18 March 2007

Two poor families in Sikka: How do they fight hunger?

Sri Palupi & Reslian Pardede

POVERTY is definitely not a single, simple reality, yet contradiction may enrich your understanding of what poverty is all about. The following is a case study of two families, both grouped as poor far below the World Bank’s standard, in Sikka district in East Nusa Tenggara province in Indonesia. Both have significant difference in their profile characteristics although both also have comparatively unusual education background.

The first is the couple of Marcellus Magnus and Margaretha Eta, whose child suffers from acute malnutrition. The second is the couple of Fermus Tuka and Martina Teparan, whose child is healthy. First of all, let’s look at how many children do they have. The first, who lives in Maumere town, begets four children, and the second that live in rural site of Baumekot village at Kewapante sub-district owns only one child. It is unavoidable to presume that the family load depends much on how many children do they have, particularly in the degree of attention and the quality of food fed in each family.

Magnus-Eta family has just had a new baby, the fourth child, female, when their third child was receiving food aid program from the local government. Her name was Elisabeth Elsa, 35 months old, was found malnourished after being measured at local community’s baby health service of posyandu (integrated service post). On one side, poor condition of the family has pushed related village midwife to give her food aids for recovery. What makes this family different from other families that have similar children suffering of acute malnutrition is the fact that three out of four children have suffered from acute malnutrition. Two other children have recovered into normal condition, each aged of eight and six years old. On the other side, the economic burden of Tuka family that has only one child is clearly much less heavier that Magnus family that has four children. The only Tuka’s child, named Romanus Oscar, five year old, is in a good condition.

If you look at the income of each, both families have the same unsteady ones. But Magnus family is slightly better than the other. Like many other families at Baumekot village, Tuka is a commodity crop farmer. The difference with the other one, Tuka has also another source of income. They have a small stall selling daily needs stuffs like instant noodles, coffee powder, sugar, tea, ect. Tuka’s wife, Martina Teparan, manages a barter method of selling to their customers, mostly villagers from the area. The stall allows candlenuts (kemiri), coconuts and other crops be bartered with other daily need items. With the stall Tuka family may survive from difficult economic situations, such as pest that hit their crops that once in the past no additional earnings could add into their meager income. In 2006 they could only take coconuts, the amount of which was not more than 10 kilos each time they pick. Severe pest attacked their cacao, while the clove plants failed to bloom, and until the end of the year the vanilla plants have not ripened the fruits yet.

Different from Tuka family that has a small, simple living place, Magnus family stays on a quite large stoned house. The latter’s house seems not to suit to their economic condition as of why most neighbors would consider them as poor family. In fact the family does not own the house but a non-inherited property of their parent. His work as a non-permanent laborer has rendered their life uncertain. Although he admits to be a stipend-paid gardener at a private local secondary school, in fact he does not receive the honorarium routinely. Magnus often finds himself more unemployed. You can say that he works for one month, but he would be unemployed for other three or four months. His status is a stipend-based laborer but his earnings is not more than semi-unemployed who is paid only when there are concrete, available things to do. If he is lucky, he could gain average income of Rp150,000 (USD16.27) a month. But it has been for some years of no work orders fetching him. What he gets often only suffices for buying rice and corn. In one day in fact they spend at least Rp7,000 for buying rice and corn. They could only rarely consume vegetables, which is a luxury they may consume only if there is some more money remaining.

Apart from lacking of steady work income, Magnus family does not own any plot of land. He only tills a small piece of land, not more than one-fourth hectares, owned by a relative while taking a share. Latest years he could no longer till the land for the many natural calamities hitting the areas like drought, typhoon, flood. In 2006 he could only take 70 kilos of corn and some sweet potatoes, the only crops that have mercy on him. And that small yield does not suffice the needs of his family.

He still has another chore to feed a pig owned by another relative with a share. In this case he is quite different from other families in Sikka district as he feeds the pig to afford his children schooling. In fact in Sikka most people have pigs for customary purposes. He knows that he needs to focus his days and nights to suffice the children’s needs of food and schooling, but he fails yet to materialize what he envisages.

Perhaps there is an uncommon clue that arises from their education background. Magnus and his wife actually have a higher upbringing as compared to other people in the surroundings. Both finished their high schools but it seems higher education does not make any difference for them, particularly from the threat of hunger for their children. Since she is high school graduate, Margaretha knows many things about nutrients and health requirements. She is also diligent to frequent the sessions held by the community health post to have a look to the development of his baby’s weight and to get health services like immunizations. She has personally milked all of her children. Since the beginning of their marriage the couple agreed to follow the family plan program but they failed to have one child be born long enough after the other. She has changed three times of the contraception methods but none is suitable for her. So far it is only herself who decides to use contraception. But now after the fourth child, the husband takes initiative that Margaretha uses spiral method of contraception.

Now if you look into the other child’s parent, they may be said to have worse education background. The parents of baby named Romanus Oscar have only passed elementary school level yet the minimum education seems not to stop them from well nurturing their child. Oscar’s mother, Martina, has quite good knowledge about nutrient and children health although she admits of not understanding about the use of why should milk her child until the child reaches age of 24 months. Until he reaches five years told, Romanus still goes to the community children health post. Martina is also quite concerned about the nutrient of his son’s feeding. When she knows that Romanus does not like eating vegetables, she tries to find other ways with providing him with his preferred soup. Even then when time is difficult to earn a living, though only sweet potatoes that she could provide, she keeps trying to include vegetables while feeding him. This young woman is clear in focusing on her child’s minimum nutrient. More than that, she also emphasizes the routine of the child feeding with three times of meals everyday added by some vegetables. As a result, Romanus has never had any malnourishment problem.

If you compare him with the other family’s children mentioned above, everyday the children are fed with only cooked rice no other menu with it. No vegetables, no side dish like meat, fish, or whatever. The main menu consisting of carbohydrate substance is already hard for them to get. During time of scarcity like then, children often eat only and only sweet potatoes. They admit that during difficult time the grandparents and other relatives from rural areas still support them with foods. From their origin village they still get some help to survive famine. They admit that the children are more sufficed the food if they stay along with the grandparent family in the village. There at least they could have porridge and vegetables and some dried fishes. Not like during their stay in the town, it is indeed difficult for them even to get “empty” rice porridge. Such difficult situations often push Margaretha and her children to leave the town and return to the village to find her parent, knowing that her husband’s income would not suffice their child’s feeding.

The above picture shows that although knowledge capacity of Magnus family may clearly suffice for them to survive from nutritious food lack, poverty definitely has taken away their ability to use such knowledge for survival. As compared to other families in the surroundings, Magnus family is sorted out as very poor, as the neighbors would put it. The local children health service cadre confirms us that they may be considered the poorest in the area. Magnus himself, humbly enough, also confirms such social label. Poverty has made his neighbors exclude him from participating in local festivities. He admits to have never been invited to neighborhood gatherings. During the festivities of first communion, one family may receive up to ten invitations. For Magnus family, it is much relieving to have no invitations at all. No invitation means no obligation to offer financial gifts to afford. Neighbors seem to understand that he would not have anything to offer knowing that even providing foods is difficult for his family. Such attitude apparently is rarely found in the East Nusa Tenggara province that has strong customary practices. Most of them find it embarrassing to be labeled as poor, because in fact they are likely to provide a lot of money to offer as gifts for burdensome social prestige of the tradition.**

Link to sky view of Maumere from wikimapia.

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