Sep 21, 2018 Last Updated 3:08 AM, Sep 19, 2018

Help that helps

Published: Sep 22, 2007

Millions are on welfare. But can it make a difference to their future?

Vanessa Johanson

Hand outs. Everyone is doing it. Government departments ranging from the Department of Mines and Energy to the Department of Tourism, non-government organisations, the World Bank, fast-food joints and newspapers, middle and upper-class philanthropists from inside and outside Indonesia, foreign governments, foreign companies and village heads - all have their own reasons for wanting to give out food to Indonesia's 100 million or more very poor.

As unemployment and inflation continue to soar, the need for affordable food is indeed enormous. As of the middle of October '98, the cheapest rice available in neighbourhood markets in Java is between Rp 2,600 þ 3,000 a kilo. Compare this to the wage of a Jakarta building construction worker þ in most cases unchanged since the crisis began - who earns around Rp 6,000 a day. Meanwhile, the Bandung factory-worker who makes the bricks and tiles for the same building earns only about Rp 2,500 a day.

I went to the field on 18 October with Bandung Peduli, a small, nine-month-old food security non-government organisation (NGO) working in villages in Bandung and West Java. We traveled to the green back blocks of Padalarang, previously a busy industrial area. We carried several hundred packages of food, each containing 10 kilos of rice and 0.25 kilo of salted fish.

Two Bandung Peduli voluntary teams had preceded us there in the past weeks to survey the level of need in the area and identify the individuals most in need of help. Initially they had spoken to Bapak Machmud, a local social worker, who had introduced them to various families.

The Bandung Peduli volunteers þ students from local universities þ had asked the families about their weekly income expenditure, number of children, work, land, type of housing, sanitation and health-care used, and about other kinds of assistance available to them. In practice, those qualifying for help from Bandung Peduli are families with both parents unemployed and no fertile land.

In the kampung we visited, Cibadap, most families originate from other areas, and moved to Cibadap to work in small brick, tile and marble factories. The construction industry has collapsed in the economic crisis.

Ibu Elli and her husband work in a factory. 'The factories are still going', she said 'but we only work about two weeks in a month. Lots of people have been laid off.' Meanwhile, the green paddies and cassava gardens in the area are mostly owned by people 'from the city' who once employed locals to cultivate them. Now the 'city people' employ jobless relatives.

'Anyhow, the land is no good,' said another Cibadap woman. 'You can't grow much at all.' Part of the government's intensive labour program is to grow food on every centimetre of available land, employing the unemployed millions and utilising some of the long- controversial Reforestation Fund. This program has many critics. 'By the time the money gets to us half of it is gone and so has several weeks of our time. It's not worth it,' intimated a Palembang NGO worker.

What about the future?

Ridlo Eisy, the director of Bandung Peduli, says, 'We are proud of our careful multiple survey technique. Most government programs just turn up in the villages with a truck of food and unload it on the doorstep of the village head or at the village cooperative. Sometimes it then gets sold outside, or distributed to the wrong people. However, we know exactly who we are giving food to.'

One of the men in the village, his broken thongs repaired with a small stapler, approached Ridlo with important questions. 'We have already been given this and that: seeds and a small wage for labour from the government intensive labour fund in order to grow timber and vegetables, basic food stuffs from you. But what about the future? We all know that children here need to go to school. The factories only take high school graduates. And sooner or later there have to be work opportunities. Can't you help us finish building the school? We use it already, but the walls leak.'

Ridlo's answer reflects both his organisation's minimal funds, but also its philosophy of encouraging kampung people to help themselves. 'Well, why don't you set up "Cibadap Peduli"? If there's only 10% of people in the village working right now, they can help buy the construction material. The unemployed men can then finish the building.'

In several kampungs, Bandung Peduli has helped set up Warung Peduli, a self-sustaining rice shop. They get an initial batch of rice from Bandung Peduli, which they then sell cheaply and use the profits to buy more rice to sell cheaply, and also to fund other small local projects.

Other initiatives include giving help to local people to work on their own community development. One focus of such work is finding alternative employment for and educating the escalating numbers of young girls becoming prostitutes in almost every village.

As the packets of food were unloaded in a muddy vacant lot, I asked 12-year-old Nur where her school was. 'Oh, a few kilometres up the road,' she replied. 'I just came down here to watch the food distribution.' She was with a group of her friends, enjoying the entertainment. 'Does your dad work around here?' I asked.

'No. He doesn't work. He used to work in the factory. Now he doesn't.'

'Your mum?'

'She doesn't work either.'

'Does she have a garden?'

'Oh yes, she works in the garden.'

The other children listened carefully, inching closer, so I asked a collective question: 'Are you all going to school then?'

'Ye-e-es.'

'Do your dads work in the factory?'

'No-o-o .... Where are you from, miss?'

'This village is unusual in this respect,' confirmed Kania Roesli, a founding member of Bandung Peduli. 'People sell their furniture and even their cutlery so that they can keep sending their kids to school.'

Bandung Peduli estimates that over 4 million people in West Java are threatened with starvation, and that nearly 15 million live below the poverty line. They know their work is piece-meal and unsustainable. 'It's going to take the whole macro economy to turn around before we can really see a big change here,' says Kania. 'In the mean time we want to at least ease people's worries about basic food stuffs temporarily so that they can think about other opportunities.'

Food gardens

Other individuals and organisations are more active in chasing these other opportunities. In Central Java, for example, a group of local NGOs are focusing their efforts on teaching people with small plots how to produce fertilizer with compost. With the right procedure, a villager with a small amount of exhausted land can have flourishing food garden growing in a matter of months. With much of the densely populated land in Java severely degraded by chemical use and other problems, such programs are vital.

The total estimated aid for food security and the social safety net from various sources now stands at around Rp 17 trillion. In Jakarta, some of the 'hand-outs' from bi- and multi-lateral donors are filtered through the Community Recovery Program (CRP), which then grants the funds to small, short-term projects which otherwise 'fall through the cracks.' CRP insists that its grantees combine short-term food relief with medium-term goals, such as income generation and employment creation programs, which in practice translate into programs for micro-enterprise training, simple technology introduction to add value to products, developing new agricultural products and rice substitute crops and so on.

A glance at the most recent statistics on economic growth from the Central Bureau of Statistics should send a strong message to policy makers about priority areas to focus on. Small industry shows an 11% contraction þ a huge drop, but significantly better than medium to large industry which shows a 14% contraction for the same period from January to September 1998.

Meanwhile, the farming sector is the only sector which shows any growth at all so far this year, with 0.23% growth. The small enterprise and farming sectors absorbed the vast majority (an estimated 60%) of all Indonesian workers before the crisis, and have the potential to do so again.

On the macro level, in order to provide real and sustainable food security, and eventual economic recovery, the government must implement policies which encourage (or simply 'get off the backs of') small enterprise and farmers.

On the way home from Padalarang I ate toasted banana with cheese and chocolate under the canvas of 'Sense of Crisis Cafe', one of the new, trendy and cheap roadside warungs. The thousands of new city mini-cafes are the colourful face of krismon (krisis moneter), often set up by students, laid-off bank and other office workers, and even by singers and soap stars. They have become fashionable weekend hang-outs for those who can't afford restaurants and night- clubs anymore. They represent the kind of creative entrepreneurship which is capable of flourishing in Indonesia when given the opportunity.

Vanessa Johanson is an Australian writer in Jakarta. Contact Bandung Peduli at Jl Supratman No. 57, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, tel/fax 62-22-705 527, email mridlo@melsa.net.id. Contact CRP at Program PKM, Jl Tebet Barat Dalam No. 38, Tebet Barat, Jakarta, Indonesia, tel 62-21-828 0050.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

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