Meet Okta: once a child caring for her paralysed father and now helping others at PUSPADI Bali

Okta happy at home with her dad (lower right) and relatives.

At age 12, Okta had to grow up fast after her father became instantly paralysed when he fell out of a jackfruit tree at their home in Karangasem, East Bali.

While still at school and after her mother left the family, Okta became the primary carer of her dad who could no longer move and was living on a mattress in his room for three years, shut off from the outside world.

Later, the PUSPADI Bali team found them and provided her Dad with a quality wheelchair and helped Okta to get an education, which planted seeds of hope for the family to turn their lives around.

Okta is now working as a technician in PUSPADI Bali’s workshop, so that she can give back to an NGO which helped her dad and share hope with other people with disabilities.

On International #DayoftheGirl, we stand with Okta and other incredible young women and girls, so they can be empowered and succeed in the workforce, classroom and in their communities.

This is Okta’s story.

The day our lives changed

Life to me is like how you feel the happiness and the sadness, and I’ve experienced so much of both.

When I was a little girl growing up in Karangasem, East Bali, I would often help my mother to sell banana leaves, canang (Balinese offerings) or fruit at her stall at the market and help her find grass for the cows. My father would also help us.

Then, when I was 12 years old, our lives changed forever.

My father and brother were in the field working and I was at the stalls with my Mum, when our neighbor told my mother that my father had fallen out of a jackfruit tree. We raced back to see what happened and I remember my father telling us that he didn’t feel anything from the waist down.

At first, I felt worried and sad that something worse could happen to my Dad. I didn’t realise then that my father had become permanently disabled.

We took our Dad to a hospital in Besakih but they didn’t accept him there to get treatment because there wasn’t a person there to properly help him. So, we brought him to my uncle’s house in Denpasar and while there, he was admitted into a local hospital.

That was the day I realised my father had become disabled after the fall affected a nerve in his spine. Everything changed so much after that. At 12 years old, I also had to learn to grow up fast. My father and Mum stayed at my Uncle’s house in the city over the next few months and my little brother and I had to live by ourselves at our place in the village. At night, my grandmother would come to sleep at the house.

The home where Okta grew up in with her father and brother, which was later made accessible by PUSPADI Bali.

Growing up fast

I had to learn very quickly to think like an adult. It was so difficult for us. I wasn’t yet registered into high school and I had to do that by myself, so I could continue going to classes.

Managing the family’s budget also became another one of my new responsibilities. Each week, my parents would pass on money to me (through my uncle), so I could buy food for my brother and I and so we could take care of ourselves. I had to learn to manage it really, really well. I continued doing that over the next six months until my parents came back home.

After the accident, my father came back a changed man.

When my father returned to the village, he could not walk or move at all and had no mobility aids. He could only lay down on a mattress in his room.

It was a really difficult time for him and all of us.

Before the accident, my father was always an active person and would love to talk a lot. When he did nothing, he became more worried about everything. If there was nothing to do, he would look for activities like cleaning the garden or the house. He felt uncomfortable when he would just sit and do nothing. But after the accident and living away for a few months, he came back quieter and didn’t speak much.

During those years and lying on the bed all the time, my dad developed sores on his body because he could not move often. A needle injection a doctor had once given him caused him to develop more wounds. It made things worse.

Now my father was back, my focus was on taking care of him. I helped him clean himself and prepare his food. At that time, my mother took over managing the money again.

Using sport to escape my worries

Sport became an escape to me and I’ve always loved it. Once when I was 12, I won a competition running through a jungle in Bali. While in school, I’d compete in running events at sub-district and regency levels. I never did any preparation for these events though because I didn’t have time, as I would always be looking after my father because he was sick.

Sport climbing became a love of mine in senior high school, when I made new friends and they introduced me to it. After encouragement from a coach, I later began competing in sport climbing and the first time I participated in an event in 2013, I didn’t win anything. But in 2014, I competed again and won the event. Since then, I’ve been continuing to enter sport climbing events, where I have won medals and broken a few records. 

At first my parents didn’t want me to do sport climbing because they worried the same thing could happen to me, like my father. My mother also didn’t want me to join because she preferred me to focus on study.

Sport climbing for me though, was an activity to refresh my mind and distract myself.

After school and at the house, I would always be thinking of my father and his condition. While sport climbing though, for a moment, I was able to think about something else and not worry so much about my Dad.

I still always worry about my Dad. Not as much though as when he was away from me, during those first six months after his accident.

When he is in the same house as me, I feel calmer and better because I can take care of him.

Okta regularly enters sport climbing and bouldering competitions, where she has won medals and broken records.

Adjusting to life without my Mum

When I was around 17, my mother decided to leave us. I was devastated and so was the rest of my family.

Close to the time it happened, she gave me a sign, telling me to take really good care of my father and when I asked her, ‘why did you say it like that,’ she responded that it was nothing and please take care of my Dad.

One day when I was at school, I heard through my cousin that she had left our house. When I went home to check, I saw he was right. It was around six years after the accident.

I was sad, confused and worried about the future and who will take care of my father and us. My father was really sad and disappointed too and it was a very difficult time for us.

We had to begin thinking more seriously about our future and ways to support ourselves.

Okta’s Dad (right) and her Aunt harvesting salak to sell at the local market.

My father has renewed hope after receiving a wheelchair from PUSPADI Bali

In the early days when my Mum left, there was an Aunt who would come every day to help us.

I kept thinking I will keep taking care of my father and for income, we would sell salak fruit from our trees. Any money I earned from sport climbing competitions, I would use as income to help my Dad and family.

One day, Pak Latra and the PUSPADI Bali staff heard about my Dad through the community leader in our village and came to see him. They saw my Dad was in a bad way, so they provided him with a wheelchair and were keen to help us further.

Before PUSPADI Bali found us, I had stopped going to school because I needed to be there to look after my father. Pak Latra encouraged and wanted me to go back to school though and organised for me to obtain a nursing scholarship. That is what I really wanted to do because I wanted to learn to take care of my Dad.

For the next three years, I did nursing training in local hospitals. I learnt so much from senior staff about how to use a needle and clean wounds and applied this knowledge when taking care of my father.

From the time my father received a wheelchair from PUSPADI Bali and staff helped build him an accessible home and he later received an accessible motorbike from generous people in Bali and overseas – life began to look up.

My father started developing ways to earn a sustainable income, so he opened a small warung outside his home and is still running it.

Darma in his warung outside his home.

Who I was and who I want to be: helping others with a disability 

Since last December, I’ve been working as a technician at PUSPADI Bali, and help to assemble the mobility aids for legs in our workshop. I started there after completing a six-month course learning about muscles through kinesiological therapy at a college in Jakarta, with the support of Pak Latra.

Working at PUSPADI Bali gives me joy and happiness because they helped my father and now I can give back and help other people with disabilities.

I love when I can go to the field and meet directly with people with disabilities. There, sadly, I realise and see a lot of people who are in a worse condition than my father. I feel grateful that my father has independence and want others to have the same.

When I go home, I share stories about the people with disabilities that I meet through work with my Dad, and it motivates him. I tell him about how there are many people with this kind of condition and we are lucky that he is in a better state than them and how PUSPADI Bali is helping them. Through our talks, it gives him spirit.

I see there’s a lot of need here to help people with disabilities. When I hear a person with a disability needs something, my instant feeling is I must help him or her.

I feel I am where I am meant to be and I’m very happy.

Okta fits right in with the PUSPADI Bali team, as they work together to make and distribute mobility aids to people from poor communities in Bali and East Indonesia.

“I hope Okta will be able to achieve her success and become what she wants”

Okta’s Dad, Darma, couldn’t be prouder of the incredible young woman that his daughter is and becoming.

“Okta is very close to me and she often talks about her activities, friends, jobs and everything. She is very reliable. It is proven when she had a big responsibility, she would always go beyond her imagination as a child.

She has had a difficult time because of me, since she was 12 years old.

I hope she will be able to achieve her success and become what she wants.”

Darma is a lot happier with an appropriately fitted wheelchair from PUSPADI Bali, which has enabled him to be independent and work.