Mother Robin Lim named 2011 CNN Hero

Dec 31, 2011
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International news network CNN named Robin Lim, a Filipino-American midwife who helps poor women have healthy pregnancies and safe births, as 2011 CNN Hero of the Year.

1197 Robin Lim with CNN news presenter Anderson Cooper.

She received the CNN Hero of the Year 2011 award from Anderson Cooper last Sunday in a star-studded ceremony at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. In her speech, she tearfully delivered a speech that tackled maternal care: Today on our Earth, 981 mothers in the prime of their life will die — and tomorrow again and yesterday. And I’m asking you to help change that. We don’t even know how many babies are lost, but all of us can help change that.

Midwifery is not as popular here in the US as in other countries like Indonesia where Robin Lim has dedicated her life to helping women have safe deliveries. Pregnant women in the US have obstetricians to help them even though midwives offer lower maternity care cost compared to obstetricians. But in countries like Indonesia, hospital birthing services can range from $70 normal delivery/natural birth to $700 or more for a c-section and this amount is way too much when average families earn only $8 a day.

Good medical services which have become as normal or regular for Americans with the availability of doctors and nurses in nurses uniforms to help out and where technology is always available. While in South Asia three out of five women give birth without a skilled birth attendant on hand according to United Nations Population Fund. In Indonesia, medical care is somehow out of reach because it is costly. Babies can even be held at the hospital if mothers give birth and cannot pay which sometimes causes mothers to totally give up their babies for adoption because of their inability to pay for the services.

Every baby’s first breath on Earth could be one of peace and love. Every mother should be healthy and strong. Every birth could be safe and loving. But our world is not there yet.” – Robin Lim, 2011 CNN Hero of the Year

Mother Robin or Ibu Robin (as the locals call her) left Hawaii with her husband and moved to Bali after tragedy struck in her own life so many times, including losing her younger sister and her sister’s baby from pregnancy complications. In Indonesia, she discerned that pregnant women are 300 times more likely to die in the next 12 months than women who are not pregnant. Because health care services are really expensive, pregnant women are not able to get the much needed prenatal services.

And this is what Mother Robin did, offered her services to people in their homes until in 2003 she was able to open her first clinic and since then has been operating free clinics Yayasan Bumi Sehat (Healthy Mother Earth) in Bali and Aceh with Indonesian midwives, doctors, nurses, housekeepers, and a chef. The clinics are where these men and women in nurses uniforms, some trained by Mother Robin herself, provide free prenatal, birthing, and medical care to the pregnant Indonesian women.

In an emailed letter to the press, Lim wrote: “The Philippines and Indonesia really voted so much, millions of people believed in me … There are so many layers of support … Japan voted, Russia voted … but most wonderful was to know that in the Philippines, people really care.”

However, Lim said she had observed arguments among online bloggers as to whether she represented the Filipinos or the Indonesians.

“My mother is Filipino, thus my heart is truly Filipino. My grandchildren are Indonesian. Some of my children are married here [in Bali],” she said.

Born to an American father and a Filipino mother, Lim, 54, is the granddaughter of the late Vicenta Munar Lim, a midwife who served in Baguio during World War II and who inspired her to pursue the same career. Lim’s relatives from Baguio helped draw many of her CNN votes. She said she spent part of her youth in the city from 1966 to 1968. As a child, Lim said she remembered Vicenta take care of her when she suffered a mild kidney ailment. She also lived with cousins in the summer capital in 1998.

Lim said she plans to “organize Safe Motherhood and Child Survival projects in the Philippines.” Child survival and safe motherhood initiatives have been undertaken in many countries since the 1990s to help reduce maternal and infant deaths through the popularization of prenatal and postnatal health care protocols.

“There are so many powerful women I know there, who are willing and ready [to take up these initiatives],” Lim said. She said she also looked forward to visiting Baguio so she could pursue her plan of establishing a natural birth clinic here. “[But] if God could give me one wish, it would be to have another ‘self’ [who could] live in Baguio and serve the Philippines, full-time."

1201 The CNN Hero title included a $250,000-cash prize and another $50,000, to which Lim was entitled for becoming one of the year’s 10 nominees.

However, the amount has been allocated for a new Bumi Sehat clinic, Lim said. “[The cash prize] is not enough to build a proper clinic that will be earthquake-safe and [which will] serve the many of people we help, but it is enough to make a start. I believe everything we need will come to us … This is a great year and 2012 is going to be even better!” she said.

“One thing I will do as soon as I can is launch a very lovely website called ‘Wisdom Birth,’ a place anyone can [enter to] find the truth, some comfort and [to] share." She added, “With 981 mothers dying [each day] on earth from complications of pregnancy and childbirth … there is a lot of work I must do. I don’t expect to rest.”

Annually, the CNN chooses the CNN Hero of the Year and from thousands of submissions from different countries of “individuals who go to extraordinary lengths to serve others.”

The triumph of Mother Lim will allow her to help others and save more lives as her non-profit Bumi Sehat Foundation will receive a $250,000 grant plus the additional $50,000 she also received just for being in the top 10.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

Contact Debby