The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, November 30, 2009



Unique Opportunity in East Java

Magnificent two-storey, four-bedroom timber home, lovingly designed and built by owner in 1990 with additions in 1999. Imaginatively constructed on traditional East Javanese principles with hand-carved exposed teak beams, posts and screens. Always occupied and carefully maintained.

OTHER FEATURES: Solar HWS. Bathroom spa. Western toilet. Front section 7.8 X 7.4 metres. Linked back section 5.8 X 10.8 metres. Ceilings 4 metres high. External and major internal gebyok doorways and surrounds intricately carved – some sections more than 50 years old. Swiss staircase and major staircase to second floor. Walls of cedar planks, some lined. Two attached pendopo – can be separated. Marble floors. Terracotta tiled roof. Some windows stained glass. Gable windows upstairs.

NOTE: House is being sold for relocation elsewhere – in Indonesia or overseas; land is not included.

REASON FOR SELLING: Western owner moving abroad.

ASKING PRICE: $US 100,000, as is, where is. Owner can organise for dismantling, packing and transportation to buyer’s orders.

LOCATION: This large family home was formerly associated with a well-known cultural arts centre. It’s located outside the village of Tumpang, 20 kilometres east of Malang on the slopes of Mount Semeru, Java’s highest mountain. The house was built in stages and can be easily dismantled, then trucked to another location in Java or Bali – or put in containers and sent overseas.

VIEWING: By arrangement with owner:

FOR SALE SEPARATELY: Complete set of Javanese gamelan instruments in excellent condition, always stored undercover: $US 25,000

Large quantity of unused local timber including five-metre carved square house poles, planks and other building lumber in excellent condition. Price on application.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Visit Babel - a tower of communication


Harvesting rice on a lunar landscape Duncan Graham

Seen from above it looks as though Bangka has suffered a severe case of smallpox. High quality aerial photos are more like X rays, revealing ugly blotches, similar to cancers. Pallid grays instead of once lush greens.

For about 300 years Bangka, the island at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca has been pillaged and raped. The first offenders were the Dutch. Now its local and overseas companies and individuals hosing, hacking and dredging the land for tin.

There are hundreds of small ragged-edged ponds dotted across the island where miners have hunted for the silver-colored ore, then left the gouged land to be flooded. The landscape is lunar

“There are 30 tin smelters on the island,” said Santoso Prasetija, factory manager for the company Donna Kembara Jaya, “and that’s far too many. Maybe we’ll have to start producing palm oil.”

Maybe not. Two years ago a land dispute on the island resulted in palm oil crops being torched. Bangka is not wet and fertile like Java.

Prasetija and his workforce were standing round a furnace with no ore to process. The smelter’s capacity is 800 tonnes a month. It’s now producing only 200 tonnes.

There are many reasons. Easily accessible ore is getting harder to find. Deposits below ten meters are too costly to excavate. Prices are dropping, costs are rising.

Restrictions on mining and environmental concerns are other factors. Earlier this year the Indonesian government said it would cap production – then said that might not be necessary as demand was weak.

Like most primary producers, tin miners are price takers, not makers. The value of the metal – currently around Rp 150,000 (US $15) a kilogram - is set in London.

Last year the price reached US $25.

There are 1.3 million people in Bangka-Belitung, Indonesia’s youngest province created in 2000 from the two large islands off the east coast of Sumatra. The government estimates that at least 10,000 make their living in the industry, though this seems to be a low estimate.

Not all workers are employed by the big companies. Small-scale illegal mining has long been a problem and difficult to eradicate despite penalties for tin smuggling equal to those for drug trafficking. What happens when the tin runs out or becomes unviable is a serious question.

Indonesia is the second largest producer of tin in the world, second to China. There are believed to be reserves of 800,000 tonnes left on Bangka, but the issue is accessibility

“I’m optimistic about the future,” said the vice-governor Syamsuddin Basari. “We are serious about rehabilitation and planting millions of trees. Our goal is that three trees should be planted by everyone on the island. I even do it myself. It’s called Bangka Goes Green.

“We are trying to lift the quality of education in the province so students don’t have to go elsewhere, and we’re looking to tourism to create employment.” In an adjacent office a two-finger typist pecked out a memo on an ancient typewriter. Power outages are frequent.

The potential is certainly there. Fine beaches, uncrowded streets, reasonable roads and a pleasant capital in Pangkalpinang, a city of only 200,000.

Bangka is famous as the setting for Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Lord Jim, and infamous as the massacre site of 22 Australian nurses in 1942 by the Japanese.

Much work still needs to be done to understand the needs of the modern tourism industry. At the little airport, which cannot take international flights despite being within sniffing distance of Singapore and Malaysia, there’s a giant billboard promoting 2010 as the year to visit Bangka-Belitung.

Unfortunately the bureaucrats have folded the province’s name into Babel, which has some unfortunate connotations as all Old Testament readers know.

To charm visitors the sign features neither happy families frolicking on the beach, nor young couples stunned by the scenery, but five stern middle aged public servants. All are men and two in uniform.

They look more like a deportation squad than a welcome team. Malaysia, with its long-running and successful Truly Asia promotion has nothing to fear from the Visit Babel campaign.

Yet despite the enormous environmental damage Bangka could be a good destination for serious eco-tourism.

A consortium of smelter companies has set up a corporate social responsibilities program. This is doing some spectacular rehabilitation work, though on a small scale, in a project called Bangka Botanical Garden.

Heavy machinery has straightened the sides and flattened the floors of old mining pits and used these to plant crops. First attempts to grow rice were failures, said farm manager Jerry Japri, but the companies have persevered and the plants seem to be flourishing.

There are large stands of cattle feed growing in the pits and these are being harvested for 330 beef and dairy cows. The animal waste is used to build the poor soil fertility. The milk is pasteurised and given free to local schoolchildren to boost their health.

The ambition is to supply 20,000 kids, though many aren’t keen. Drinking fresh milk is not part of Indonesian culture.

“We are still experimenting to find what works and doesn’t,” said manager Japri. “This project has been running for three years and we’re not making money.

“We’re trying the meet the challenges of rebuilding the land and making it productive. Seeds from crops that thrive will be given to local farmers.

“We want to build cattle numbers to 1,000 head, but some of the Friesian dairy cows are suffering from the heat.” The first rains for five months fell when The Jakarta Post was visiting.

Plump white ducks paddled around the flower-bordered ponds where laborers once sweated in the roasting heat so the world could buy tins of food. Manicured avenues of trees offered welcome shade.

As a showcase of what can be done in mine site reclamation the Bangka Botanical Garden is a standout. But it’s only scratching the surface of a huge task and no one seems to know how long the companies will maintain support.

The government’s plan to have every person plant three trees may have to be revised to 300.


Can it be tin?

Despite the name, tin cans are basically made of steel.

The discovery in 1810 by British engineer Peter Durand that a thin coating of tin on the inside of an airtight steel can could preserve the contents created a revolution in food packaging.

Tin isn’t toxic and doesn’t corrode.

Lighter, recyclable aluminium cans are slowly taking over, but tin is still in demand for electronics where it is used in the solder that ensures good electrical connections.

Tin mixed with copper produces malleable bronze used in Indonesia to make handicrafts and gamelan gongs.

The Dutch moved thousands of Chinese laborers to Bangka to exploit the tin. Their descendants now form 12 per cent of the population – four times higher than in Java.

Race relations on Bangka are said to be so good that some Chinese businesspeople in Jakarta keep homes on Bangka as a safe refuge in case riots erupt again in the capital as they did in 1998.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 27 October 2009)

Dr Maria Widagdo


Maria Widagdo
Helping the handicapped help themselves Duncan Graham

When overseas donors meet the health care needs of Indonesians, does this free the government from its duty to provide for its citizens?

That’s one of the questions concerning Dr Maria Widagdo, director of the Yakkum Rehabilitation Center just outside Yogyakarta.

Another is whether the tiny input from the government – less than one per cent of the center’s running costs - indicates an indifference to the needs of the disabled and therefore a reflection on the national character.

“Of course I want the government to take more responsibility, but I’m not critical,” she said. “They do their best and there are many good people. They don’t have enough money in the social welfare budget.”

When reminded that there always seems to be enough money for politicians’ needs and comforts she sighed but refused to be drawn. No country is immune from hypocrisy and her job means she has to be diplomatic, flexible – and tough. A tricky trifecta.

Fortunately she’s well equipped to negotiate the labyrinth of Indonesian bureaucracy and the complex demands of aid agencies.

Although Yakkum is a faith-based organisation (the name is an acronym for a Christian foundation) it doesn’t proselytise and the overall impression is that it’s a secular show. If there are crucifixes and bleeding hearts around they’re well hidden. Most clients are Muslim and Dr Maria (a Catholic) brushed aside suggestions that there might be discrimination in the provision of services.

“We care for people in need,” she said. “Their religion is immaterial.”

Big donors attach conditions to their grants. Most want the outcome to be a return to the community (see sidebar). They don’t want Yakkum to become a sheltered workshop, so much rehabilitation work is done in the villages.

The overseas donors include NGOs and government agencies in Germany, the US, Holland, Australia and New Zealand

Yakkum’s prosthetics factory turns out limbs and adapts bicycles and motorbikes to give the disabled mobility. It also has a small factory employing 15 producing wooden toys and artwork. Some handicrafts are exported.

Donors that insist on including Bible readings or services as part of the deal are given the flick. “I want to show love, but not that way,” said Dr Maria.

If part of the deal is fiscal accountability, no worries. Dr Maria said administration costs take 15 per cent of the budget and potential donors can scrutinise an audit of the agency conducted by an independent Australian accountant.

“I’ve lived in Australia so I know how people overseas are aware of Indonesia’s reputation as a corrupt country, and that affects their attitudes to donations,” she said.

Yakkum was started in 1982 by an inspirational and driven New Zealander, Colin McLennan. On a visit to Yogya to take part in a Boy Scout jamboree he was distressed by the number of disabled and aimless kids he saw roaming the streets.

“The sight shocked him because he’d never seen anything like this in NZ,” said Dr Maria. “It really touched him and he became obsessed. He met another man of good heart, Pak Parjono, who was an amputee who’d been bitten by a snake.

“He became Yakkum’s first client and staff member. They made a formidable team and together they started collecting kids and helping in their rehabilitation, first as an outpost of Bethesda Hospital.

“Colin (who died in 2007 aged 73) went back to NZ and returned with money he’d raised and established a separate legal organization.” A wall plaque at Yakkum recognises his life. It reads: ‘A New Zealander who cared and made a difference’

From this small start Yakkum now has a major complex where they’ve helped about 9,000 people to build skills and live independently. Following the 2006 Yogya earthquake Yakkum was turned into an emergency center treating hundreds of wounded.

People suffering fractured limbs and spinal injuries filled every available space for about two months. At the time Dr Maria was running the clinic with other doctors and nurses.

The skills they developed are now being put to use in Padang following the September earthquake. A team from Yakkum has set up an emergency unit in the stricken city. It’s also running a center on the island of Nias where thousands were killed and injured in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and an earthquake in March 2005.

Dr Maria, 43, was born in Semarang in Central Java and graduated locally in medicine. She was the first person in her family to attend a university, pushed by her working-class parents who were determined their children should be well educated.

Later she followed her engineer husband Sugianto Pudjohartono to Australia when he won a scholarship for higher study. Bored at home she volunteered to assist at a hospital. Her dedication impressed and she was given a research grant.

Eventually she gained a doctorate in geriatric medicine – an accomplishment she plays down with a practised one-liner: “It’s not the degree that counts – it’s the quality of the person.”

“Fear of Christianisation is still a factor that makes some people reluctant to seek help,” she said. “The idea that the birth of a handicapped child is the result of a curse from God is still around, particularly in the villages.

“I’ve learned a lot in this job and particularly that culture is stronger than religion.

“People feel ashamed and try to hide their children. We want them to be able to take their place in the community working to provide for their families because work brings independence and dignity.

“I just don’t know how many handicapped people are out there and unable to use our facilities. You don’t see the polio victims that caught Colin’s eye years ago, but it’s clear that the majority miss out. Apart from accidents and injuries many suffer from cerebral palsy. ”

By the standards of other Indonesian medical facilities Yakkum is reasonably well equipped. It has spacious grounds and a purpose-built factory, workshops and substantial living quarters, all developed on a block of vacant ground.

“Overseas volunteers are welcome, but ideally these should be established professionals in areas like Information technology, physiotherapy and administration,” she said.

“They need to be self-starters because it takes energy to maintain learners. We want people with good hearts – but not missionaries. Finding the right work for disabled people and matching their skills with employers’ needs is a difficult but necessary task.

“There’s a 12-year old Indonesian law that states companies must employ handicapped people - at least one per cent of their workforce. That’s not happening everywhere, so changing community attitudes is a great challenge.”


Mobile man

You can’t miss Suwuandi, 37, as he whips his bright red Yamaha motorcycle down the highway and not just because it has a sidecar.

He turns heads because he is small and his disfigured legs and feet are hooked around the bike’s splash shield. The sidecar is used to carry his crutches or passengers.

Suwuandi was born disfigured and spent 15 years at Yakkum before his ambition to be independent could be realised.

He adapted his motorbike himself and now works outside Yakkum making women’s accessories like handbags and belts. He is married to Erna Ekawati, 26, who is not disabled.

“I don’t want people to look down on me or discriminate,” he said. “Most don’t. I can now go most places unaided, including the mosque. I’m no different to anyone else – I just want to work and care for my family.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 October 2009)