Apr 16, 2024 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Apr 15, 2024

Photo essay: Woman to woman

Published: Oct 15, 2019

Alexandra Radu

In Indonesia the government’s drug policies and rehabilitation programs offer little to those in need of help, and women who use drugs have comparatively less access to health support services, and suffer more human rights abuses. Research by the Indonesian Drug User Network found that women face high HIV rates, poor mental health and low access to drug treatment and, crucially, the unique social stigma they face forms a key obstacle preventing society from doing what is needed to look after the wellbeing of very vulnerable women.

Rumah Singgah PEKA, an NGO-run drug rehabilitation centre in Bogor, West Java, has stepped in to help meet the health and other support needs of a group of women so that they can live the long and productive lives that they and their families desire. The centre’s approach to rehabilitation is unique in Indonesia, where most drug treatment programs advocate abstinence. PEKA focuses instead on ways to reduce the harm of drug use by, for example, distributing sterile syringes to reduce the number of infections and slow the spread of disease due to the sharing of needles and syringes. Since the beginning of 2019, PEKA has supported 52 clients on their path to rehabilitation.

Daily life for the women in the centre follows a peaceful routine. Clients take daily classes in psychosocial education, life skills, basic health and how to manage their dependence on drugs. Their daily routine also includes participating in household chores and relaxation hours. Structured and calming activities like these enable the women to focus on their personal journeys and manage their dependence on drugs.

Alexandra Radu’s photos provide a glimpse into the daily lives of these women.

A drug dependence counsellor prays while some of her clients rest on and near their beds during relaxation hours. Seven counsellors are former drug users themselves, which enables them to better understand the dependence and other problems that the clients experience. The opportunity also provides former clients with the chance to develop new careers as counsellors.

A client sleeps with her baby. She had lived with HIV for many years and became a client in 2012. Her first baby was born HIV positive and died shortly after birth. The baby in the photograph is her second child, who was conceived after HIV treatment and careful monitoring. At six months, having received the right support, her baby is healthy.

A client, who has been undergoing treatment at the centre since 2014, folds laundry. She claims that this chore helps her to clear her mind so that she has more space for thinking about how to manage her dependence on drugs. Clients take turns at all household chores. They clean the living area twice per day, cook, do laundry and tend to other daily needs of the centre, helping to bring an orderly routine to their lives and instil a much-needed sense of personal responsibility for their actions. 

A client jokes after the daily group sharing session, where the women talk about their latest experiences, thoughts, challenges and achievements. The process not only helps reduce the heavy burden of thinking about their own problems but also helps them to learn about their experiences and allows them to problem solve together with other clients. 

A client gives another client a traditional Indonesian massage in their room at the end of a typical day. At PEKA, female clients share a room and live in close quarters with each other, which helps build a more intimate and secure environment, as shown here. The lack of female-specific drug treatment programs in Indonesia is one of the many barriers stopping women from seeking help they need. PEKA is one of the very few drug rehabilitation centres in Indonesia doing that. 

A former client completes the financial reporting for the rehabilitation centre at the end of the month. After she had been a client for two years, PEKA employed her as their financial officer. Nearly 90 per cent of centre employees are former clients. 

A client dances with another woman at an elderly people’s home in Bogor. Clients often visit and spend time with the people there. Regular community engagement and other social activities aim to increase clients’ awareness of their roles in society, their ability to care for others and their ability to care for the environment. The outings also help to reduce the social stigma against people who use drugs in the wider community. 

An employed client gets her daughter ready for school before starting work at the centre. Clients who are also mothers are allowed to have their children stay with them at the centre. This is unique in Indonesia. It tends to female-specific needs in another way, which in turn encourages more women to start and finish much-needed treatment for drug dependency. 

A client cooks dinner to share with the rest of the community at PEKA. Clients take turns preparing meals for one another on a rolling roster, such that everyone has a chance to prepare food twice a week. 

Another employed client speaks during the daily learning session, in which clients learn about drug dependency management and other life skills. The activities teach sustainability through development of life skills, including running a laundry service, raising fish and growing vegetables. Their contributions also allow the centre to be financial independent. 

A former employee (left) and a client (right) introduce their babies to each other.


Credit for all images: Alexandra Radu

Alexandra Radu (alexa.radu@gmail.com) is a photojournalist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She documents social issues in Southeast Asia. Her work has been published in Al Jazeera and The Diplomat. Alexandra’s full portfolio can be viewed at www.alexandra-radu.com.

Inside Indonesia 137: Jul-Sep 2019

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