12 March 2007

Interview: Lesson Learned from Hunger Fighter in East Nusa Tenggara of Indonesia

Maria Mediatrix Mali

Eradicating Poverty to Improve Children’s Welfare

SHE is strong, brown skinned and warm, tall and slim, yet her voice is clear and well heard. The same voice is often echoed in the local council’s parlors, or at the regent’s office, several important public services division heads of the local district administration in Sikka, in Flores island, East Nusa Tenggara of Indonesia. She has also participated in several important international fora for health development. Her name is Maria Mediatrix Mali. This 47-year woman has academic background in education science from teacher institute of IKIP Karang Malang in Yogyakarta in Java. Now she has worked for seven years developing the People Social Development Foundation (Yaspem) in Sikka. The foundation has successfully developed among the best local initiatives to resolve hunger and poverty in Indonesia. Below interview with her reveals inspiration for you to learn her concern and her works, and hopefully you may take important note for your concern in fighting against hunger and poverty.

In short, it should not be emergency and charitable programs only.

How did you join the People Social Development Foundation (Yaspem) in Sikka?

In 1997 I met catholic priest Father Heinrich Bollen SVD in Jakarta. He asked me to join his work with the foundation. I declined but after several times of his requests to join him, finally in 1999 I started working for Yaspem. He put me as the director of the foundation. Before assuming it, I got an opportunity to learn for myself from several organizations in Germany for three months. During my stay there I learned a lot about many donor institutions like Misereor, Missio, Kolping, Caritas of Auxburg and Freiburg, Kinder Mission Werk and Frauen Mission Werk.

What did you do for Yaspem after returning from Germany?

I started to improve Yaspem that was already seven years of nothing. When Father Bollen set up it in 1974, Yaspem had two main units of services that are commercial unit and community services unit. I made some improvement while establishing new programs. Commercial unit for instance covers lodging and mechanic workshop. The community services unit covers agricultural activities, orphanage, land terrace conservation, several workshops for people training, husbandry, literacy program, anti-malaria and anti-tuberculosis drives, children welfare and hunger fighting program.

When did Yaspem start the program of tackling hunger on children?

I restarted it since 2004 because Yaspem earlier had tackled hunger disaster and acute malnutrition at Wolofeo subdistrict in 1978. The earlier program was more emergency program in its character. We now make it more systematic and sustainable because malnutrition and hunger hit the communities again and again. We realize that emergency program is needed from time to time but we would like as much as possible to set up preventive measures than merely emergency healing program. In short, it should not be emergency and charitable programs only.

..we help poor families that have malnourished children with improving their health conditions and providing them with adequate knowledge of feeding pattern for their children.

What is the way? What kind of approach do you apply?

Apart from direct program to help the acute malnourished children, we also strengthen the families’ resilience. For tackling malnutrition on children I set up a big team consisting of smaller teams of sweeping malnourished children to be treated medically, social service team to organize social service activities along with doctors, training team that helps conducting trainings for anti-hunger cadres in the villages.

What do you mean with ‘resilience of the families’? How do you do it?

I mean that we help poor families that have malnourished children with improving their health conditions and providing them with adequate knowledge of feeding pattern for their children. For instance, we conduct improvement for women capacity in preparing variations of nutrient-rich foods, in maintaining hydroponic agriculture for vegetables, and how to keep the environment clean. Meanwhile, we also help facilitate household economic activities with skill improvement trainings and co-operatives. It is expected that the livelihood of the families would be fulfilled and therefore they would be able to maintain children’s health and growth. Hopefully hunger would disappear soon.

It seems you put women as a very potential group in dealing with malnutrition.

Right, because women play much role in nurturing children. And therefore in many activities, we should empower women. In our place, about 60 percent malnourished children come from illiterate women. Therefore in the learning workshop apart from conducting literacy program for those women, we also teach them with anti-malnutrition awareness, reproductive health, children protection, anti-violence against women, etc.

There are in fact many fund opportunities from the government but they are not yet maximally allocated and benefited for people’s good.

What is the men’s involvement in the programs?

It is very important to change society’s mind that is dominated by men. Men have also to take responsibility on matters of families, taking care of children, diverse household chores, etc. In the activities we conduct, men are involved in hydroponics program for agricultural activities to provide families with healthy vegetables. We involve the communities to keep the environment clean, to clean water-channels from mosquito’ larvae that may cause malaria, compost making, etc.

What is the engagement of the communities?

It is important to involve the communities. Apart from involving the communities in the villages, we also involve religious groups like the church. As many people realize the church has important role in East Nusa Tenggara’s societies. The church has the power to deliver important messages for the societies. Even she can motivate her congregations to realize the concrete situations that they face and push all people together to tackle existing problems.

Where does Yaspem get funds from for anti-malnutrition activities?

Although Yaspem has a business unit that supports its activities, the total sum of the revenue is very small. We have also aid funds but the sum is not that big, such as from Kinder Mission Werk that grants 18,000 euro (±US$24,171)for tackling malnutrition for over 1,000 children beneficiaries. From Frauen Mission Werk we only gets 3,000 euro for the business of ikat clothes that were sent and sold in Germany. We realize that the hunger fight can be sustained and therefore long-term design should be taken. We find it then important to improve education providing knowledge and skill to improve economic condition of the families. Therefore we keep widening teamwork with many parties. We provide knowledge about nutrients while practicing skills to make foods like chips (kripik), preserved fishes (ikan pindang), fermented coconut oil, growing vegetables, etc.

Who do you work with?

So far we work with diverse parties, such as related government offices like district office of health, of industry and trade, and of education divisions. For instance for tackling malnourished children we teamwork with the subdistrict health center of Puskesmas, local hospitals, and the district government office of health. We deal with the poor people’s health insurance of Askeskin, a government’s health program that may finance the medical treatment for sick and malnourished children. We work with the district government office of industry and trade for the productive skill trainings and the products marketing. We work with the district government office of education service to train and form nutrient-aware cadres in the villages.

What are the results with working with those parties so far?

There are collaborative efforts that can be developed and kept improving, for instance, the supports from the district government office of industry and trade for our small business units, like cooperatives. Yaspem’s cooperative, the Bintang Timur credit coop that is only two years old now has heaped about 700 members and the assets reach over Rp500 millions (US $ 54,347). Apart from supporting the Yaspem’s finance, this coop has become an education place and community development center. This coop has affiliated to umbrella cooperative at East Nusa Tenggara provincial level, and also at national level with the Inkopdit, even it has an international affiliation. We can get trainings for our members. Now our coop has developed some business units like education saving, voluntary saving, daily interest saving and skill improvement saving programs.

What kinds of difficulties that you face in dealing with hunger?

It is indeed not that easy but we have conviction that we have to be brave realizing that what we do is correct. Therefore way-outs are open ahead. Besides honesty needed, you shall not be afraid. Difficulties are abound, for example in getting the health insurance program of Askeskin from the government, in fact information is closed to the public. Such facility is even swindled by the hospital’s employees. The bureaucracy of health services is also very long overdue and complicated. We also often get improper services because they see it as merely public insurance, from which they will not get any money. Another difficulty is about regulation. There are not many public regulations that protect people’s interests, such as district regulation on the environment about how to manage wastes. There is no yet regulation on literacy policy. Some people have already prepared with proposed drafts of district regulations but the local councilors do not pay any heed, and therefore people get disappointed and nurture distrust against the establishment. It is too often that the councilors hurt people’s feeling because they break their own words. Another difficulty may come from local people’s leaders like village heads because some of them decline to support people’s activities because the heads realize there will be no financial benefits for themselves.

What should be done to stop hunger?

On public policy we should demand for the people’s participation in planning and the implementation process. There are quite many opportunities to stop hunger with collaborating with the governments. We should pressurize them continuously and invite the governments to work concretely along with the people. There are in fact many fund opportunities from the government but they are not yet maximally allocated and benefited for people’s good. From the people themselves, their good initiatives should be more encouraged. And finally, don’t stop informing and campaigning the importance of hunger fight. In short, we should voice out the hunger fight concern until the problems are resolved and the future of the children could really be saved.**

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