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

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Self-inflicted wounds      

 13th World Day Against the Death Penalty: Drug Crimes                                           

Indonesia has been rightly promoting its many positives.

It’s the third largest democracy with Asia’s freest media; it’s the globe’s most moderate Muslim nation and ASEAN’s economic powerhouse.

The biggest archipelago is a resource-rich environment open for business and tourism.  It’s inviting the world and her husband to pack their bags, jump a Garuda and head for Wonderful Indonesia.  As the ads say - ‘know it, love it’.

 What’s not to like?

Only a cruel and illogical approach to the drug problem by maintaining the death penalty – with authorities checking carbines and cable ties for the next round anytime soon.

Indonesia’s stubborn refusal to discard this primitive and ineffective practice – now being proposed for rape - is corroding all the splendid qualities which make the 17,000 plus islands and their multi-ethnic peoples a delight.

Why does the government allow twisted thinking to dash down all the exciting images it has been building over the years? Why continue to drive on the wrong side of history when most have switched to the other lane?

 Only 37 nations still have judicial murder on their statutes and exercise the law.

Apart from Indonesia the key culprits are China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia plus several rogue states.  Does an otherwise progressive and reformed Indonesia happily stand in this company of brutes?

A further 50 countries still have the law though haven’t used it for the past decade. Six retain it only for mass killings.

Like the Dutch beheader’s sword now hanging idle in Jakarta’s Kota Tua, the gallows, stakes, electric chairs and chopping blocks from 102 nations now rust and rot in museums - examples of how their ignorant forebears behaved before they elevated  human rights above all else.

Every day President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo faces a mountain of compelling issues, including repairing the nation’s infrastructure, boosting the economy, calming inter-faith tensions and eradicating poverty.

Despite the workload he’s found time to back the death penalty, arguing that it’s necessary to curb drug trafficking.  So far 14 peddlers of illegal addictives have been executed under his 18 month watch.

During the ten-year rule of his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, only one of the 19 victims had been condemned for drug trafficking.  The others were murderers.

Last year’s clutch included men from the Philippines, France, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia and two Australians who had reformed during their decade in detention.

The killings led to widespread condemnation. Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands withdrew their ambassadors.  This is the diplomatic equivalent of publicly walking out of your neighbor’s house because you find their behavior repellent.
Inside Indonesia, Komnas HAM (the National Commission on Human Rights) wants capital punishment abolished.  So do ten other NGOs that have written to Luhut Panjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Police, Law and Security Affairs asking for ‘a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty’.
Last month President Jokowi told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that shooting traffickers was necessary because up to 50 citizens died every day from drug abuse.
The figures come from a 2008 study by Universitas Indonesia and Badan Narkotika Nasional (BNN – the National Narcotics Agency).  Academic researchers have labelled the findings ‘ambiguous’, inaccurate’ and ‘over simplistic’. 
Even if the statistics are accurate, an annual total of 18,250 deaths is about four per cent of the World Health Organization’s estimate of smoking-related fatalities.
Using the President’s logic then Philip Morris, the largest trafficker of addictive substances in Indonesia, should be tied to a stake and shot to shreds.  As the British businessman died in 1873, directors of the American company could be executed instead.
Indonesia will win the World Cup before this happens, even though it’s the logical extension to the President’s reasoning. Apart from an international outcry it would cause a stampede of investors.  The economy would collapse, as it did when Soekarno nationalised Western businesses in 1958.
President Jokowi has also argued that ‘shock therapy’ will curb the drug menace.  Curiously the threat of death, even a painful and prolonged sentence through metastatic lung cancer doesn’t change behavior. So why should a quick 5.56 mm bullet dishearten?
Every time one of Indonesia’s 60 million nicotine addicts pulls out a fag they’re confronted by a fume-wreathed skull and the slogan Merokok Membunuhmu (Smoking Kills You).  Yet still they smoke.
Drug traffickers are indisputably evil. Traders in jail are daily reminders of tough penalties. The facts show the present policy is not a deterrent but a distraction.
The collateral damage caused is extreme. 
Those gleefully announcing the killings to come don’t do the foul deeds themselves. They’re distant from the macabre prison rituals.  They don’t see the ripped flesh, hear the death rattles before dawn, smell the vomit, sweat the nightmare.
They don’t pass their remaining lives forever recalling they’ve helped slaughter defenceless beings in cold blood, the worst thing anyone can do to another human.
All involved in the vile process are corrupted. So is the reputation of a fine nation, crippled by a flawed ideology that has no place in a moral universe.
 (First published in The Jakarta Post 26 May 2016)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Hearing The First Smile 

Gunungan  courtesy of John Casey


More than 40 years ago a group of Indonesian characters quit their homeland for ever. They didn’t travel lightly. On their 7,600 kilometer journey south they carried something rare and precious – the indigenous culture of Cirebon.

Why did they flee?  Perhaps they were escaping a society little interested in their presence, threatening even. Had they stayed in the north coast port, soulless brutes might have attacked during a wave of religious intolerance.

For not all wanted to maintain the celebrities’ ancient and impressive lineage, claiming supporters were idolatrous and should be purged. The tomb of Sunan Gunungjati, one of the 15th century Walisongo (nine saints), is in the West Java city and reportedly threatened by extremists following the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi sect.

The travellers’ back story is threadbare. Before moving they probably lived in the 16th century Keraton Kasepuhan (Sultan’s palace),

Maybe they were asylum seekers sent by their guardians to a haven where the locals had a reputation for tolerance, though knowing little about the newcomers’ culture.  Would they be accepted or pushed aside and ignored?

Today we happily report that all fears proved groundless. According to their custodian Jennifer Shennan (left)  the Indonesians settled well and are often seen in public where they charm and mystify.

Her late husband Dr Allan Thomas was the rescuer.  He paid several sacks of rice to secure their freedom, packing them in stout timber boxes for their long flight.

When the lids were lifted the migrants, guarded by the plump sage Semar, emerged to the delight of the welcoming onlookers.  And so The First Smile Gamelan and accompanying puppets began their new life in New Zealand.

The ten-piece collection of instruments includes a rare gambang kayu a wooden xylophone using teak slats.  Most ensembles have only brass metallophones. 

“They won’t be going back,” said Shennan, a dance teacher and musician in Wellington. “We thought about it after Allan died in 2010. 

“But as the Indonesian Ambassador Jose Tavares says, the collection has been here so long it’s now a New Zealand gamelan.

“Before being offered to Allan they hadn’t been played for 50 years – perhaps longer because of religious prohibitions on wayang kulit performances. The instruments are certainly antique – maybe 400 years.

“Others have warned that if the gongs went back the brass might be cut up and melted down.”

That won’t happen in NZ where the instruments and puppets live in The Long Hall on a splendid clifftop overlooking Wellington harbor. Till recently they were used regularly for concerts but need repairs.  These will be funded by the Indonesian Embassy.

Ethnomusicologist Thomas encountered the gamelan in the 1970s while studying in Java.  At the time he wrote:

‘Gamelan music is a curious mixture of the obvious and the intricate.  It is a simple sound effect and rich sophisticated literature at the same time. The exhilaration of gamelan for a Westerner is in the simple fact of it being alive – not castrated for a concert’.

Shennan said her late husband often spoke of music going beyond business and politics, helping people from different cultures get to know and understand each other better through feeling.

“When we perform in NZ audiences are magnetized,” she said. “Even people who know nothing about Indonesia don’t just look and leave.  They get drawn in by the magic, and because they can wander around and see both sides of the screen.

“There’s nothing precious about the tradition.  I’ve never heard anyone say outsiders shouldn’t be involved.  On the contrary, Indonesians want to share.”

Picture courtesy John Casey

The collection of 140 puppets includes some weird figures, like the utterly vile Ketepeng Reges (left) , evil spirits which try to break the concentration of meditators, and Badjul Sengara, a giant with the face of a crocodile.

Then there’s Dewi Rekatawati, who looks like something between a mermaid and a grub.  She’s a wife of Bima, one of the five Pandava brothers who fought their cousins the Kauravas in the ancient Mahabharata classic.

Her son Gatotkaca has magical powers to fly.  His headdress loops forward and is attached to the cap, a signature mark of the Cirebon puppets.  Marking pauses in the theater are the showstopping gunungan the mountain-shaped symbols also known as the Tree of Life.

Earlier this year Dhalang (puppet master) Joko Susilo of Otago University curated an exhibition of the puppets in a near Wellington regional gallery called Shadow Play to showcase Indonesian art and music.

He said the wayang purwa (original puppets) were created to stage the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, along with old Javanese tales and satires, and celebrations of local events like weddings and anniversaries.

In its new world the gamelan doesn’t always perform traditional works.  Thomas and his friend, the late Jack Body from the NZ School of Music, were also composers, Visual artist Gerard Crewdson, (below) who plays the kenong (a high-pitch cradled gong), has written Cantor’s Infinity.

This is based on the calculations of 19th century German academic Georg Cantor who developed set theory in mathematical logic. Less complex is the farewell song Now is the Hour which has been adapted for the gamelan.

The players are multitalented and include Tai Cha teachers, a computer programmer and librarians. 

Because of its age and fragility The First Smile is usually heard in the Long Hall.   Most outside performances are now conducted on a more modern set donated by the late Ibu Tien Soeharto, wife of Indonesia’s second president.

It’s called Gamelan Padhang Moncar.  It’s led by artistic director Budi S Putra and its players include some musicians from The First Smile.

“Padhang is brightness or daylight in Javanese, while Moncar means growing or developing vigorously,” said manager Dr Megan Collins. “We are the first gamelan in the world to see the new day. (The International Date Line running down the 180 degree longitude passes alongside NZ).

“It can also be interpreted as harmony and growth reflecting the aspirations of the group, so we’re planning to play in Java and Bali next year”

First published in The Jakarta Post 25 May 2016)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


­­­­­­­­­­Diplomacy sashays down the catwalk                                  

Yuku Moko comes across as an infectiously affable guy, a Falstaff of fashion.
The cut-and-sew industry the rotund Sulawesian inhabits tends to attract extremes – the reserved craftsperson that prefers to let her or his work speak for itself – and the flamboyant entrepreneur whose personality is marketed as part of the product.
Moko is in the latter class – but there’s one way to get him riled:  Suggest he’s a designer.
“I’m an artist,” he emphasised. “I draw and paint.  Others do the cutting and stitching and modelling. Listen to me, please: If you call me a designer I will get a red-colored face.”
Instead he got rounds of applause for his collection of mainly evening and casual wear “dedicated to peace and friendship between the people of New Zealand and Indonesia.”
The Indonesian Government’s NZ Embassy recently staged its Extravaganza fashion show in Wellington.  It featured seven leading creators, who, with the one exception, were happy to call themselves designers,

The two-hour invitation-only occasion attracted more than 100 and included half the diplomatic corps stationed in the capital “This is the first event of its kind in NZ promoting the richness and diversity of Indonesian design,” said Ambassador Jose Tavares, who was born in East Timor famous for its unique woven arts.
“We are showcasing the versatility of Indonesians, modern fashion trends in the archipelago and our provincial textiles.
“These include songket (patterned hand woven materials with gold and silver threads), ikat (woven dyed yarns) and, of course, batik and introducing them to the NZ fashion scene.”
Added MC Joannes E Tandjung, who has been studying for a doctorate at the Sydney Law School on the legal protection of batik:  “These are more than just clothes.  They symbolise the beauty of our great nation.  Fashion is an effective tool of diplomacy.”   
Apart from Moko the designers were veteran Rudy Chandra who specialises in evening wear and Carla Setja Atmadja who started in the fashion business with silver jewellery made in Bali.
Nita Seno Adji trained as a lawyer but moved into developing hand embroidered dresses; his work featured wayang (shadow puppet) figures and butterflies.

Defrico Audy’s offering included designs inspired by the culture and fabrics of South Sulawesi which he described as “glamorous, edgy, eclectic and sometimes ethnic.”
Handy Hartono used batik to effect in cotton clothes for women and men: “The basic concept is comfort and simplicity.”
Sikie Purnomo studied fashion design in Melbourne, followed by courses in Hong Kong and Milan before starting his own labels in 2003.  He’s now producing Muslim clothes and exporting to the Middle East.
Most of the designs were liberating.  Absent were the cocoon styles which wrap Indonesian women into shapeless bundles like rolled carpets, crimping their movements.
Most mannequins in Extravaganza were willowy Caucasian Kiwis who towered over the designers.  This created a curious effect.  The sombre tones of many materials stood out against the women’s white skins.  The contrast highlighted the clothes in a way seldom seen when worn by Southeast Asians.
The models also showed the outfits with flair and energy, particularly when parading the second half of Moko’s 20-piece assemblage. Bra-less they bounced around the room on the Wellington waterfront as though the extraordinary designs worn with √©lan were everyday wear, something tossed on because it was first in the wardrobe. 
This suited Wellington, a multicultural city and film industry hub where dress freedom rules and street talk includes Maori, Hindi, South Pacific languages and more increasingly Chinese. The styles and colors also matched the season, as summer yields to fall, or what Kiwis call autumn.
“You don’t normally associate trench coats with Indonesia,” said Tandjung while introducing the show.  “But this is the Southern Hemisphere and windy Wellington”.

Moko, 64, (right) originally known as Mohamed Yauri Yusuf Helmi Abdul Auf Mokodompis is from Makassar. The youngest of ten, his father was a musician and his mother made her own kebaya (tight Javanese blouses).
 He didn’t start out in the rag trade where every colleague is a darling, but in the profession of dour suits and wary decisions hedged by caveats.  For more than 20 years he was a banker, which is as distant from glamor as denim is from silk.
 “I was naughty,” he said.  “I probably worked only two days a week.  It was so frustrating, because my heart was elsewhere, but I needed the security and money.
“After my parents died and my marriage collapsed I retired and went to Japan for six months.  I’d always been an artist and got involved in advertising and interior design. I had a breakthrough when Ibu Tien (wife of the late President Soeharto) bought a cushion I’d made.
“Banking taught me to be careful with money. Despite this I’m probably not a good businessman because I sometimes tell buyers that the clothes they want are unsuitable.
“My market is the elite and each piece is individual. There’s no danger a woman will go to a function and find someone else wearing the same dress.”
He produces about 20 “art products” a month which sell for around Rp 10 – 12 million (US $770 – 915).  He’s closed his shop and spends much time on promotions overseas and at events in shopping malls.
He refuses to be pinned down to any region: “My inspiration comes from Sabang to Merauke. There are so many clever artists, so much potential in Indonesia. But there’s still a way to go, a lack of confidence.
“The concept of malu (shame, and not being different) needs to be used in moderation. There’s too much materialism, a focus on quantity not quality.
“My philosophy is to stay humble, work hard and be kind. Train your mind to see good in everything.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 11 May 2016)

Saturday, May 07, 2016


Fifty Shades of Godzone Green    


Something has been underway in New Zealand that would be impossible in Indonesia. 

Imagine [you probably can’t] suggesting the red and white should be replaced because the bicolor is bland and too similar to Singapore’s. 

Some Kiwis reckoned their flag had passed its wave-by date and it’s time to hoist another.  Cheerleader for this idea has been Prime Minister John Key.

The traditional flag includes the Union Jack implying the nation is still a teenage British colony.  They also whinge [complain] that the Southern Cross constellation looks like a first draft version of Australia’s ensign. 

After a NZ$26 million [Rp 240 billion] search for alternative and a referendum, Kiwis voted 57-43 per cent to stay with the old design. 

Any country still seeking a symbol for its identity without resorting to violence must be laid back. Which makes it the ideal holiday destination for Indonesians seeking cal and a break from the Republic’s intense political culture and crowded streets. My Indonesian wife calls NZ the Sleeping Beauty.

Although a self-governing nation since 1907 Godzone [God’s own country] is still a work in progress.

It was the first to give women the vote and introduce pensions for all. It became a nuclear free zone banning US warships much to the world power’s fury, and more recently legalised same-sex marriages.

Conservatives were distressed, but the deeply religious are now in a minority.  That shouldn’t upset Indonesians considering a visit; faith is a personal issue and tolerance levels high.  Discrimination is illegal.

The first settlers planted churches before crops and set out to create a just and fair society with a cradle-to-grave health and social welfare system.

Their offspring, having entered a land of milk and honey now seek fresh spiritual succor. You’ll find beautiful old churches though largely empty. The new buildings are temples and mosques to meet the needs of migrants.

Issues that in other lands push snarling citizens into the streets to burn tyres and shake fists are rare – unless the All Blacks lose. Rugby is the national religion and the NZ team world champions – not bad for a country of only 4.5 million but 30 million sheep. 

Aotearoa, the alternative name for NZ, translates as Land of the Long White Cloud.  That’s what you’ll see if the weather’s right as your Boeing glides across what droll locals call ‘The Ditch’, the 1,500 kilometer Tasman Sea that separates NZ from Australia.

The first Polynesian navigators who magically steered their giant canoes through uncharted waters, made landfall about 1,000 years ago.

They settled in the last habitable empty land on earth, found fearless flightless birds like the kiwi and giant moa, now extinct. They became the Maori and now form 15 per cent of the population. Their culture and language has become part of everyday life for all.

Although later arrivals known as Pakeha came from Britain [hence the Union Jack] NZ is multicultural with 213 separate ethnic groups.   About 5,000 Indonesians live in the country. 

Be prepared to be confused with the better known Filipinos who account for almost ten per cent of the nation’s half million Asians.  A quarter of the country’s population was born overseas.

Indonesia and NZ, though physically distant, are shaky isles sharing places on the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Homesick visitors hankering for familiar sights will enjoy the topography of towering volcanoes and lush valleys, full of mystery and 50 shades of green.  Ferns are widespread, and like the kiwi another national symbol.

Indonesians’ hunger for anything with rice will be satisfied in the cities and bigger towns where Asian restaurants abound.  Elsewhere it’s best to develop a taste for meat pies and tomato sauce, and ‘filled rolls’, long buns stuffed with meats and salads.

To really know the locals try farmstays or bed-and-breakfasts [called B and Bs]. Decoding the vowels can be tricky.  The evening news is telecast at sex o’clock; people quaff melk and eat fesh end cheps.

The less convivial should consider renting a self-contained motorhome with its own kitchen, shower and toilet.   If DIY [Do It Yourself, not Yogya’s special region] doesn’t appeal, hotels and motels are easy to find.

Tourism challenges dairy farming as the biggest player in the economy so the country knows how to cater for visitors.  In any town head first to the I-Site.

Funded by local councils, I-Sites promote their district and provide free and factual information.  After touring North and South Islands several times we’ve yet to discover a dud.

Fancy an industrial strength vacation to expand the kids’ interests beyond Facebook?  Factories making chocolate, beer, aluminium and other useful goods allow visits.

Keen on culture?  Museums and art galleries abound.  Stop at Napier, the world’s best-preserved Art Deco city rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake.  Christchurch badly damaged in 2010 and 2011 shakes is still being reassembled.

Thrill seeker?  Bungy jumping over deep gorges was pioneered in NZ.  So was the jet boat, which can dash down shallow rivers that would rip apart conventional craft.

Life’s a beach.  The islands, bigger than Java but smaller than Sumatra, are long and narrow so the coast is always close.  Mountains form Aotearoa’s spine and are spectacular everywhere, particularly in Fiordland in the southwest.

Department of Conservation [DOC] offices in cities and close to the 14 national parks covering 30,000 square kilometers, offer advice on where to go, what to do and how to stay safe.  Like Ireland, NZ has no snakes; the only large dangerous animals are sea lions.

No chance of getting pecked by a penguin scurrying to its burrow at nightfall in several urban locations.  However beware the curious kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.  They rip off car aerials and windscreen wipers just to see how they work. 

Watch the weather. Start a high-country hike on a day the pious enjoy in paradise and end in the hell of a blinding blizzard where landmarks vanish in a world of white. Wear the right gear and carry a phone with GPS plus a distress beacon. 

Every year a few careless and unlucky adventurers tumble into crevasses, disappear under rockfalls or get swept away by ice slips from melting glaciers.  Fortunately emergency rescue services are on standby; read warning signs and buy an insurance policy as medical care can be expensive.

DOC also runs campgrounds.  Those with minimal facilities are free, the others charge between NZ$5 and NZ$20 [Rp 183,000] a vehicle for an overnight stay.

Buy a fishing license to try for trout in lakes and streams.  If you weep over Indonesia’s beautiful waterways polluted by plastic trash, then NZ will show you how the amazing archipelago looked when citizens and governments cared for the environment.

Drop garbage outside an approved bin and risk a NZ $400 spot fine. The islands aren’t heavily policed like China, but littering is so unacceptable bystanders sometimes dob in [report] offenders.

Road-kill possums are not indigenous.  Imported from Australia in the 19th century they found native birds’ eggs a dietary delight.  They gorged and multiplied exponentially.

Now a major poisoning program is underway and serious attempts made to help wildlife recover.  Conservationists will be happy to explain their methods and happier still if the alien mammals become extinct. 

When did you last see a Javanese hawk eagle in its natural habitat?  In NZ patrolling hawks will watch your wanderings, and Kiwis love you for enjoying their lovely land.

World headquarters of the verb                             

Wellington is wordsville.

Streets and parks in the New Zealand capital are named after pioneers and poets not military men.

All nations celebrate their warriors, but few commemorate the intellectual feats of their creative artists.  Which includes filmmakers.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy and other big budget movies have been made here, giving the place its moniker Wellywood.

Katherine Mansfield, the most internationally recognized of NZ’s writers, initially found her hometown boring; as a teenager she fled to London and lived as a bisexual bohemian.  She died of tuberculosis in 1923 aged 35.

Like Indonesia’s heroine Kartini who lived at the same time and died young, Mansfield was a pioneer of women’s rights.

Following the Writers’ Walk is an essential exercise to feel the pulse of one of the world’s most liveable and compact cities.  Wander where the prose is never pedestrian and where the words of the nation’s creative artists are set in stone and timber.

The city lies 41.29 degrees south - it’s the world’s windiest; the Roaring Forties get funnelled through Cook Strait that separates the North and South islands.

The geography guarantees the weather will be fickle. Four seasons a day, joke the locals. Poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell wrote:

Blue rain from a clear sky.
Our world a cube of sunlight –
but to the south
the violet admonition of thunder.

NZ is the first nation in the world to wake. When it’s almost midnight in Jakarta it’s dawn in Wellington – tomorrow. Its place in the South Pacific with the Antarctic as southern neighbor inspired poet Bill Manhire to locate himself – I live at the edge of the universe / like everyone else.

Maori relationships with the Europeans started well but turned bad.  The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 after 24 years of skirmish and sometimes open warfare.

Despite the vast differences in culture and values, language and lifestyle, inter-marriage was common.  Many Maori speedily adapted to the new reality, among them novelist Patricia Grace:

I love this city, the hills, the harbor, the wind that blasts through it.  I love the life and pulse of activity, and the warm decrepitude … there’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance.

Only the sturdy and determined migrants stayed, making Wellington prosper by applying the Scottish Presbyterian principles of faith and education, determination and hard work.

Teacher Lauris Edmond once described her writing as ‘a confrontation with experience’ as her poem The Active Voice shows well:

It’s true you can’t live here by chance,
you have to do and be, not simply watch
or even describe.  This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.

What to expect

Indonesians need a visa to visit NZ. 

Plan to spend at least a month to properly explore the country – two weeks in each island.  Currency rates are tidal, so check before departure,

Snow bunnies should head for the South Island in July, and Queenstown in particular.  There are also ski fields on the active Mount Ruapehu volcano and Mount Taranaki in the North Island.

A car ferry links the two islands and takes three and a half hours to cross Cook Strait through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. 

Summer starts in December and lasts three months. Temperatures tend to be below 30 degrees.  Daylight saving means the sun doesn’t set till after 9 pm, later further south where there are chances to see the spectacular aurora australis night show.

Fall [autumn] can be spectacular, as the leaves of deciduous trees turn golden.

If your nirvana is air-conditioned malls, NZ may disappoint.  For the attractions are under the sun and stars, the wild is accessible and the air so pure you know it’s only been filtered by trees.

(First published in J-Plus - The Jakarta Post 7 May 2016)


Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Disabled rights remain elusive 

Access to public buildings and services is supposed to be available to all.
But try climbing the steps into a bank, mall or government office if you use crutches or a wheelchair in Indonesia.
Not a problem in New Zealand as rights advocate Endang Haryani discovered during a two-week tour of facilities for the impaired.  It’s illegal to deny access to public buildings and transport in the South Pacific nation which claims to be a world leader in care for the disabled.
However ideas and technologies which work well in one culture don’t always migrate successfully.
“A common sight is the handicapped and elderly using four-wheel electric scooters,” Haryani said. “They drive into malls and offices while seated on their little machines; they have access to busses, trains and special toilets.
“I’d love to see that happening in Indonesia, ensuring independence. We could make similar scooters – but our roads and pavements are notoriously crowded and potholed and traffic ill disciplined.  There are few safe spaces.
“There are parking bays exclusively for handicapped drivers in NZ.  Heavy fines are imposed on misusers. I don’t think this could happen in Indonesia.”
Haryani is the director of Yayasan Pembinaan Anak Cacat (YPAC- Foundation for the Care of Handicapped Children) in Malang, East Java. 
There are 17 YPACs across Indonesia, originally established during the 1950s polio epidemic.  Now the crippling disease has been almost defeated by the Salk vaccine, the YPACs care for children with all handicaps, physical and intellectual.
“Apart from access problems attitudes also need to change,” Haryani said. “The disabled have rights and need to be accepted and treated equally.
“The idea that a handicapped child is a curse for sins committed by parents persists. Children can be locked away, hidden from neighbors.  The kids don’t get schooling or the care they need. Those with autism get labelled naughty.
“At YPAC Malang we send staff into the community to try and dispel these myths and get families involved in rehabilitation.
“Early intervention can be effective.  For example children with cleft palates and other disfigurements can have corrective surgery while still babies.  Some hearing impairments can be reduced with speedy action.”
The air fares for Haryani’s fact-finding trip were paid by Jose Tavares, the Indonesian Ambassador to NZ; she was hosted by the Rehabilim Trust.
This is a secular non-government group of volunteers set up three decades ago to help the handicapped in Indonesia.  It was established after the late Colin McLennan, a Scout leader attending a meeting in Yogyakarta, was shocked to see crippled beggars.
He raised money in NZ, formed a partnership with an Indonesian doctor and created the Yakkum Foundation.  Now funded by major sponsors in Indonesia, Europe and the US, Yakkum has expanded and has branches elsewhere, including Bali.
Three years ago Rehabilim Trust chairman Bill Russell visited Malang to seek new seeding opportunities; he was surprised by a plaque on YPAC’s kitchen wall acknowledging NZ Embassy support more than 20 years earlier.
Since then the Embassy’s Jakarta staff had changed several times and no-one knew of the donation.  Former Ambassador David Taylor came for a look, was impressed and found more money to improve facilities.
The Rehabilim Trust followed with backing for a batik making business using designs imitating the splash and drip painting techniques pioneered by the late American artist Jackson Pollock. Two Indonesian banks have ordered the batiks for staff uniforms.
YPAC Malang is a secular organisation with around 130 students.  Most live at home and visit daily for therapy and schooling.  Some orphans stay on the premises.

Haryani was trained as an agricultural engineer and became a successful businesswoman.  She got involved with YPAC as a part-time volunteer “because I wanted to give something back to the community for the many blessings received by my family”. 
Later she was appointed to the Board of doctors and community leaders.  Her reforming zeal and ability to encourage business to donate through Corporate Social Responsibility programs led to her election as director till 2018.  This is an unpaid position.
“The way Kiwis look at the disabled is significantly different,” Haryani said.  “The welfare system provides a minimum payment of NZ$262 (Rp 2.3 million) a week for the sick and injured who can’t work.
“The Accident Compensation Corporation is a universal no-fault accident injury scheme providing free medical care and rehabilitation support.  This often includes modifying cars so a person with lower limb damage can continue to drive using hand controls – and recover their independence.
“There are community art workshops where the handicapped develop their skills in pottery, painting and crafts.  This is an idea I think could transfer to Indonesia. These facilities are in town centers and available to the able-bodied.
“This means the disabled are not separated from the rest of society.  They mix with everyone else so are not seen as being different.  This is important.
“The slogan in NZ is ‘see the person, not the problem’.  There are reports that President Joko Widodo expressed surprise last year when he heard handicapped people sing during a ceremony to mark International Disabilities Day.
“Why should this be unusual?  A person who can’t use their limbs can still use their brains and other faculties.
“British cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking has motor neurone disease, yet wrote his best-seller A Brief History of Time from his wheelchair using technology which transferred his facial movements into words.
 “Unfortunately our outdated laws still consider the handicapped to be incapable. Modern thinking is that they should and can contribute to society.  Our job is to ensure they can reach their full potential as citizens with dignity.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 4 May 2016)