A Balinese Teen Learns to Dance

There is still room for magic in the world, especially in Bali, an island with more of its share of mysticism and hope. There is no better example than Ni Kadek Namiani Tiara Putri, born without her lower right leg in a land where the arts, especially dance, are integral to existence. Namiani wanted to dance. She succeeded. She dances.

The girl’s parents only own a sari-sari store, a small shop to meet daily needs. But Namiani's father, I Wayan Suarsa, has supported his daughter and taught her patience and independence despite her disability. And despite economic limitations, he refused to stop trying to get his daughter into the best possible facility.

For a child with a physical handicap in the developing world, Namiani’s story is unique. UNICEF estimates that 90 percent of such children won’t go to school. They are largely denied the right to all education, let alone quality education. But along with her own determination, she had the help of PUSPADI, a Bali-based NGO focusing on disability issues, which helped Namiani’s family by providing prosthetic legs to help her grow. As she grew out of prosthetics, the NGO “grew” her deformed leg as she grew. And although Namiani had to get used to her prosthetic leg, now she feels the part of her that was missing is now complete.

Living in Bali, Namiani had been in love with art since childhood, especially with the elegance of Bali's beautiful and magical dancers. But with her deformed leg, making her body move in accordance to rhythm seemed like an impossibility, especially because Balinese dance movements are very difficult. Thus, imagining she could dance was like returning charcoal to wood; impossible.

But her persistence has overcome her limitations. Gathering her courage, Namiani learned to dance, ignoring the ridicule and insults of people around her. Her love for art and her determination never to feel dwarfed for her disability were sufficient. In her heart she believed that if she liked something she would persist. Her endeavors paid off. From kindergarten to elementary school she often performed Balinese dancing in front of many people and was even frequently invited to perform in several studios.

Her determination is also apparent in education. Namiani received a scholarship at the Bali Mandara School, which provides free quality education to students from underprivileged backgrounds who demonstrate academic potential. Since starting at the school in 2015, she has excelled, ranking first in her class each year. Now 18, she graduated at the end of May at the top of her class.

Given the trials she experienced from young age, Namiani’s achievements have silenced those who doubted her. An academically gifted student, she last year won the national ‘Essay Kekayaanintelektual’ competition for her essay about creating an organization that stands for people’s rights.

“I’m very proud to see her finish school and whatever she does, we’ll always support her,” Namiani’s father said.

As she has grown more mature, Namiani has become more confident and has displayed more determination than ever, Her dream is to become a psychologist.

In a country where public misperception combines with government’s policies to provide little help for the disabled, Namiani is a rarity and an inspiration. With medical, education, transportation, and other public facilities still far from offering inclusivity, the disabled are far too often considered second-class citizens.

Although the government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) in 2011, little has been translated into beneficial, practical regulations for the disabled. Today, only a small number have access to primary education, and a fraction reach university level.

Workplaces rarely accommodate the needs of the disabled, leaving them unable to live independently. In reality, Namiani’s story demonstrates that those with disabilities are no different from other people. It is not necessary for them to remain burdens rather than taking their place as part of the wider society, with the right to be independent and to achieve success in their lives.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dikanaya Tarahita write regularly on Indonesian social issues.