Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Fena Evans. At the moment, I’m working with ROLE Foundation – an NGO based in Bali – on a women’s empowerment program called Bali WISE. Bali is for Bali the island, WISE for “Women in Indonesia Skills Education.” What we do is provide free education in hospitality for young women ages 18-25 who cannot afford higher education.
Because the girls are from poor families, it is difficult for them to be in school and not working. That’s why we try to provide them with skills and education so that later on they can get a job and support their families. 80% of graduates receive employment and a salary after finishing the program. 70-80% of that salary goes back to their families; for instance, they use their salaries to get their siblings into school.
Why did you choose this path?
The first reason is that I don’t come from a rich family. For me to be able to finish school, I really had to fight for that. And I was lucky enough that I could graduate from my college. Seeing other people who really, really want to go to university, but cannot afford it — it personally hurts my heart. I was in that situation, too. At a point, my mom was not able to afford my education, but I made it through anyway. I was so grateful.
When I was studying hospitality in Bandung, I did my six-months internship in Bali. When I was in Bali, I found ROLE Foundation on Facebook. I sent a message to them if I could have a look at their program. They said yeah, come have a look. The founder, Mike, reached out and showed me around, so I felt like I should do something. I said Mike, I really want to do something but I don’t have the skills (having just started college). I said, “I don’t have skills but I can cook, I can create a menu.” So I started working at the kitchen at Bali WISE. After awhile, I began an internship there.
In my last year of college in 2014 where things got a little difficult. Mike was telling me that ROLE would have to choose between its environmental and women’s empowerment programs due to limited resources. He was thinking of choosing the environmental program and giving up the women’s empowerment program. I said, “Look at those people who you’ve already helped. Look at what difference you’ve already made. If you close Bali WISE down, what happens to those people? What happens to those women?” At first, he said he could not. I said, “Look Mike, I‘ve been studying hospitality for 6 years and will be graduating soon. Once I graduate, I can help run the program, but in the meantime please wait.” And he said, “OK, it’s all yours. Knock yourself out. You can do whatever you want.” And I said “What?!” (laughs).
Can you talk to us about the gender gap in Indonesia? What challenges exist for women?
Let’s talk about women in Bali. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but if you are poor and have both a daughter and a son, it is likely that you will send your son to school rather than your daughter. Many people here still have that thinking, that once your daughter is 17 they are ready to get married. And once they get married they will be taken by another family and leave the house. So there is no need to invest in the girl. Education in Indonesia is compulsory for 9 years, or until the equivalent of junior high school. However, while boys meet this requirement and attend for 9.18 years, girls attend for only 7.33 years. In the much less affluent Regency of Karangasem, which is prioritized by the Bali WISE program for recruiting, the literacy rate of men is 88.71% while that of women is only 76.53%
It is common in the workplace, too – women and men may hold the same position, but it is likely that the men will get a higher salary than the women because people believe that men are the providers. In terms of economic development and earnings, women make up 45.46% of the labor force, but women’s earnings make up only 36.39% of the total. This would indicate that women are paid less than men or that a few number of women work in higher level or management positions.
I once had a lady who came to Bali WISE. Her daughter was enjoying our program. I asked her, “Why didn’t you continue their studies?” The mother said, “You know, it is very disappointing to have two daughters.” At that time, I thought, “oh no, I asked the wrong question.” Because those girls were 17 and when they hear that from their mother, can you imagine how this could affect their self confidence? I told her, “Well you have two beautiful young ladies here, and I don’t think it’s something you need to be disappointed in.” But in Balinese culture, having boys is generally preferable to having girls. And it has been demonstrated that once girls and young women have no option and enter the unskilled labor pool, they are trapped in the well- known downward spiral of poverty with little chance of advancement.
Any tips for young women who would like to follow in your footsteps and make an impact?
Just do it. It might seem very difficult sometimes. But people out there need people like us. Because we’re women – we have the same dream, the same vision to help other women. And there’s nothing as beautiful than helping other women. You just keep going and keep doing.
And keep going no matter what people say. A lot of my friends thought I was crazy. I’m working at a non-profit; there is no money. Others, they’ve become managers. They have a lot of money but they’re missing something. It’s not about the money – it’s about making a difference in someone’s life. To see the transformation in one girl – it is really priceless. I don’t know how to describe that. It’s just really, really worth it, no matter how painful it is. So my advice for other women? Just do it because it’s worth it.
How do you deal with negativity or haters? People who doubt your success?
I just tell them, “I don’t care about what you say, I’ll just do it anyway.” Because what I’m doing is not about money. I tell them I’ll be a lot more happy if I can make other people’s’ lives happier. I don’t care what people say about me or what they think. I’m just going to do it. This is why I’m here, and I like what I do. I believe in what I do and I keep telling my students this as well – success isn’t just money, it’s about being happy. So how I deal is I don’t take what people think too seriously.
It’s harder to deal with myself actually. Because many times I want to give up. This is really tough – running a women’s foundation that I started when I was 19. I’m 25 now. It is a challenge for myself. Many of my students, they are almost the same age as me. This is really a big responsibility. Many times I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes I feel tired or I feel down. But every time I want to give up, one of my graduates will send me a text and say, “Hey Ms. Fena, thank you so much for Bali WISE because without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.” I don’t know how everytime I’m thinking of giving up this happens. To keep myself motivated, sometimes it’s hard but that’s how life is – nothing is easy, right?
Any tips on fundraising specifically for women’s causes?
Network with other women as much as possible. There are so many women’s organizations out there, so many foundations that want to help other women. In terms of fundraising, we do a lot of fundraising events, grant proposals, and local partnerships.
Who are your female role models?
Actually I don’t have any role models. I don’t really think like “I want to be like xyz.” (laughs)
What’s a message you’d like to send to women out there who want to make an impact?
If you want to empower others, it doesn’t mean that you need to give a lot of money or whatever. Rather, be kind. That is empowering. Encourage others to pursue their dreams. It’s one of the most empowering things you can do for other people. Empowerment can be a small act. Do a small act that will empower other women. Maybe it means being kinder to other people. It doesn’t have to be really big. But to be kind to other people is one of the most empowering acts you can do. Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference to someone else’s life.