education fall behind. Development is a long process in which the government and the people have to discover what works for their country. Don’t forget the process the western countries have been through the last 50 years.’

Nijland: ‘We have lots of topics and ideas for new workshops. The practical guidance in the classes is also still developing. We only share our knowledge and help where we can. We don’t build schools or give money.’

Sukacita...Happiness and Joy

Sukacita means 'Happiness and Joy'

‘…and hand it over’

Sukacita embraces the thought: ‘Don’t give a hungry man fish, but teach him how to catch a fish.’ That’s why they are looking for motivated Indonesian volunteers who have affinity with the work of Sukacita. Onderwater: ‘We also have a clear opinion about the term ‘volunteers’. Sometimes people ‘volunteer’ with the best intentions, but without the right knowledge or guidance. We like to share what we know with Indonesian volunteers and let them make it their own. In a few years we want to ‘hand over’ Sukacita to a talented Indonesian staff, so we are no longer needed. That is turning our vision of development work into reality.’

Find out more about Sukacita on their website.

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