An honest message from Yogyakarta
Jakarta Post, 6th June 2006
B. Herry-Priyono, Jakarta
I have received numerous messages in recent days from friends doing relief work in Yogyakarta and surrounding areas. Some berate the sluggishness of the relief effort, but most of them express disgust, and rightly so, for the many Jakarta-based cabals who have unscrupulously turned the disaster into a stage for their publicity efforts. These are not only officials and politicians, but also the heads of non-governmental organizations and corporate managers.
On May 30, for instance, I received a message from a certain business manager: "Hi, it's me. I look for some groups doing relief work to whom I could give donation in cash, but it is my company that gets the publicity."
This is just one of many similar requests that heartlessly ignored the agony of victims. Why on earth has this sort of attitude become so widespread? In the aftermath of the Aceh tsunami, this same attitude was rampant. What kind of society is this?
For the sake of sanity, this sort of idiocy must be stopped. The message is clear: Help the victims as generously as you can, and make sure that your donations reach the real victims. Otherwise, and this is for the publicity hounds, shut up! This message has been strongly expressed by friends who are working day and night to make sure all of the victims are attended to.
They, for instance, are outraged by a high-ranking official who recently flew to Yogyakarta, bringing with him around 40 journalists to cover a press conference he gave. People in Yogyakarta quickly began calling him kadal, a derogatory Javanese term for "sucker".
What is outrageous is that these cabals also underestimate the intelligence of the Yogyakarta people. This is a blatant mistake. The rich human resources of Yogyakarta simply cannot be underrated. And beware, they are making a list of all the people in these cabals, and do not be surprised if this list is soon in wide circulation. If you are one of those people they consider to be a publicity grabber, you may find your name on it. You may have started with a thirst for publicity cloaked in philanthropy, but could end up being an outcast.
Of course, relief operations work on consequentialist logic; that is, what really counts is whether your donation reaches the people intended, regardless of your motives. But consider this: Would you donate if there was no publicity? Yogyakarta is blessed with many intelligent people, and they know how to turn your thirst for publicity against you. Treat them with respect, and the only way to do that is to focus on the challenges ahead.
First, stop all the publicity grabbing and stick to what can be offered to help the victims, without any spotlight. Any support for those affected by the earthquake is invaluable, from baby milk to medical supplies, from underwear to tents, from motorbikes to blankets.
Unrealized pledges are useless, for an unrealized pledge is a mask that eats the pledger's face. This, of course, happened blatantly in the aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh. Beware, the intelligent people of Yogyakarta will turn your unrealized pledges into weapons against you in the future.
Second, while the people's economy is temporarily in disarray, the temptation is to envision the reconstruction operation by treating the people of Yogyakarta as ignorant victims. The people of Yogyakarta, not outsiders, must be given leadership roles. Those unfamiliar with the local way of thinking can better support them from behind. This is crucial for several reasons.
Third, one of these reasons is that reconstruction involves many aspects of the victims' lives. After their houses are physically rebuilt comes the tedious process of revitalizing the economic, cultural, social, legal and political lives. Here lies the real test of reconstruction, for these aspects can only be done simultaneously in a gradual manner, and in real terms they are closely interconnected.
The best way to do this is through community development, in which economic, cultural, social, legal and political revitalization is embedded in the real lives of the community members. Let the rich human resources of Yogyakarta and its surroundings take the lead in this process.
Fourth, the simultaneity of economic, cultural, social and political reconstruction led by local personnel is crucial. Some friends now working in Aceh have learned the mistakes. It is common to find that overseas donors have abundant financial resources to help reconstruction in Aceh, and have nothing but good will. They employ their own officers in the field.
But community development is a long process. Capital formation by way of credit unions, for instance, is one step to rebuild the entrepreneurial capacity of community members, and it involves simultaneously cultural, social and political education. There is no economy separated from culture, as much as there is no politics separated from social life.
Very often officers from overseas donors have no patience. It is not unusual then that they simply give away funds to each family, in one case Rp 80 million, in another Rp 75 million, and still in another case Rp 100 million. What happens to community development? It collapses. Cultural, political and social reconstruction fails, and the economic-cum-entrepreneurial education fails miserably.
Of course, the need for community development in the reconstruction process in Yogyakarta and its surroundings should not be turned into a xenophobic attitude, and it should be done in a non-sectarian manner. Yet it is clear that reconstruction through local community development is the key to recovery.
Let local community leaders take a leadership role. This is also a way to keep donated money circulating for local people, rather than being sucked back by the donors in the form of obscene salaries for their officials.
Yesterday my parents, who live in Yogyakarta, told me on the phone that looters had attempted to take advantage of the situation in several areas hit by the disaster. But villagers chased them away, if violently sometimes.
It is through such village-based community development that reconstruction should be started. In the meantime, many friends from Yogyakarta ask publicity grabbers from Jakarta to seek the spotlight in some other way.
The writer is a lecturer in the graduate program at Driyarkara School of Philosophy, Jakarta.