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David Barker: Go On, Keep Looking

How guidance comes

Bapak always urged Subud members to be active in setting up humanitarian projects such as schools, hospitals and old people's homes, and many such projects have been created, mostly in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, some projects have also been established in the USA, Australia and the UK. One of the longest standing of these is Wisma Mulia, a place for elderly people near the Seven River in Gloucestershire in England. It was founded by a team which included David Barker, a Bristol social worker, who was partly motivated by his desire to prepare a place for his ageing mother. In this excerpt David talks about how he was guided in looking for the place which became Wisma Mulia.  

"I was sitting at home late one night, feeling very peaceful, when the guidance came that I should set up a home for elderly Subud people. It was not just a vague feeling; guidance means something very clear and precise to me. This was like a clear instruction. It came as a complete surprise, I remember laughing out loud at the idea."

David didn't have any money and he put the idea aside, but then prompting from other members convinced him he had to do something about it. He became chairman of a committee which formed a housing association in order to qualify for government housing grants and began to look for a place.

"One day, even before I'd moved to Bristol, I received a picture of a lighthouse with the word 'Gloucester' written on it. It didn't mean very much then, but when it came time to look for houses, whenever I went north from Bristol up into Gloucestershire, I felt happy, and whenever the committee urged me to go south, I never felt happy. I always went north."

After several months of unsuccessful looking, people were beginning to lose heart and thinking of giving up.

"One day I was sitting quietly at home. It was Ramadhan and I thought I'd go up and see the estate agents in Gloucester again. Then I thought, no, I won't go. Suddenly I saw myself standing in front of something beautiful and I was moving away from it. So I thought, you'd better get yourself up to Gloucester. That day we found the house."

It was a beautiful Georgian house near the Severn River. Zoning permitted the house to be extended to provide further accommodation and this was carried out by a Subud architect, James Leask. Bapak gave the project the name Wisma Mulia, meaning a house which is honoured because Subud members live there in their old age.

Each resident at Wisma Mulia has his or her own flat or bedsitter. There are places for a total of twenty-five residents and also accommodation for the warden and for guests. The ground floor flatlets have French doors opening out onto little paved squares and residents' private gardens. The rooms look out on green fields and grazing cattle.

You think of an old people's home as somewhere people have gone to fade away. This is not true at Wisma Mulia. People here are very active: they travel, they maintain contact with their families, they have their hobbies, many write and paint. Their time at Wisma Mulia is not a time of decline, but a distinct and creative phase of life.

Much care is taken to protect the residents' privacy and to allow them maximum individual freedom. There is nothing institutional or regimented about Wisma Mulia. The image of the old people's home where the residents are passive and helpless is not true here. The residents control their own destiny.

While a core of services and facilities is provided, such as certain meals, everyone is free to go their own way. So there is a balance between privacy and communal living. Residents usually take the midday meal together in the dining room, but eat in their own places in the evening.



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