Making new laws work
is not ashamed of his wounds so is happy in T-shirts. Yet when he met Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo after the 2014 election to seek a better deal for the handicapped, the Balinese wore a full-sleeve batik shirt.
Questioned why - because the sight of his scars might have shown the new president that he was dealing with an advocate with raw knowledge – Latra responded: “Because I felt that I am not disabled.”
But that was the label attached when a kerosene lamp exploded during a religious festival in 1986 showering the teenager with flaming fuel.
The burns to his arms fused them to his torso. For the next two years he lived in isolation, convinced the accident was punishment for real or imagined sins. His family and friends urged him to follow nrimo, the Javanese philosophy of acceptance. Gone was his dream of a military career.
Rescue from his misery came when he was discovered by field workers and persuaded by the late New Zealand health-care activist Colin McLennan to travel to Yogyakarta for plastic surgery. Latra met others who’d abandoned self pity to lead productive lives. Their attitudes helped launch a career as a carer.
Now he’s director of Puspadi Bali, probably the best equipped rehabilitation center in the nation, dispensing free prosthetics made in-house and supplying new donated wheelchairs.
In the past five years Puspadi has helped more than 4,500 people in Bali and islands to the east; in 2016 it distributed almost 600 mobility devices.
Puspadi costs Rp 5 billion (US $ 380,000) a year to run. It’s largely funded by the Inspirasia Foundation founded by Englishman Mark Weingard. The investor and broker made giga greenbacks around the turn of the century catering for what he now calls ‘wanker bankers.’
When his fiancée Annika Linden was killed in the 2002 Bali nightclub terrorist bomb blast Weingard turned from dealer to donor seeking ‘the biggest compliment – that we have been an inspiration’
The purpose-built Bali center named after his late bride-to-be includes three other NGOs running clinics for stroke victims and kids with cerebral palsy.
Latra’s call on the President paid off because last year Indonesian legislators passed a law based on the UN Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities; this recognizes ‘the equal rights of all members of the human family, including access to employment.’
Indisputable. Now comes the tricky part: How can the handicapped exercise these equalities? Or more bluntly – who pays for thousands of ramps to replace steps, keep sidewalks clear, install elevators and hire inspectors to stop businesses discriminating?
“I know of only three universities in Indonesia where the disabled can access classes without confronting tower block stairs and doorways too narrow to admit a wheelchair,” Latra said.
“It’s the same with government offices, banks, schools and other public buildings. And what about getting on and off busses and trains? There has to be total change in society if the new law is to be effective.”
Putu Warsita Putra who coordinates Puspadi’s wheelchair program knows the equipment extends individual mobility and freedom - though only if society allows.
“People use electric scooters overseas but it’s impossible here,” he said. “Even when a road is well maintained, which is rare, the traffic doesn’t respect wheelchairs.”
The reception area of the Annika Linden Centre looks more like the lobby of a five-star boutique hotel with original art and fine pictures.
Photographer and center volunteer Luciana Ferrero (left) said the surrounds intimidated some village people who come for treatment but they soon adapt. “Children are the agents of change,” she said. “They like the place and adults follow.”
Latra stressed the handicapped have rights to enjoy a serene ambience and professional care. Low windows allow relatives to see the treatments being offered and watch prosthetics being made.
“We don’t provide accommodation,” he said. “It’s best if the handicapped live in the community and come here for assistance - our staff spread the word. Last year we had 652 new clients.” (See breakout)
The costs, all covered by Puspadi, range from Rp 500,000 (US$ 40) a limb up to several million for more sophisticated models embedded with computer chips; these can adjust balance and lock the knee.
“Most donations come from abroad, mainly the US, Australia and NZ,” said Latra. “We would appreciate a visit by the President to raise local awareness and address the needs of ten per cent of the population.
“I got to see him in Jakarta, but getting him here would be difficult and costly. Overseas I’ve seen the handicapped working in hotels and government offices serving the public. People accept that as normal.
“I think it will take about 40 years to get this country to fully accept that whatever their condition every Indonesian has rights equal to all other citizens. The change has to start at the top – and at the bottom.”
Having a leg to stand on
Gede Agus Aman, 25, is a presentable and cheerful fellow who goes into remote areas to tell villagers that they can get free care for disabled family members at Puspadi.
Not all are convinced. Verbal sprays about the benefits of treatment in Denpasar have little effect in the mountains. What would Aman know of pain? He’s fit and bouncy, one of the lucky uncursed.
So he invites doubters to whack his shin with any lump of wood. Eventually someone gives it a go. “Harder,” says Aman. He doesn’t wince.
Then he rolls up his trouser to show a prosthetic and a livid stump, the result of a road space contest between motorbike and truck. The bigger vehicle won and smashed his limb.
“You can argue all you like about the need for treatment, hand out brochures, supply statistics and show videos,” said Latra. “But there’s nothing so effective as people telling their stories and explaining how they’ve got back into life.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 September 2017)