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

Tuesday, December 06, 2011



Indonesia could do with a Bill Gates.

Not to sell computer software but to expand the international immunisation programs his philanthropic foundation funds to include rubella.

Though eliminated in some countries, in Indonesia rubella (also known as German measles) is a highly contagious disease that can cause serious damage to children if mothers are infected during pregnancy.

“I’m told that 90 per cent of the deafness encountered at Surabaya’s Karya Mulia Deaf School is preventable through immunisation,” said Australian Trisha Henderson. “But the cost - US $50 (Rp 450,000) per dose is beyond the reach of poor families.”

So Ms Henderson and her colleagues on the Patricia O’Sullivan Humanitarian Project face the unhappy reality of being the first-aid team after the fight rather than the peacemakers before the punch-up. The AUD $100,000 (Rp 900 million) that her foundation spent last year to help deaf children in East Java could have been used to vaccinate only 2,000 girls.

With more than four million Indonesian children born every year the gesture would probably do more harm than good through arousing resentment from those who miss out.

Instead the money, which was given by the Western Australian government has been spent on rainproofing the Karya Mulia buildings.

It’s a pity the acronym for Ms Henderson’s foundation is POSH, hinting of lunchalot ladies with hedonistic intent. Instead it consists of educators, audiologists, speech therapists and other medicos on a serious mission.

Ms Henderson isn’t a doctor or teacher. She’s a journalist and like many in that profession knows how to hustle and who to hector. In 2000 she successfully lobbied WA Premier Colin Barnett to recognise the 20th anniversary of the Sister-State agreement with East Java by paying for the Karya Mulia repairs.

She thought carefully before taking on the leadership of POSH when her mother, Patricia O’Sullivan collapsed with a stroke five years ago.

This happened when she was in Jakarta, fortunately accompanied by her daughter. Mrs O’Sullivan was repatriated to Perth but has not fully recovered.

Ms Henderson had her own public relations business and also works as a copy editor. She’d been an observer rather than participant in her mother’s charitable work with disadvantaged and disabled children.

“I know every project needs a leader and that taking on Mum’s job of being president of POSH would be a huge commitment in terms of finance and time,” said Ms Henderson.

“I had 20 years of my mother’s files to read just to get a linear understanding of the foundation. As a non-medical person I wasn’t sure what to do. But I’m a strategist and I felt it would be wrong to let the project go – too much had been done.

“I also wanted to maintain the humanitarian work of my parents who’ve had a long involvement with Indonesia, and to honor my mother’s life of selfless giving.” (This was recognized in 1997 with an Order of Australia Medal.)

Ms Henderson’s late father, Dan O’Sullivan, was the editor in chief of West Australian Newspapers, a company that assisted with the start of The Jakarta Post in 1983. He also helped set up the Sister-State Agreement in 1990.

During his many trips to the archipelago he was often accompanied by his wife, an early childhood educator. While in Surabaya during the late 1980s she asked to see a school and was taken to Karya Mulia. The name means ‘noble endeavor’.

Here she met the school’s founder Sri Rahajeng, wife of Professor Mohammed Haryono Sudigdimarto, an obstetrician and academic who started Bina Anaprasa (the development of village pre-schools) based on a system seen in Japan.

The impressive couple’s concerns and interests matched those of Mrs O’Sullivan. POSH was born in 1990 as a non-profit organisation and a partnership formed. This saw Karya Mulia boosted through donations of equipment and the establishment of training programs, many funded by Rotary clubs.

Ms Henderson has just returned to Perth after leading a team from POSH to Surabaya to see how best to continue the foundation’s activities. The group included Dr Helen Goulios, the clinical coordinator of audiology at the University of WA. She has been assessing the needs of East Java children with disabilities and checking available services.

“The Indonesian government estimates there are probably 650,000 disabled children in the Republic, but the number is probably higher because many parents keep their handicapped infants out of sight,” she said.

“Only 20 per cent of the 250 children at Karya Mulia have hearing aids and many parents can’t even afford the cost of batteries.

“If deafness is picked during the ‘golden period’ (before babies are six months old) they have a greater chance of living in a normal environment. Indonesian children have a right to early detection, intervention and follow-up.

“We plan to bring 17 Indonesian teachers to Perth next year and a couple of doctors to train as audiologists because there aren’t any in East Java. There’s only one speech therapy and audiology clinic, and it’s private.”

East Java Social Services will pay accommodation costs for Indonesians who go to Perth for training.

POSH is working with East Java’s Tim Pengembangan dan Manajemen Anak Berkebutuhan Khusus (Development and Management Team for Children with Special Needs). They are building childhood development centers in Sidoarjo, Gresik and Surabaya where parents can take their kids to be checked by Australian-trained teacher therapists.

“It’s all about developing self sufficiency,” said Ms Henderson. The long-term aim is to build a speech therapy and audiology school in Indonesia.

“We’re looking at Karya Mulia running a printing business. These have been very successful in WA where they’re supported by government departments that send them work.

“My mother came from a poor family and always felt for poor children. She knew that big differences can be made by doing many small things. She talks about ‘lighthouse projects’, beacons of best practise showing the way for others to follow.

“Indonesia is now where Australia used to be in caring for deaf children. I’m no bleeding heart – I inherited a project.

“But in WA we are blessed – we can afford to be generous. It’s our humanitarian responsibility to offer our expertise and support those who want to improve services.

“If I could wind-up POSH in ten years because we’ve achieved our goals then I’d be a happy woman.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 December 2011)

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