It only costs about $200 Australian a year to get a Balinese child through primary school. Still, in the heartland of Bali, many children don’t make it through school, with the drop-out rate in rural schools being extremely high.
It is here that the impact of the fundraising and philanthropic work initiated by Greek Australian expatriate, Christina Iskandar, is making a special difference. And for the Sydney-born Christina, any help, big or small, can make a lifetime difference for someone or secure the future of one child.
It was in 1983 that Christina Iskandar visited Bali for the first time. Mesmerized with the island’s breathtaking landscape and having a husband originally from Jakarta, she kept returning, until five years ago she became a permanent resident.
Today, she says it was the idyllic lifestyle and weather that attracted her to the Pacific isola. But most of all it was the warm Balinese people. And instead of leading an ‘aristocratic’ lifestyle on the island and enjoying its spectacular beach resorts like many expats in Bali do, Christina decided to devote herself to not only meeting the needs of the island’s less advantaged children, but also giving them hope.
Five years on, you’ll see Christina featured in local press, and often referred to as the island’s Mother Theresa. And, during the interview with Neos Kosmos, it’s Mother Theresa that she quotes.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them,” Christina reminds.
And if anything else, that’s what Christina was doing for the last five years – loving those in need.
“I feel more empathy towards less fortunate people, as I have seen poverty first hand myself,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
Christina’s involvement in philanthropy started while still in Sydney. There, she worked at Cambodia House, a non for profit homeware store owned by Woollahra identity and philanthropist Mary Read, to give back to the communities of Cambodia and to help disabled kids.
In the five years she has been living in Bali now, with her husband of 23 years and their two (out of three) children, Christina founded Diva Luncheons and has been involved with organisations such as YPAC Handicapped Children Orphanage, Bali Children Foundation – that provides an educational pathway for disadvantaged Balinese children, and Safe Childhoods, that deals with crime against children in Indonesia.
From her own experience with fundraising for Orphanage for Disabled Children, Christina explains that in Balinese Hindu society a handicap was seen as a punishment of the God. Due to this, handicapped children were often hidden from the outside world, or put away in a home.
“Disabilities that YPAC is dealing with range from cerebral palsy, spina bifida, thalidomide, blindness, polio and mental illness. These children were isolated in the past as disability was considered very taboo, almost like they had been cursed. Things however are getting better through awareness and acceptance now,” Christina tells.
Once she entered the circles of philanthropy, on her own initiative, Christina Iskandar realised you don’t have to be wealthy or have too much spare time to give back to the community.
“There are so many things one can do to help out,” she says.
In Christina’s instance, she used herself as a ‘socialite’ to create awareness and raise money for different charities through fundraising parties such as Diva Luncheons, which she founded.
“Diva Luncheons are ladies charity lunches, held monthly with up to 100 attendees of both the expat and Indonesian community, to raise much needed funds for charities around Indonesia. This month we are proudly supporting Safe Childhoods.”
When asked what made her dedicate her time to people in need, while having a full time job as a marketing and PR manager at fashion, marketing and entertainment site Design Dope, Christina can’t put her finger on one thing. One, however, is certain – it was her experience as a migrant child that she lived through, with Greek parents who migrated to Sydney in 1956, that taught her to appreciate small and non-material things.
“This is something I can’t really explain. My parents were always very hard workers, who lived for their children. We were always taught to appreciate what we had. A roof over our heads and food on the table was a blessing and something we had to be very grateful for.”
Amongst other things, it was Christina’s uncle, well known Greek Australian millionaire and philanthropist Jim Mitsos, who inspired her to help unprivileged ones and carry on where he left off.
“My mum’s brother, uncle Jim Mitsos, was a philanthropist himself, who donated $500,000 to the Disabled Children Of Cuba Foundation. So I guess you could say it runs in the family,” Christina tells Neos Kosmos.
Within only five years of life and philanthropic work in Bali, Christina was recently awarded the YAK Award for Community Service, testimony that her work doesn’t go unnoticed.
“It was something I was very humbled by and very proud of as I knew it would help raise awareness to the causes I represented,” she says.
With the same goal – to raise awareness of causes she supported and believed in – in November last year all eyes of the Indonesian picturesque island were on Christina Iskandar, as she put forth the Iskandar Challenge – a 12-week challenge to get fit and lose 15 kilos, with a goal to raise money for a bus for YPAC children.
“Pledges were made to raise funds for a much needed van to transport handicapped children from YPAC. I lost the weight, got fit and purchased the van for the kids.”
For 2014, Christina has set up a big plan – to start her own charity under the name Heartstrings Foundation.
“My aim is to make a difference, even if it’s a little difference, it’s still a difference,” she says.
Until then, her next assignment is a fashion charity event with Design Dope and local fashion designers, auctioning off the gowns to raise much needed funds.
And while making a difference in the lives of hundreds of Balinese children, in Christina’s mind there are always some other kids she didn’t get to help.
“The hardest thing is not getting so emotionally involved, feeling you haven’t done enough and realising you can’t help everyone.”
“But my advice is – give it a go! Any help, no matter how small, you may not realise, may change someone’s life forever.”
To help and donate to the charities Christina Iskandar will be representing throughout this year, with many more to come, visit www.friends-ypac-bali.org, www.safechildhoods.org and www.balichildrenfoundation.org