Category: People

No sacrifice too small: Indonesian kids use savings to buy four sacrificial cows

A little goes a long way for a group of children from Bogor, a city in West Java about an hour’s drive from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

The children, led by 15-year-old Abu Bakar Sidik, have been saving 10,000 rupiahs every day since August last year to collect a total of 100 million rupiahs ($6,700) – enough to buy four cows from a local cattle breeder ahead of this year’s annual qurbani ritual.

Besides Sidik, the group includes 23 children from Kampung Ardio, a neighborhood in the middle of the city, some of whom have participated in the initiative before.

It all began last year when Sidik and six other children raised 21.7 million rupiahs to buy their first cow.

“This year we bought four cows as we had more friends and acquaintances who chipped in after we bought one cow last year,” Sidik, who is the youngest of seven siblings, said.

He said they started to save the money toward the end of 2018. The initial motivation was to have enough to buy new clothes and go sightseeing during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday in 2019.

But a month into the initiative, Sidik says he asked his friends if they would agree to use the savings to buy a sacrificial animal instead.

“There were 13 of us at the start, but some kids backed out along the way, with only seven left in the group,” he said.

Some of the children, such as 11-year-old Fauzan, gets 15 thousand rupiahs from his parents every day, while Zalfa, 12, gets 20 thousand rupiahs.

“My friends agreed to the change of plan. My motivation is just to be able to share with others this qurbani meat, since it is also part of a Muslim’s religious observance. We also asked our parents’ permission first when we started to save, and they supported us,” said Sidik, who collects the money from the rest of the group every day.

He added that he learned about the significance of the sacrifice ritual during religious classes at school, which are part of the Indonesian school curriculum, and from his Qur’an recital lessons.

The festival marks the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, also known as the Hajj, and is also referred to as the Lebaran Haji (the Pilgrims’ Celebration Day) across Indonesia and Malaysia.

The ritual revolves around an all-inclusive principle of giving, wherein the sacrificed meat is distributed among relatives, friends, the poor and needy, with a part kept for use by the family.

Last year, Fauzan’s mother “kept the money for them.” This year, Sidik’s 38-year-old sister Ida Farida put their money in a bank.

“I was a bit concerned about having to take care of the kids’ savings but, since Fauzan’s mother said she couldn’t handle it again, I had to do it,” Farida said, adding that she was unaware of her little brother’s initiative last year until their story went viral and was picked up by national media.

“I was surprised and proud at the same time. He’s just a kid, but he has this mature thinking to buy a qurbani animal and to share (the sacrificed meat) with others.”

Sidik, for his part, said he and his friends would continue with their initiative, especially since their efforts have garnered more support with at least five more friends expressing an interest in joining the group for the ritual next year.

Yoghi Oktapiansyah, a general assistant at Bintang Tani Madani, the cattle breeder in Bogor where Sidik and his friends bought their cows, said they had no idea that the children would buy one of their cows when they visited the farm for the first time last year.

Oktapiansyah said the farm assistants thought they just wanted to “hang around and play at the barn looking at the cows just like other kids.”

“They were with an adult, their Quran recital teacher, who accompanied them. But it was the kids who looked at the cows and chose their own cow,” said Oktapiansyah.

He said they knew that Sidik and his friends would continue their initiative this year and would buy the cow from the farm again, as Sidik had been working part-time since last year as a reseller for the farm’s dairy products.

“Iki (Sidik’s nickname) never took his money from what he earned selling our dairy products as he deposited the money with us to buy this year’s cow. But we were really surprised when the kids came here and said they wanted to buy four cows,” Oktapiansyah said, adding that the farm would handle the cows’ slaughtering process before the meat is distributed to Kampung Ardio’s residents.

The story was first published in Arab News

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help remote villages fight virus

A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, said that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he said.

Relawan Merah Putih handed over their assistance to village officials in Duma village of North Maluku regency during a campaign to spread awareness of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he said.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.

This story was first published in Arab News

Living with the dead: Indonesia’s Torajans downsize burials amid pandemic

She had been dead for two years and was ready to be buried. After restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were imposed in March, however, villagers in the La’bo village of the North Toraja regency in Sulawesi Island had no choice but to suspend the ceremony at the last minute.

On Saturday, they were finally able to hold a proper burial for the deceased village elder in a toned-down version of the elaborate, centuries-old ceremony known as Rambu Solo. The ceremony is central to the lives of the Toraja ethnic group, who are predominantly Christian but hold some animistic belief.

The Torajas inhabit two administrative areas — the North Toraja and Tana Toraja regencies — in the South Sulawesi province.

For Torajans, the deceased are not dead yet; they are seen, rather, as sick. Family members still talk to them, bringing food and drinks and keeping essential items nearby. The mummified corpse remains unburied in the family’s tongkonan, or a Toraja traditional house, while years of preparations for the burial ceremony is underway. It is a large family affair which would last for up to a week in pre-COVID-19 times, involving the entire village and requires the sacrifice of dozens of buffaloes.

“We condensed the ceremony to only two days. We also conducted the burial in compliance with health protocols by providing a hand washing station at the entrance. All mourners who came in had to wear face masks,” Yohannes Limbong, a family representative said.

The family was supposed to hold the ceremony on March 25, but it was suspended after the regency administration issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, advising citizens to hold off on any events involving large gatherings of people such as the Rambu Solo.

A relative mourns on the deceased’s coffin. (Photo: Lisa Saba Palloan)

As of Saturday, the regency has not reported any COVID-19 deaths, but there were four confirmed cases, all of whom were travelers from virus-infected areas, including the provincial capital, Makassar, about 317 kilometers away. 

The province has had 3,635 confirmed cases so far or about 8 percent of the 45,029 national caseloads. North Toraja, which has a population of 230,000, has lifted some restrictions in recent weeks after the region was considered an area where the risk of infections is low, allowing for religious events. Participants are nevertheless required to observe health protocols.

“There were less than 100 mourners who attended the ceremony. Normally, it would be double that amount or more,” Lisa Saba Palloan, a local tourist guide, said.

Romba Marannu Sombolinggi, chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago Toraya chapter, said that families who conducted the burials recently had to compromise between the obligation to perform a respectable send-off and compliance with social restrictions.

“A complete ceremony could take at least five days,” she said.

“But we are obeying government regulations. There are some disappointments, but we understand the situation. We do not want people to be infected because we insist on having the long ceremony.”

A few people had died who were under treatment but who had tested negative for COVID-19. They had to be buried in accordance with health protocols as soon as possible, which meant that the surviving family members could not keep the deceased embalmed in their houses as they would traditionally do.

“The families still performed the most essential rituals, including sacrificing at least a pig or a buffalo before the burial,” Sombolinggi said.

Sombolinggi said that buffaloes are sacrificed to mark the symbolic passage to death since they would serve as the deceased’s “carriage” in the afterlife.

“It is very much about the family’s dignity. They would otherwise experience social repercussions if they were not able to hold a presentable burial,” she added.

Read the full story in Arab News

Surviving as a refugee becomes more testing during pandemic

More than 200 refugees and asylum seekers sheltering in a rundown military command headquarters in Kalideres, West Jakarta, remain as isolated as ever.

This is despite the surrounding residential areas returning to life with the gradual lifting of the city’s coronavirus restrictions.

It is a very contrasting world divided only by the fence between those who have set up their temporary homes in small dome tents in the deserted compound and those living in the middle-class residential area.

The lives of the former remain in a state of indefinite uncertainty awaiting permanent resettlement to a third country. The pandemic has been making the situation worse as refugees have had to resort to their own means to isolate themselves and prevent the vulnerable group from contracting the disease.

“Nothing has changed for us. Our situation as a whole is really different than the outside world,” a refugee community spokesperson, Hassan Ramazan, said on Friday.

“We are still locking our doors and we don’t ease our restrictions. The situation around the camp is more crowded now but we are more careful than before.”

The community decided to isolate itself after hearing on the news that there were 20 people infected with the disease in the Kalideres area at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The main gate is locked, and we only open the small gate that we take turns to guard to prevent people coming in as we isolate ourselves because of the coronavirus,” Ramazan said during a visit to the camp in May.

Refugees have been living in the camp since July 2019. Initially, hundreds of refugees were taken to the temporary shelter, but the Jakarta city administration ordered them to leave the building by August 2019. Some have left while others stayed behind — 245 people from 28 families, 40 children, and single men such as Ramazan. There are also three septuagenarians and two people who are in the sixties. Most of them are Hazara people from Afghanistan, along with a few Iraqis. Four babies have been born during this time at the Kalideres camp.

Electricity and running water are scarce. Even the street lights outside, which provided some lighting to the parking lot, were turned off in the evening, Ramazan said.

“Our lives depend on donations to keep the water and electricity running and assistance comes in occasionally and irregularly. We could have water and food enough for certain days until the next donations come again,” he said.

There were days when donations came in the form of a prepaid electricity token, so the people could have electricity for a certain time. However when the token ran out, and until another was donated, they could be left with no electricity at all for days, Ramazan said.

International agencies had visited the camp informing the inhabitants about social distancing guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic and sprayed disinfectants in the building.

“But that’s it. They told us to wash our hands but they don’t provide us with water. They told us to stay home but where is home for us?” Ramazan said.

Read the full story in Arab News

Lautze Mosque: A symbol of Chinese-Muslim assimilation in Indonesia

The bright red, yellow and green temple-like exterior of the Lautze Mosque in Jakarta’s Chinatown could be mistaken for a Chinese home.

However, the distinctive structure of the mosque reaffirms its role as a good example of how Indonesians of Chinese descent blended in with their predominantly indigenous Muslim neighbors.

“Many mistook the mosque for a Chinese temple, so two years ago, we put up signs bearing the name of the mosque,” Imam Naga Kunadi said.

The three-story mosque is part of a row of buildings in a busy trading area along Lautze Street, after which the mosque is named, in Central Jakarta. Because of its location, the mosque only opens during the day.

“In Ramadan, we usually open every Saturday, starting at Asr time, because we have a specific type of congregation — many of the members live far from the mosque. We would provide iftar and hold taraweeh prayers. But we cannot do that this year as we have to close due to the large-scale social restrictions in this time of coronavirus,” Kunadi said.

Kunadi, whose Chinese name is Qiu Xue Long, said the mosque would still operate in a subdued manner for alms collection and distribution, or to assist those wishing to convert to Islam, and that mosque officials would act in compliance with social distancing measures.

The mosque was established in 1991 by the Haji Abdul Karim Oei Foundation, named after a Chinese-Indonesian Muslim nationalist, the late Abdul Karim Oei Tjeng Hien.
It aimed to facilitate the assimilation of the ethnic Chinese community and indigenous Muslims, especially in cases where ethnic Chinese people wished to embrace Islam.

“We understand the specific needs of Chinese mualaf (convert). We understand what they go through because we’ve experienced it before,” said Kunadi, who converted to Islam in 2002.

The original mosque occupied a shophouse and, a few years later was expanded after acquiring an adjacent building to accommodate 300 congregation members.

“The Chinese-style exterior is also to show that we still maintain our Chinese heritage even though we converted to Islam,” Kunadi said.

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Muslim faithful gathered for a mass taraweeh prayer in Ramadan 2019 in front of Lautze Mosque 2 in Bandung, West Java. Photo: Instagram @masjidlautze2

Muhammad Ali Karim Oei, son of Oei Sr., said the facade was designed to make the mosque more welcoming for ethnic Chinese people wishing to come inside and ask about Islam.

“They are free to ask anything and learn about Islam here, even some burning questions they may be reluctant to ask in other mosques. It is another reason we chose the name Lautze — a Chinese word for teacher,” Oei Jr. said.

The mosque has seen more than 1,000 Chinese-Indonesians embrace Islam. In addition to making an ethnic Chinese person part of the country’s Muslim majority, it also makes the person a double minority for being a Muslim minority in an already small ethnic group.

Its reputation as a nonjudgmental place for Chinese-Indonesians who want to study Islam, and for the new converts, as well as other Chinese Muslims to observe the faith, led to the establishment of Lautze Mosque 2 in Bandung, West Java in 1997.

“There was a need for a mosque that accommodates the growing number of Chinese-Indonesian Muslims in the city. They felt like there was still a gap when they pray in regular mosques. People would look at them differently, even though they are already part of the Muslim brethren,” Hernawan Mahfudz, an official from Lautze Mosque 2 Foundation told Arab News.

To make them feel more at home, congregation members are encouraged to address each other as “koko” and “cici,” the Chinese words for brother and sister.

Like its Jakarta predecessor, the mosque maintains the Chinese-style facade accentuated by a row of Chinese red lanterns. The ground floor serves as the prayer hall for 200 people while the upper floor serves as a shelter for the mualafs who might be experiencing hardship as a result of their conversion.

Despite the mosque closures, Mahfudz said they would still keep the Ramadan tradition alive even without the communal gatherings.

“We still provide iftar meals every day but instead of having them at the mosque, we distribute the meals directly to the beneficiaries. We also conduct group Qur’an recitations and sermons using videoconferencing applications,” he said.

This story was first published in Arab News

A crate idea: Indonesian architects reuse plastic boxes to build mosque

Under normal circumstances, the small mosque on the outskirts of Jakarta constructed from 1,208 used plastic bottle crates would have been abuzz with the sound of people praying and reciting the Quran during Ramadan.

It would be the first Ramadan since the 42-meter-square mosque was built in late 2019, following the establishment of Kebun Ide (Garden of Ideas) — a restaurant with a back-to-nature theme — which houses the facility.

The coronavirus pandemic might have prevented communal prayers, but the mosque’s plastic recycling design is still attracting attention.

“Since we have this prayer room, many residents around here have expressed interests to organize gatherings such as group Quran recitations there. But unfortunately, we cannot do that now as we have to close the restaurant due to social distancing rules,” Handoko Hendroyono, the owner of Kebun Ide, told Arab News.

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A worshipper prayed inside Kotakrat, a praying room that can accommodate nine worshippers and constructed of 1,208 reused plastic bottle crates built in late 2019 in Bintaro township on the southern outskirts of Jakarta. Photo: Instagram @psastudio

The pavilion, named Kotakrat, was initially constructed to be part of a local architectural exhibition in Bintaro township.

“The project concept was good because it reused discarded material, and there was a need for a praying room for our guests and employees, so I agreed to have the Kotakrat to be constructed in our space. Now we have a very good place to pray. Many visitors didn’t realize that it is actually a prayer room,” he added.

Designed and constructed by architect firm PSA Studio, Kotakrat is part of an architectural project to build a multi-purpose “space of kindness” to meet the community’s social needs.

“This space of kindness can be in the form of a kiosk, place of worship, shelter, bus stop, security post, and many other places. It is built from plastic crates that we can easily find and install to form a space for various architectural shapes and purposes. The crates can be arranged to function as a roof, a partition, and a wall,” Ario Wirastomo, a principal architect in the firm, told Arab News.

This construction used 1,208 used plastic bottle crates to form the prayer room’s walls and roof, and benches for the visitors to remove their shoes before entering.

It also provides water faucets for congregants to perform ablutions.

The architects used bolts to join the crates. They also used a polycarbonate roof supported by hollow metal frames.

The mosque has two separate entrances for men and women, although it does not separate men and women in the 8.64-meter-square praying space that can accommodate three rows of nine worshippers. The first row is for the imam, while the other two rows are for men and women respectively.

“As a prayer room is a public place that Muslims would look for to perform the five daily prayers everywhere they go, we expect the Kotakrat space would be durable and functional for a long time,” Wirastomo said.

Despite reusing discarded material, Wirastomo said he could not claim this project was environmentally friendly but he hoped people would be more aware of recycling waste.

Indonesia is one of the world’s top plastic waste producers with 5.05 million tonnes of plastic rubbish generated annually, out of which 81 percent is mismanaged and contributes 10 percent to the global total of mismanaged plastic waste. Our World In Data projected that Indonesia would contribute almost 11 percent of global mismanaged plastic waste by 2025.

The country’s chief maritime affairs and investment minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, recently said that Indonesia has come up with an action plan that aims to reduce 70 percent of its plastic pollution by 2025, hoping to be free of plastic waste by 2040.

This story was first published in Arab News

Indonesian Spider-Man makes neighbourhood friendly

When Rudi Hartono started picking up rubbish on beaches in and around his coastal community on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island more than two years ago, very few people paid attention to him.

But that changed when he began wearing a Spider-Man costume in 2018.

“Wearing the costume did the trick because it attracted people’s attention,” said Rudi, a 36-year-old cafe worker.

“Other people began joining and even the local government started doing their job of cleaning up.”

“More recently, my photos became viral and more people have joined,” he said.

Rudi said he bought the superhero costume to impress his young nephew but instead he scared the boy.

“So I decided to wear it while picking up rubbish on the beaches,” he said.

Rudi said he also removed graffiti scrawled by students on the local council building.

But he said despite the work he has done, some people are critical of his appearance.

“Some people mocked me and called me beer-bellied Spider-Man and an attention seeker,” he said. “But most people are on my side.”

About 20 per cent of plastic waste in Indonesia is believed to end up in rivers and coastal waters, according to the World Bank.

A World Bank report said every 20 minutes the equivalent of a 10-ton truckload of plastic is dumped into the waters around Indonesia, making the country the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China.

From social media to parliament: Young Indonesians enter politics

 The political views of Indonesian millennials used to be limited to social media posts, but now the youth are taking charge by seeking parliament seats in their country’s upcoming election.

Univesity student Tsamara Amany Alatas is a social media star who often voices critical views on issues ranging from gender equality to religious freedom.

Now the 22-year-old has thrown her hat into the political ring, vying for a seat in the national parliament in the legislative election scheduled for April 17.

Like any media-savvy politician running for office, she has visited slums and talked with locals about their aspirations and posed for photographs with babies.

“I believe politics can be a force for good when people who are elected are good,” the 22-year-old told dpa during a recent visit to a central Jakarta slum.

Tsamara is one of the young legislative candidates fielded by the newly-established Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which claims to be the bearer of progressive politics in a largely conservative nation.

The party,which backs incumbent President Joko Widodo, is led by 36-year-old former television newscaster Grace Natalie, a Christian of Chinese descent in mainly-Muslim Indonesia.

The party has an uphill battle, with polls indicating it is unlikely to win more than 1 per cent of the vote, which would be short of the 4 per cent threshold required by Indonesian electoral laws to get seats in parliament.  

Poll numbers, however, have not discouraged Tsamara, who has nearly 170,000 followers on Twitter.

“This party represents the values I’m fighting for and it’s where people with idealism are,” she said.

Lucius Karus, a researcher with the Indonesian People Forum for Parliament Monitoring, said that 21 per cent of candidates whose ages are known are categorized as millennials, meaning they were born after 1980.   

Nearly 8,000 candidates are competing for seats in the 560-member House of Representatives. 

Lucius said even though women account for 40 per cent of legislative candidates – exceeding a quota of 30 per cent set by electoral laws – it’s not likely they will be elected.

“Many young or female candidates are listed on the bottom on their parties’ lists on ballot papers, and candidates on top of the lists are usually well known and more likely to be elected,” he said.

Currently, about 20 per cent of national legislators are women.

British-educated engineer Faldo Maldini is another millennial running for a parliamentary seat.

The 28-year-old is a spokesman for opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto and is a deputy secretary general of the National Mandate Party.  

“I represent the young generation, but I talk to old and young people alike about their problems,” Faldo told dpa on the sidelines of a campaign stop in a village outside Jakarta.

“You can be famous on social media but if you don’t go to your constituents, they won’t vote for you,” said Faldo, whose Twitter account has more than 88,000 followers.

Sitting cross-legged on the front porch of a villager’s house in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta, Faldo appeared at ease talking to the elderly host, who complained about unpaved and potholed roads in front of his house.

“People here complain that despite many factories around here, jobs are going to people from outside, and prices of basic commodities are expensive,” he said.

“My focus is how I can help young people here get jobs,” he added. 

Faldo said he wants to prove that running for office does not have to be expensive.

“I’m not from a rich family and I just got married, so clearly I don’t have much money,” he said.

“I want everyone to have a level playing field so it’s not only people with money who can run for parliament,” he said.

Didi, a voter in Bogor, praised Faldo’s plan to promote entrepreneurship in his village.

“I make dolls and after he promoted my business on Instagram I received a lot of orders from different places,” he said.  

Ari Nurcahyo, executive director at local think tank Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate, said the fact that many young people aspire to be politicians is good for Indonesia’s future.

“They are technologically literate and highly educated. We need people like them to face the digital economy era,” he said.

“But they need a new political party that isn’t beholden to oligarchic interests and care about issues such as anti-corruption,” Ari said.

Ross Tapsell, an expert on Indonesian politics at the Australian National University (ANU), said only a small number of Indonesian millennials are middle-class and politically savvy.

A survey released last year by ANU found that fewer than 10 per cent of millennials living in Jakarta and the surrounding areas had a university degree.

“The usual depiction of a millennial is someone who is inner city, on Instagram, active about politics in social media,” Tapsell said.

“In fact that’s really only a small proportion of what a lot of people aged between 17 and 35 are actually doing in this election,” he said.

Staying on the Job Eases the Pain, Cancer-Stricken Indonesian Official Says

The information chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency was upbeat on Monday as he described the details of a personal disaster – his battle with an advanced lung cancer.

In a country where volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and forest fires are frequent, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho’s job is considered stressful enough even for a healthy person.

But Sutopo has insisted on carrying on with his day-to-day duties, fielding phone calls and text messages from reporters, as well as hammering out lengthy press releases – often from a hospital while undergoing chemotherapy.

“When I work I forget all the pain, even more so when my press conferences are attended by many journalists,” Sutopo told BenarNews during a visit to his spacious office in Central Jakarta.

His desk is stacked with paperwork and books with themes ranging from disaster management to religion.

“But when I don’t do anything, just sitting, I feel excruciating pain. I can hardly sleep at night,” said Sutopo, who has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in less than a year.

Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January, doctors said Sutopo, 49, could survive up to three years with treatment. The diagnosis shocked the man who has led a healthy lifestyle, including abstaining from smoking.

“The first thing in my mind was my two children,” he said.

“But I have come to terms with it. What I’m experiencing now has been ordained by God. I just have to live with it,” said Sutopo, a devout Muslim. “I hope that any good deed that I’m doing will be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Sutopo said the cancer had spread to the bones in his back. He has to undergo a regular procedure to remove fluid and blood from his lungs.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

On the job

The year 2018 has been an especially busy one for Sutopo, as earthquakes devastated parts of Lombok and Sulawesi islands between July and September, killing more than 3,500 people.

He has had to write press releases and update his social media feeds from his hospital bed.

“I have written about 500 press releases this year, so it’s more than one press release a day,” he said.

A network of local disaster agency officials and volunteers across the country have helped Sutopo by sending information on casualties, aid needs and photos and videos from disaster zones.

“Many of the 3,000 reporters on my list told me that the information I gave them was more than they expected. I try to give them as much information as possible, including videos and photos, so they don’t have to ask more questions,” he said.

Sutopo has an undergraduate degree in geography from Gadjah Mada University and a doctorate in environmental management from the Bogor Agricultural University, but had no background in communications or the media when he took the job.

He started off as a civil servant at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, where he did research on hydrology and artificial rain. In 2010, Sutopo was assigned to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) as director of disaster risk mitigation, before taking the job as its head of information and public relations.

Warding off fake news

Apart from battling cancer, Sutopo said he often had to contend with sifting out fake content disseminated via social media.

Sutopo’s Twitter feed regularly debunks hoaxes and fake news circulating online about disasters, including videos of old volcanic eruptions being passed off as new, and chain messages that warn of impending earthquakes.

“As more and more Indonesians have access to the internet, fake news and hoaxes have become more prevalent in recent years,” he said. “They used to spread only via text messages, but now they become viral via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.”

Following a series of eruptions of the Mount Agung volcano on Bali island last year, alerts were raised to the highest level, leading many to put off traveling to Bali, where the economy depends on tourism.

“What I did was post photos showing people doing yoga or pre-wedding photos with erupting Mount Agung in the background, to show that Bali was safe, and only a small area was off-limits,” he said.

“People were scared because media reports made it as if that the whole of Bali was affected by the eruptions,” he said.

However, the internet and social media have also made it easier for him to spread awareness about disaster management, he said.

“Social media has been very effective in amplifying my messages,” said Sutopo, who has written several books about disaster management.

‘Undying spirit’

Sutopo recently benefitted from social media when he met one of his favorite singers.

Twitter users began using the hashtag #SutopoMeetRaisa to draw attention to his wish to meet the Indonesian pop star. The Jakarta Post reported that the pair met recently in a building where Sutopo had gone to do an interview and Raisa was promoting her new song.

Raisa told him to stay healthy and keep inspiring people, Sutopo told the newspaper.

Weeks earlier, Raisa responded to the hashtag with a tweet of her own, the Post reported.

“My Twitter today has #RaisaMeetSutopo all over it. I’ve read all the stories in your tweets, friends, and it made me feel like I’ve known Pak Sutopo for a long time. He’s loved by many. Keep your spirit and keep on inspiring, Pak Sutopo :)”

Sutopo also has the support of Indonesia’s leader.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called him an inspiration to the nation.

“I appreciate Mr Sutopo’s dedication. And I was made aware about his condition today. His dedication to his work is extraordinary,” Jokowi told reporters after a meeting with Sutopo in October.

“It’s really inspiring to us all that while he is in ill health, he has an undying spirit to do the work that he has been doing for years,” Jokowi said.

The story was first published on BenarNews 

Families of ill-fated Lion Air victims still hope for miracle as DNA tests underway

Toni Priyono Adhi still keeps alive his hopes that his daughter Puspita Eka Putri will pick up her phone and answer his calls, although deep down he knows that it is very unlikely.

Putri, who celebrated her 24th birthday in Oct 26, was one of the 189 people on board the Lion Air JT610 flight from Jakarta bound for Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Island which crashed Monday morning into the sea off Karawang in West Java, about 75 kilometers from Jakarta.

“I just keep praying for a miracle. We keep trying to call her and call out her name in case she replies,” Adhi told journalists at the police hospital in East Jakarta where body parts plucked from the crash site were taken and families of the victims are submitting ante mortem data for identification.

Adhi said it was Putri’s first business trip with a beauty products company, that she joined for a month. Her mother, who identified herself as Nuke, said it was Putri’s first flight by herself.

“We always took flights together. I always picked her up in her campus when she was in college. My daughter, she was really beautiful. God had entrusted her to me,” said a visibily shaken Nuke as she held up her daugther’s picture and kissed it.

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Nuke showed the photo of her daughter, Puspita Eka Putri at the police hospital in East Jakarta where she and her husband submitted ante mortem data for Putri’s identification on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

Imbalo Sakti remembers her brother-in-law, Capt. Musa Effendi as a kind-hearted man whom the family members looked up to.

Sakti said that Effendi, who worked as a portmaster in Muntok port on the western part of Bangka Island, was on his way for a meeting in Pangkal Pinang.

“He had traveled from Medan, North Sumatra, where he had attended a Quran recital in his hometown to give thanks for he and his wife’s safe return from the Hajj two months ago,” Sakti said.

Since there is no direct flight from Medan to Pangkal Pinang, which are about 1,000 kilometers apart, he had to fly to Jakarta and take a connecting flight to Pangkal Pinang.

“My daddy has been posted in Bangka Island for two years. He spent the night at a transit hotel in Jakarta’s airport and took the morning flight to Pangkal Pinang,” Effendi’s daughter Dwi Ratna said.

Anugrah Satria, a frequent Lion Air flyer, said he met Alfiani Hidayatul Solikah during his flights and became friends with the 19-year-old flight attendant.

“It was her first job and it was her wish to become a flight attendant. I met her on one of her first flights as a stewardess on a flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta,” Satria said.

“She was always nice to passengers, and smiled a lot. She never complained about her job,” Satria said.

The captain pilot of the brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, which had only 800 flying hours since its initial operation on Aug 15, was an Indian from New Delhi, Bhavye Suneja.

Media reports said he was a trainee pilot with Emirates before joining Lion Air in March 2011.

The Indian Embassy in Jakarta confirmed the pilot’s nationality in a tweet, saying that “most unfortunate that Indian Pilot Bhavye Suneja who was flying JT610 also lost his life…Embassy is in touch with Crisis Center and coordinating for all assistance.”

A number of Indonesian officials were also on board the flight, with the Finance Ministry having lost 21 officials, out of whom 12 were from the tax directorate general, who were on commuting back to their post in Pangkal Pinang.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani visited police hospital and met with the grief-stricken families of her staff on Monday night to console them.

The ministry’s head of communications, Nufransa Wira Sakti, said in a statement that they were officials at the ministry’s Pangkal Pinang office.

“They were heading back to their work after spending the weekend to attend a ministry event on Oct 27 and to attend a coordination meeting, while also spending the weekend with their families in Jakarta,” Sakti said.

Also among the victims were three police personnel from Bangka Belitung police, three staff from the oil and gas directorate general of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, 10 staff from the State Audit Agency, six regional lawmakers of Bangka Belitung province, and four employees of the state-mining company, PT Timah.

Following the crash, Australia issued a warning to ban all Australian government officials and contractors from flying Lion Air or their subsidiary airlines and the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.

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Police forensic team lay out debris recovered from Lion Air JT 610 crash site at the Tanjung Priok port on Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

As of Tuesday afternoon, search efforts to collect debris from the plane are still under way with vessels sailing back and forth to Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port to drop bags containing plane debris and body parts the search and rescue teams collected from the crash site, while police forensic teams continued sorting out the debris and personal belongings of the passengers on the dock.

The search and rescue agency’s deputy director for operations, Nugroho Budi said they have sent 13 body bags to the police hospital from Tuesday’s operation and found 52 national identity cards.

“The search and rescue team will expand the search area to a radius of 15 nautical miles from the crash site,” Budi said in a press conference.

Head of medical and health of the national police, Arthur Tampi, said the forensic team had examined 24 body bags and identified 87 body parts.

Tampi added that they had not been able to identify any of the victims as they received only body parts and none of the bodies were intact.

“The bodies have deteriorated in pieces and some of the bones were loose. I even saw parts of an infant body in one of the body bags,” Ari Dono, deputy of the national police chief said after an inspection to the police hospital morgue.

The story was first published in Arab News