Last year was officially the deadliest year in over a decade in Indonesia and the country has had a lot to mull over coming into 2019. Normally keeping itself out of the headlines, this year has seen the archipelago unable to keep out of the news for a whole number of tragedies. Tsunamis, earthquakes, and more human-created tragedies like the church bombing, plane crash, and young girl sentenced for aborting her foetus after being sexually assaulted by her brother, there hasn’t seemingly been much to celebrate this year.
Yet before spiralling into despondency and grief at the situation (both in Indonesia and generally around the world), now, more than ever, we need to hear about some of the good news and glimmers of hope and humanity that can be found. Here is a list of six positive stories that have come out of Indonesia to re-balance the news a little.
Indonesian people are the most generous in the world
According to the Charities Aid Foundation 2018 report, Indonesians are the most giving people in the world – up from number two last year. To calculate generosity, the report took into account the percentage of people who gave money to charity alongside time spent volunteering and helping strangers out.
It highlighted that on the whole, giving both time and money is actually on the rise across the globe with both developing and developed nations giving more than they have since 2016 which saw disappointingly low levels of generosity – a year which also saw Trump take office and the Brexit referendum taking place. The biggest jump in all three of the areas studied this year was in helping strangers, an act which requires spontaneity and a level of trust and compassion on both sides, something that is much needed in this current age of mistrust, alienation and fear in politics.
The Disaster Response by Communities around Indonesia
If there is one thing you can guarantee in the days after a natural disaster in Indonesia, it is the sight of people with buckets at the side of every traffic light collecting for victims of the event. Living in Yogyakarta, Java, you couldn’t feel the tremors of the earthquake or the fear in Palu, but you could feel the waves of generosity as friends collected old clothes and shoes to be delivered in trucks, people posted collection points and charity donation links on Instagram, and university students tirelessly stood at traffic lights and cross junctions with guitars and buckets performing to raise rupiah for the disasters.
Despite the seemingly constant events happening last year, the energy never dwindled. Unnoticed by UK media last January, tropical cyclone Cempaka tore through coastal towns and villages across central Java, ripping away bridges and homes in its path. Thus began this year’s charitable drive with every religious institution, village wives’ community, and motorbike taxi driver raising money to send to the affected communities. This was soon followed by the Lombok earthquake, the Palu earthquake, and so it continues. Over twelve months later, the students are still out there smiling with their guitars and buckets, the drivers are still handing notes through the windows.
Evoware – Creating biodegradable plastic out of seaweed
As an island nation, Indonesia knows first-hand the threat plastic poses to life both on land and sea. Whilst plastic consumption infiltrates each area of life, with a culture of small sachets for products such as shampoo and washing liquid, as well as a penchant for individually bagging items in the supermarket, there is a growing movement to raise awareness and stop this epidemic. Leading the way in Indonesia is Evoware, a Jakartan based company which creates a biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging and bags from seaweed.
Their aims are twofold, to help Indonesia reduce its dependency on plastic, whilst at the same time helping smallscale seaweed farmers make a profit by removing the middleman and creating a larger market for seaweed, a product often in surplus. Evoware has been steadily growing since 2006 but it is this year that a real sense of plastic awareness has taken hold of Indonesia, with other grassroots movements like #imnotplastic and Bali-based brand Avani also making an impact across chains and coffee shops. It’s nice to see Indonesian industries taking the lead in plastic alternatives in a very Indonesian way.
It’s Wijilan – A community hip-hop project in Jogjakarta
At a time where communities all around the world are feeling the fractures of ‘fake news’ and growing polarity, it is heartwarming to see in the centre of Yogyakarta a community of hip-hop artists coming together with local children for lyric writing and mixing workshops.
Hell House, a production house and hip hop community found in the palace area of Yogyakarta began in 2017 and has developed into one of Indonesia’s best-known music communities. Often using elements of traditional Javanese music and topical, often political lyrics, they are a community who are very proud of their home.
Because of Java’s close-knit communities and the emphasis on working together, Hell House created the project It’s Wijilan, a workshop for local children to learn the basics of mixing and lyric writing, with a number of girls involved in the project. At the end of the program, a stage was put up in the street and locals came together to watch the hard work of the children. A film has been put together about the project, and you can watch the advert below with subtitles.
Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Susi gives goggles to children by the sea
If you haven’t heard of Susi Pudjiastuti you should. She is Indonesia’s most memorable politician and her unique tactics have proven popular with voters and the fishing community she so strives to look after. A tattooed, smoking, high school drop-out, Susi is everything normal Indonesian politicians aren’t. Described as ‘crazy’ (in a good way) by president Joko Widodo, Susi has become something of a pop culture figure and in 2017 made the BBC’s Top 100 Women list.
Fondly referred to as Susi, Indonesia’s Minister of Fishing first made the headlines when she began her policy of sinking illegal fishing ships in Indonesian waters. She would warn those on the boats of what she was about to do, allow them to escape the vessel on a rubber dingy, then use explosives to sink the ship, thus deterring anyone who may stray into their territories. Since then she has modified her tactics a little, forcing illegal fishers to leave the boat and then giving the ships to Indonesian fishing communities, but her latest strategies have also proved popular too.
Susi, often out at sea on her paddle-board, has been shocked by the degradation of the coastline and oceans through plastic pollution and damaging coastal practices like underwater bombing and the use of cyanide to catch fish. In tourist hotspots, damage to the coral is inevitable with a lack of education from both tourists and locals about how to treat the sensitive ecosystem.
As with most critical ecosystems, pressure is mounted on local communities to take responsibility for their habitat and, seeing the injustice of this, she wanted to make sure local communities could also benefit from the beauty of their landscapes.
“They don’t know how beautiful and good it is underwater. We always say to them, ‘Hey guys, you have to take care of the oceans, you have to take care of the reef, you have to take care of everything that is so beautiful under the water’. They just open their eyes without understanding why we talk like that. They swim every day, but they don’t see anything, because they don’t have the [equipment] to see it clearly and easily.”
Whilst some could argue this adds more needless plastic to the ecosystem, honouring local communities and their ability to enjoy their home in the way tourists normally do highlights exactly why Susi is popular. Her commitment to both Indonesia’s community and the environment is a breath of fresh air in the political landscape.
In the remote region of NTT (Nusa Tenggara Timor) lies the region of Mollo. An area often left behind in Indonesia’s path to development, the community has until recently relied on subsistence farming and transmigration for survival. In 2016 a group of young people from Mollo, headed by Dicky Senda, decided to reignite the cultural and artistic heart of Mollo by starting Lakoat Kujawas, a social enterprise focusing on literacy, art, and local produce to help inspire both the young and the old in the community. The name comes from two fruits found on the island, Lakoat, an indigenous fruit, and Kujawas, guava.
Senda, whose interest began with literature, started a small library for the local community, believing that writing comes for those who can first read. Since then, Lakoat Kujawas runs after-school clubs, organises local produce to be sold across Indonesia via their instagram, residencies for artists and teachers, and has published a book of fairy tales and fables from the island.
What makes Lakoat Kujawas special is its emphasis on local pride. Speaking at a seminar held by CRCS, UGM, Dicky explained how in recent years, local traditions such as weaving, finding particular herbs and spices, and the relationship with local languages and the landscape were either in decline, or just not considered noteworthy. With young people having to move to other islands to find work, or those living very simple lives in the region, Senda realised the importance of local pride and knowledge so far or near, Mollo people have a strong sense of belonging.
Since the program began, traditional weaving practises have started up again and local stories, recipes and philosophy has been documented, sandalwood trees have been planted where they were lost during the colonial period, and art and literature classes are becoming more and more popular with the village’s children. Lakoat Kujawas is now in conversation with villages around the region to start up their own community projects.
The world at the moment is bleak, but with darkness comes bursts of people driven change. People who take the Trumps, the disasters, the rising hate speech, and environmental challenges and try to actually make a difference. These voices need more airing so we can all take some inspiration and, if not start something ourselves, at least know where we can get involved.