“In September 2018, two memories came to Mo when a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck Palu, central Sulawesi. Topan Saputra. He watched a video of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on television, which killed nearly 230,000 people. He also remembered that when he was in middle school, floods flooded his home, ruining his parents’ business and interrupting his education.
The memories started from Luwuk, about a 12-hour drive from Tofan, then 24-year-old, to help the people of Palu after the earthquake. “We were very panicked for our loved ones. There was no telephone connection and no electricity, so we could not reach them.” Tofan speaks of the immediate aftermath of the disaster, which killed more than 4,300 people.
We participated in emergency food distribution through local groups, helped separated families reunite, and provided psychological support services for those who were shocked. In an environment where looting created an atmosphere of distrust, an understanding of community dynamics was very important for Tofan.
Courtesy of Restu Nur Intan Prat
spirit of pain
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, millions of volunteers like Tofan embody the values of generosity and compassion that the holy month of Ramadan honors. In a prominent 2018 survey, about 53% of Indonesians said they had volunteered in the past month. Indonesia’s community self-help tradition has a very revered and unique name: pain loyong (meaning mutual aid).
Indonesia’s volunteer spirit is resonating in many other countries as well. The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) State of Volunteer World 2022 report explores how partnerships between volunteers and governments can help build more egalitarian and inclusive societies, with case studies across continents. The report estimates that 862 million people worldwide volunteer each month, which is 1 in 7 people. Their contribution is essential to the new social contract, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world must build as we navigate the twin crises of COVID-19 and the climate emergency.
Located along the fiery Pacific Rim, Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. According to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, there will be around 3,034 disasters affecting 8.3 million people in 2021. Disasters, including COVID-19, have canceled the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and exacerbated existing inequalities.
The UN supports all aspects of the Indonesian government’s disaster response efforts. That support in 2021 included forming an oxygen task force to coordinate Indonesia’s response to problems related to lack of oxygen during the 2021 COVID-19 infection and death surge. They are often volunteers at the forefront of disaster response.
After the December 4, 2021 eruption of Mount Semeru killed more than 50 people and displaced an additional 10,000 people in Lumajang Regency, East Java, 25 midwives, Restu Nur Intan Pratiwi, were among the hundreds of local residents in the Regency. I got help. She drove 90 minutes from her home in the city of Jember after searching online for her volunteer opportunities in her area.
Courtesy of Twi Adi
In Lumajang, Restu soon realized that existing support services did not address women’s specific needs, such as “providing sanitary napkins or special milk and vitamins for pregnant women.” Through a volunteer organization called Relawan Negeri, she started providing health screenings for pregnant women in emergency shelters. She has also worked with local hospitals to make ultrasound services free of charge.
Gender-sensitive interventions such as Restu’s are essential for sustainable reconstruction after disasters, but may be constrained by unequal gender dynamics within volunteering. For example, men are more likely to engage in formal volunteering, while women are more likely to engage in informal volunteering, which results in lower status, less recognition, and less real support than formal volunteering. The State of the World’s Volunteering report advises policy makers to adopt gender-sensitive measures that can optimize women’s participation, for example, by ensuring women have access to decision-making processes .
The spirit of suffering loner is passed down from generation to generation, but since 2004 the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has formalized volunteering through Taruna Siaga Bencana (TAGANA). By the end of 2020, there will be more than 39,000 TAGANA in Indonesia and an additional 63,000 “Friends of TAGANA” in professions such as journalism, art and civil society.
In 2021, the United Nations, in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, developed an online training module for TAGANA, including a competency-based capacity-building framework that emphasizes gender inclusion in humanitarian aid.
Twi Adi, a 38-year-old volunteer from Malang, East Java, has been TAGANA since 2006. He participated in several emergency response activities, including the December 2021 eruption of Mount Semeru. The Department of Social Services provides TAGANA with a small allowance, but Twi says the benefits of volunteering far outweigh the monetary rewards. “I love helping others and making a difference at the community level. I’m not rich, but I can dedicate my time and energy to the community.”
* The version of this article was originally published in Jakarta Post on April 18, 2022.