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

Saturday, August 01, 2015



Thank you for your interest in New Zealand’s support after the tsunami and the outstanding work that’s being done in Indonesia by GNS Science, and Noel’s book. 

It’s a tribute to the resilience and determination of the Indonesian people, and the Acehnese in particular.  These are also the qualities shown by the author (below) who has long been battling a serious illness.

Let’s start by going from the macro to the micro and our fridge in Wellington.  It’s probably like yours – a confetti shower of notes.  They include useful phone numbers, police, doctor, chemist and so on.

Also magnetised are reminders from the local council, the Earthquake Commission and other authorities on what to do in an emergency.

However the fridge in our kitchen in Malang in East Java has no such information; that’s not because police and the fire brigade don’t exist, but because they’re not trusted. 

An Indonesian proverb translates that if you go to the police to report the theft of a goat you’ll end up loosing a cow, meaning you’ll have to bribe to get action.

If you call an ambulance to get to hospital you’ll need a lot of money and even more patience.  It won’t be a speedy trip – expect to average less than 20 kilometres an hour.  There may be laws requiring motorists to give way to emergency vehicles but they are neither obeyed nor policed.

A helicopter evacuation, common in New Zealand?  The National Disaster Mitigation Agency has one to cover the whole archipelago of 17,000 odd islands.

In these circumstances people have to help themselves, just as our predecessors did before the state took over.  Some communities organise to provide support and aid known as gotong royong– in other places the residents are too transient.

The problem is that these groups are acting in isolation.  Their effectiveness, efficiency or existence depends on where you live and the energy of the volunteers.

Encountering these circumstances, people of goodwill in advanced nations like ours often want to get involved and push their government to help fund NGOs like this one in Central Java, which has been set up to support the stricken when disasters hit.

I’ve worked on a couple of Australian aid programs and believe they are not always the best way to assist.  In Malang a waste-treatment plant donated by the European community stands idle because no one has been trained to use the machine.

In another example delicate audiology equipment funded by a Rotary club to a hospital in East Java can’t be used because there’s no money to calibrate the apparatus.

A few years ago the NZ-Indonesia Association brought Dr Sari Timur the director of a Yogyakarta emergency service to Wellington to understand how we do things.  She saw the hospital base isolators, or quake breakers, something she’d never seen before.

We took her to the Police, the Health Department, Civil Defence and all the other organisations we depend upon.  She’s returned to Indonesia with a bag full of ideas.  She knows which ones will take root in that different environment.

We also learned from her that survival in an emergency doesn’t always need high-tech gear approved by Health and Safety.  Indonesians know how to improvise and Dr Sari passed on much useful knowledge.

Last year the Wellington Rehabilim Trust brought Bali paralympic athlete Nengah Widiasih to NZ to see facilities.  She visited organisations like Riding for the Disabled – something that apparently doesn’t exist in Indonesia.

She’s just won a silver medal in Kazakhstan; I like to think part of her success can be put down to being inspired by other disabled high achievers she met in this country.

GNS Science and other organisations have been involved in similar projects bringing professionals to NZ.

This is how I think we should be delivering aid, by helping key people come here and discover for themselves the way we operate so they can pick and chose what they import when they return.

In the audience tonight are Indonesian students who will be doing just that.  They’ve lived and studied here – many under NZ Government scholarships - and they know best what will and will not work in their homeland.

For our size we are a generous nation, but could do much more by adding more scholarships and freeing up our visa system.  There are work and holiday visas available to young Kiwis to spend time in Indonesia and vice versa.

Unfortunately the bureaucratic barriers are so great few have been able to participate.  It’s the same in Australia – and it’s a problem that needs fixing.

The NZ Indonesia Association continues to raise this issue with both countries because we believe that the most effective way of improving relationships is through ordinary people getting to know each other.

Official visits and big projects have their place – but nothing beats individual contacts and word of mouth. 

So when the students here go back to Jakarta, Surabaya or wherever, I hope they’ll tell their families and friends that Kiwis are decent and friendly folk who want to live in peace with their neighbours, and help when things go wrong.

We are not a NATO nation and the Indonesians here will understand the acronym – No Action, Talk Only.

This book by Noel and his colleagues is proof that we are people you can trust to do – not just debate - in times of crisis, wherever it happens.

(This speech was delivered at the launch of Aceh Revives by Dr Noel Trustrum at the Palmerston North Public Library on 21 July 2015. The book covers the recovery of Aceh following the Indian Ocean Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.)

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Mahesh Trellis said...
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