Tag Archives: Indonesia

Mario Gaw, General Manager of Rumah123.com

Mario Gaw

Mario, firstly congratulations on your new title of General Manager of Rumah123.com, which you started in January this year. You are effectively the most senior person running the operations of Rumah123.com. What are your main responsibilities and how large a team do you manage?
Thanks, Angela! My main responsibilities are to lead, manage and represent the Indonesia business incorporating rumah123.com and rumahdanproperti.com teams to achieve business goals, objectives and financial and non-financial KPIs. The current team in Indonesia is about 80-85 people and we are growing. I am very excited to be part of this growth!

How has the transition from VP of Pricing & Production at Lazada Indonesia to GM of Rumah123.com been, going from managing an e-commerce site to online property?
The transition has been interesting from day one. Despite the same nature of being online businesses, both run completely different business models. In a way, the online property classifieds business is a simpler model, without the need to deal with physical inventory, logistics, etc., but nonetheless, it has been nothing short of challenges that are both exciting and fulfilling! There are lots of new things to learn especially about the industry, market, and its specific customers among other things.

Can you please tell us a little bit about Rumah123.com and the iProperty Group?
Rumah123.com was established in Jakarta in January 2007 with about 30 employees. The company was then owned by Saratoga Capital, which is controlled by Edwin Soeryadjaya and Sandiaga Uno. In 2011, the iProperty Group, an ASX-listed company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that owns leading online property portal websites in Asia, acquired Rumah123.com after identifying Indonesia as a natural growth market for its business. Since the iProperty Group acquired Rumah123.com, it has become home to the largest number of property listings and property agents in Indonesia with numbers far exceeding its competitors.

The company continues to see significant growth in all key metrics, a clear indication that Rumah123.com is continuing to meet the needs of both its consumers and customers. We provide consumers with the most comprehensive and up-to-date property related news and the best property search experience. We are also committed in being the partner of choice for our customers by working together with them to grow their business.

To date, Rumah123.com has more than 247,000 listings and over 8,000 property agents. On a monthly basis, there are over 1.8 million visitors that turn to Rumah123.com to search for their dream home or next property investment, which in turn results in the portal delivering more than 485,000 leads to its agents.

What motivated you to take on the position of GM of Rumah123.com? What is your ultimate goal in this position?
I was approached by the iProperty Group to discuss a possible role which I could play in theirRumah123.com business in order to take it to the next level. They have clearly determined that Indonesia was an important market for them and that a local General Manager was a key part of their strategy in order to take the business further.

It was important for them to find the right candidate. Their seriousness was shown through my recruitment process where I not only met Shaun Di Gregorio, CEO of iProperty Group, but also Patrick Grove, Chairman of iProperty Group & CEO of the Catcha Group. I was impressed by them and was motivated to take on this new, big and exciting challenge of pushing the business forward and making a significant impact on how Indonesians search for the right properties for them to own, live in or invest.

My ultimate goal as General Manager of Rumah123.com is to ensure that Rumah123.com continues to be the leader in its market by providing the best property hunting experience possible. At the same time, to become the best qualified leads generation tool for customers and partners.

What challenges do you and have you faced in the online industry in Indonesia? What are your thoughts in internet connection speeds in relation to their prices? How and when will this improve?
Although the online industry has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, fuelled by the ever-increasing internet penetration in Indonesia, it is still early and young. There is still a lot of work to be done in improving internet accessibility, speed, costs and education. Internet speed compared to its costs is still quite low but on the bright side, improvements are definitely coming.

We recently saw the launch of a new special mobile device named Bolt offering 4G mobile internet service in Indonesia and First Media, a local ISP, quietly rolled out its 4G internet speed service offering up to 100 Mbps starting in Jakarta last month. I am confident and hopeful that it will continue to improve even faster as consumer demands for better services grows.

Let’s talk business. How much is the website Rumah123.com worth? What are your projections for 2014?
As rumah123.com operates under the iProperty Group, the company recently released its 4C statement, reporting growth in cash collections driving a net operating cash flow result of A$0.16 m for the quarter. Cash receipts from operating activities for the period amounted to A$5.4 m, an increase of 31% from the corresponding period in 2012.

We have big plans for 2014. We are geared for a fantastic growth and I am confident that our talented team will continue to break new grounds. We will continue to focus on providing innovative advertising solutions to property developers and property agents. It is also our commitment to provide consumers searching for property with the best possible user experience, driven by innovation with a ‘mobile first’ focus.

What is your business model – where is the bulk of revenue generated?
Our business model is primarily based in paid advertising. We consider ourselves an online media company and we generate our revenues from listing fees, premium listings, online banners and marketing solutions, and other secondary products such as property expos and print media.

How do you gather all the information to populate your website? How many property agents do you work with? Do you work with private owners too?
We have sales teams that focus on working with property agents and property developers on getting their listings or offerings online as quickly as possible. We have more than 8,000 property agents actively listing on our site. Yes, private owners are also welcomed on our site.

Back to more personal questions, you studied Computer Science at Simon Fraser University in Canada and lived in Canada for nearly 10 years. What was the deciding factor to return to Indonesia?
Vancouver, BC, is a very beautiful city and place to live in. It was very hard for me and my wife to leave behind. However, I was determined to return to Indonesia for two primary reasons. First was to be closer to parts of my family still residing in Indonesia. Second was that I was reading a lot of news on how Asia and especially Indonesia and other countries in the Southeast Asia region was experiencing strong economic growth in recent years. Being Indonesian myself, I was curious enough about it and was willing to move back and try to find opportunities where I would be able to use what I’ve learned overseas to benefit the Indonesian economy and people.

You are concerned about social issues such as poverty and disaster relief. What social projects are you involved in and do you think it’s important to get involved with charity work?
Absolutely. I believe we should all try to do our part in giving back to our community and to those who need help. I personally do not think I have done enough on any specific social issues, however I have always been interested in various initiatives related to building schools and/or churches to remote parts of Indonesia. Helping kids attain proper education would equip them with the right tools to be able to lift themselves and family out of poverty in the future.

What motivates you to go to work every morning?
There are many things that motivate me to go to work every morning, but if I had to narrow it to just one thing, it would be family. When I was growing up, I was constantly reminded by my parents to make them really proud one day. Even though I knew that my mum was already proud of me as I went to college, eventually graduated and received my first pay cheque from my first job, my dad did not have the opportunity to see any of it. He had passed away when I was 14 years old due to health reasons.

Since then, I have made it my personal goal to work hard and give my best in everything that I do. I want to see where life takes me by constantly challenging and improving myself. Nowadays, my lovely supportive wife is another source of motivation of mine.

First published in Indonesia Expat in February 2014

Weaving a Social Enterprise in Flores

Du’Anyam is a social enterprise focusing on bettering the lives of mothers and families in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, through the art of weaving. The seven young founders have a myriad of educational backgrounds ranging from Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wharton University of Pennsylvania.

With high inflation (15%), unemployment (30%) and interest rates (22-24%), Nusa Tenggara Timur is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, with approximately 65 percent living below the poverty line. One of its main hardships is the population’s dependency on local agriculture in a challenging and arid environment. Due to low household incomes and purchasing power, food insecurity is high and education levels are low. Most people have insufficient access to basic health care.

Child malnutrition rates in five of this region’s districts are above 40 percent and maternal mortality is also on the rise. Chronic lack of energy and anaemia among mothers is reported at 64 percent and early marriage and pregnancies are common. Gender discrimination is entrenched in some local traditions, excluding women and girls from participation in development planning and decision-making. The practice of paying families for young brides still persists, leading to domestic violence.

For these reasons and more, the group of school friends behind Du’Anyam decided to choose NTT as the area to start their social enterprise, believing that the Government focuses enough of its efforts on western Indonesia. COO of the group, Yohanna Keraf, is also a native of the region.

Before setting up Du’Anyam, the team did a site survey in 2013, visiting villages in Flores to find out how specifically they could help. Locals in the region still have a lot of children, with little or no future planning. During their visit, when listening to stories from the mothers and women gathered together, one particular story shook the group of founders to their core.

In Flores, mothers and even expectant mothers work in the fields to harvest crops
In Flores, mothers and even expectant mothers up to eight months pregnant work in the fields to harvest crops

A mother told of her story during her third pregnancy, now in her fourth, where she relied on the local witch doctor, dukun to help her; a customary occurrence here. When this did not work, midwives came to her home to take her to the hospital, but it was too late and the mother ended up giving birth on the side of the road to a stillborn baby. Since hearing this story, Du’Anyam have worked hard to realise their dream of helping the mothers and women in this region.

Today, Du’Anyam works with 40 women from three villages in East Flores Regency. Traditionally, and quite shocking to most, women are the ones who plough the fields, harvesting the crops, and do so even when seven to eight months pregnant. Men often stay at home or work at sea.

“We are not here to replace their main activities; we just give them opportunities for alternative employment,” says Melia Winata, CMO and marketing manager. “We discovered from our survey that there was an existing weaving technique in the community using palmera (lontar) leaves, with the older generations still remembering how to weave baskets, which they use for ceremonies and rituals. We decided to focus on this weaving as a way of helping these women.”

Du’Anyam teaches the women to create more functional products through weaving – as pretty as baskets are, not everybody needs them in their modern lives – and came up with the idea of sandals, primarily indoor, for private villas and hotels in Bali. The women are taught what colours and styles to weave, and the women are paid per finished product they produce.IMG_0472 copy

What Du’Anyam soon discovered is a sharing system between the mothers in the region. If one woman is unable to work in her field, she will pay her friend to cover for her in a rotating fashion. Since Du’Anyam have infiltrated the area, if there are no pregnant women in the village, the women will farm in the mornings and weave in the afternoons. If there is a pregnant woman in the group, her friends will work the field while the pregnant woman will weave for herself and her friends at home, thus reducing the hardship and risk of complication for the pregnant women.

“We act as a mediator; we give them the design of what the market wants and then we distribute the products to the market on behalf of these women,” Meli explains.

Future plans include the development of a nutrition programme in collaboration with other NGOs in the area. Du’Anyam would also like to create more modern products, for instance laptop cases and phone covers and hopes to enter the retail market in Jakarta.

Sustainability is extremely important to this gang of young entrepreneurs, having learned a lot from social competitions they’ve participated and won in, including the Harvard Social Business Competition, the MIT Global Idea Challenge, which they won in 2013, and in the top 23 of the British Council Community Enterprise Competition, which helped to expand their network. Du’Anyam’s most recent competition win was the Global Social Venture Competition.

624 copySupported by business incubator, UnLtd Indonesia, Executive Director, Romy Chahyadi, approached the group to support them with grants and become a mentor. It’s clear he saw vision and a determined group of young people in Du’Anyam.

Currently Du’Anyam has one field facilitator from the village in Flores, who looks after admin and keeps in touch with the team in Jakarta via a mobile phone. There is also a project officer based in Flores who is in charge of quality control and approaches new women to join the women’s weaving group.

By 2016, Du’Anyam plans to have 150 weaving women in their social enterprise, helping more mothers and newborns through wicker weaving. Products come with a thank you card and a postcard, reassuring the customer that their money has gone towards doing a great thing and helping the hardest hit in one of the poorest regions of Indonesia.

Visit www.duanyam.com for more information and to see the product range. Items can be made to order.


Cruising on a Borneo River

There is a special feeling that Borneo invokes. There really is no other experience that comes close to cruising on a tranquil river in Central Kalimantan surrounded by lush tropical jungle while watching rehabilitated orangutans frolicking in nature reserves.

Inspired by the virtually untapped tourism potential of Central Kalimantan, two British ladies, Gaye Thavisin and Lorna Dowson-Collins, converted a traditional Kalimantan riverboat known as a rangkan into the comfortable cruise boat we now know as the Rahai’i Pangun. Their venture brought the first jungle cruise to the Rangun River in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

The Rahai'i PangunEcotourism is at the heart of Kalimantan Tour Destinations. This social enterprise is a way of protecting the environment and creating alternative livelihoods in the region. Through this river cruise, they are able to demonstrate that business can be a vehicle to support development problems by demonstrating there is a different value for the forest, while supporting local inhabitants of the region.

Our journey onboard the Rahai’i Pangun began at 8.30am when we were picked up from our local hotel in Palangkaraya and brought by car to the river harbour. Here you can see how the river is a source of life to so many living along its riverbed; canoes with engines traverse up and down its waters, locals fish, bathe and find their livelihoods here.

Stepping onboard the Rahai’i Pangun, you feel instantly revived. It is a floating marvel made up of five bedrooms, an open-air dining area and living room, and a large observation deck. All rooms are air-conditioned with en-suite bathrooms, and although not five-star luxury, the rooms are certainly comfortable.

The boat departed from the harbour at 9am and we began cruising upstream on the Rangun River. The first half hour or so we passed through villages and fishing boats with friendly locals waving at us. Then the forest engulfed us and after a couple of hours, we reached the island of Kaja, a 25-hectare sanctuary where rehabilitated orangutans live, still fed by rangers watching over them on the opposite side of the river. The sight of three furry, orange friends hanging out in the trees was breathtaking – but there were many more orangutan encounters to follow over the next couple of days.

As we continued upriver, the sights and sounds of rich, forest wildlife, complete with hornbills flying overhead, were a sensory delight. But every now and then we would pass an illegal gold-miner, working on mobile gold-sifting units along the river, expelling smoke and loud noises from their engines. Our guide told us the river water is brown due to these illegal miners, churning up silt all along the river. “I will take you where the river is black tomorrow – that is the real colour of the river,” he said.

A delicious lunch was served on the boat before we stopped at Kanarakan – a traditional Dayak village. Children welcomed us curiously and we were given a traditional Dayak welcome ritual to cleanse our spirits, ensuring no harm would come to us during our visit in their village. I must admit, I fell in love with the children, and walked through the village with a chain of girls holding my hands the entire length of the tour.

Invited into one of the villager’s homes to sample local coffee, it was clear that this social enterprise puts the locals first and foremost. After every visit, the local representative is given a receipt, thus earning them a livelihood from hosting and entertaining tourists. Ecotourism at its finest.

Sampling betelnut in Kanarakan Village
Sampling betelnut in Kanarakan Village

One of the highlights of visiting this village was sampling betel nut, the region’s equivalent to South America’s coca leaves. The taste is foul and bitter, but the kick you get rivals that of coffee. It’s no wonder villagers chew the nut throughout the day, resulting in darkened gums and teeth.

After a couple of very insightful hours spent in the village, we returned to the boat and a delicious dinner was served as we continued on upstream. The food onboard is certainly a highlight of this weekend – fresh and sourced locally, with the ability to cater to different dietary requirements.

The next morning, we departed on smaller boats at 7am to an island surrounded by black water. Cruising through thick, dense jungle on either side, we felt reassured that there was still hope in the world. With these canoe-like boats, we were able to get much closer to the orangutans on Kaja Island, this time spotting seven in total; relaxing, grooming and playing with one another, quite oblivious to our curious eyes.

After lunch, back on the Rahai’i Pangun, we fell into a gentle nap on the deck on the comfortable sofas to the sound of the soft breeze blowing through the jungle leaves. Feeling rejuvenated, we hopped on another, larger canoe complete with a canopy and cushions – all the local villagers’ initiative – to Bapalas Island, another reserve, where 10 orangutans were hanging out.

Bapalas Island is a 14-hectare national park home to around 25 rehabilitated orangutans. One in particular caught my attention, whose name is Kesi. She was missing one hand. It turns out she was rescued from a palm oil plantation, where the plantation manager mutilated her.

Kesi, the orangutan with one hand on Bapalas Island
Kesi, the orangutan with one hand on Bapalas Island

50 percent of rescued orangutans in the region are found on palm oil plantations, going astray when wandering into these areas as they continue to encroach on the orangutan’s natural habitats. Plantation workers are often frightened of the creatures that they consider pests and order their staff to kill on sight.

Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) work hard in the region to rescue and rehabilitate these beautiful animals. Their sanctuary in Palangkaraya has a capacity of 500, currently over capacity with 600. The rehabilitated orangutans live on Kaja or Bapalas Island until they are ready to be taken individually by helicopter to Bukit Petikap in North Kalimantan, a region where ancient rainforest is still intact and they will hopefully find a forever home.

Seeing these stunning animals in the wild, albeit rehabilitated and protected by rangers, is both a hopeful sight and one with a poignant reminder – that our continued development threatens their survival. Participating in a sustainable social and environmental enterprise like Kalimantan Tour Destinations is a responsible way of seeing the orangutans up-close, while giving back to the people and ensuring traditional cultures in the area are kept for many more generations to follow.

Fast Facts

Country: Indonesia

Province: Central Kalimantan

Capital: Palangkaraya

Population: 2,368,654 (2014)

Land size: 153,564.5 km2

How to get there: Daily flights with Garuda Indonesia to Palangkaraya. To catch the river cruise with Kalimantan Tour Destinations, you can either fly in on a Friday night or take the first flight with Garuda on Saturday morning, which gets you in at 7.30am

What to bring: Long trousers, jumper, sun block, hat, mosquito repellant, camera, a good book

Let the Sun Light Up the Night: Azzura Solar’s Bright Future Programme

You would think that Indonesia would be the perfect place for solar energy to thrive, considering its year-round sunshine. However, due to financial, technical and economical constraints, it doesn’t look like solar power will become one for the masses anytime soon. This hasn’t stopped one man from trying to harness the power of the to better the lives of poor villagers in rural areas of Jakarta.

Hemant Chanrai with his solar panel- to-drinking-bottle light
Hemant Chanrai with his solar panel- to-drinking-bottle light

Hemant Chanrai co-founded Azzura Solar in 2012, a company that mainly installs solar technology to properties in Bali. Last year, the Bright Future Program (BFP) was born as Azzura Solar’s CSR division, committed to empowering communities in need, improving local standards of living and creating a sustainable environment for Indonesia. A Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) graduate, Hemant originally studied Economics at University College London (UCL) before venturing into the world of solar energy back in Indonesia.

Why solar? Chanrai was intrigued by the power of the sun and questioned why it hadn’t been adopted in Indonesia. According to Chanrai, “PLN (Perusahaan Listrik Negara) isn’t reaching enough people – there are 250 million people in Indonesia and according to a study by the UN, one in four has limited access to electricity. PLN subsidies are getting higher and higher, reaching US$40 billion in 2014 because the grid system is just not reaching enough people.”

Chanrai is optimistic about solar power and believes it has a bright future. “Solar energy can be applied very quickly. As long as you have land or a rooftop, it can take a day to fit out an entire home. Considering the infrastructure in Indonesia, which can make reaching rural areas time-consuming, solar power is the perfect resource,” he explains.

One of the main reasons why solar energy hasn’t reached the masses in Indonesia is that it is very expensive to initially set up, costing around US$30,000 to fit out an entire home. It’s an investment, however the upfront cost is still something people can’t afford in a country where the GDP per capita is US$3,533 (International Monetary Fund, 2014). Electricity in Indonesia is still cheap – at 8 cents per kilowatt-hour – and when the cheaper option is there, that’s what people go for.

Germany is the world’s leader in the use of solar energy; a country with a GDP of US$47,589 (International Monetary Fund, 2014), over 13 times that of Indonesia’s, tying in with Europe’s plans of decarbonisation by 2050. China leads the way in the production of solar technology, so far unbeatable in terms of pricing.

Chanrai urges the public to consider adapting a little bit of solar into our daily lives. “Look at parts of your life to see where solar energy can be applied; it’s very scalable,” he urges. “Little actions where you apply solar power will help in the long run, even starting with charging your phone.”

Villagers enjoying light from solar lampsThe idea for BFP came about when Chanrai started selling solar power phone banks to the Indonesian public, receiving an order from someone in Sukabumi requiring the chargers to power the lights in his home because of regular blackouts in his area. This opened Chanrai’s eyes to poor people living further away from the grid, who were in need of an alternative way of powering lights.

BFP today focuses its work on the Marga Mulya area of North Jakarta, a poor area with many children and families with very limited access to electricity. Families were unproductive at night and children were unable to study or read once the sun set. BFP has changed family habits, including safety, and plans to branch out to many more areas in need in the future.

The programme has developed its own ingenious, low-cost system, whereby a small solar panel can be attached to a re-used water bottle filled with water (bleach can be added to increase light from refraction), which also promotes the re-use of drinking bottles. BFP collaborated with a 3D printing company to print a ‘bottle cap’ for each panel, used to attach the solar panel to the water bottle.

Villagers just hang the panels out in the day to capture energy from the sun, and when fully charged the battery can provide four to six hours of light in the evenings. The panels will produce electricity for about 25 years and BFP carries out regular maintenance for their projects to ensure sustainability.

Currently Chanrai is working together with Brandon Fernandes, a student at JIS, on a larger installation project in Marga Mulya for the community area;setting up solar-powered generators in four to five homes. Funds for this project were raised through crowdfunding and through fundraising done at JIS. Donors to BFP have generally been from the 25-35-year-old age group, as according to Chanrai, solar power is considered “fashionable”.

Receivers of the solar panels are asked to give a one-time fee of what they can afford, be it Rp.2,000 or Rp.5,000, which gives a sense of ownership and responsibility. “When we gave away for free, we found people wouldn’t take care of it and they would even sell it, whereas if they give something for it, their mentality changes,” says Chanrai. The remaining costs are covered 10% by Azzura, and the remaining from sponsors.

As Chanrai’s dreams are for every one of his campaigns to be larger

Villagers hanging their solar lamps out to charge their batteries
Villagers hanging their solar lamps out to charge their batteries

than the last, future plans are to provide solar energy to an entire village. Plans would be to provide solar-powered lighting for ten homes, including a solar-powered pump system and street lamps around the village. Chanrai visiting potential sites for his ‘Solar Village’ and there will be a crowd-funding campaign on kitabisa.com in the not-too-distant future, so keep your eyes peeled if you’d like to help shine a light to others in need!

For more information, please visit www.azzura-solar.com

Let’s Talk About Sex: Are Indonesia’s Youth Ill-Prepared?

Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, is not an advocate for teaching formal sexual education in schools. Instead, sex education is integrated into biology, social studies and religious classes in an implicit manner, including teachings on abstinence. There is an ongoing debate about the correct way to combat the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as preventing unplanned pregnancies, with disagreements generally taking place between the government and non-governmental organizations, religious leaders and sexual health experts. The question is, what effects are the decisions of today’s adults going to have on the children of tomorrow if they are not equipped with the proper information they need about sex?

According to a survey in 2011 by the Ministry of Health, only 20 percent of Indonesians aged 15 to 24 had comprehensive knowledge of HIV. This, coupled with information from UNAIDS that Indonesia is one of Asia’s fastest-growing HIV and AIDS epidemics, shows the urgent need to ramp up education about sex in the country. Indonesia’s first case of the HIV virus was reported in 1987 and in 2012, 610,000 were estimated to be living with the virus according to UNAIDS HIV.

In Surabaya, instead of pushing a sex education agenda, recent news saw Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini—through the Department of Trade and industry—forbidding the sale of contraceptives in minimarts and supermarkets to unmarried individuals and under-21s. The move was made in an effort to “protect children as the future generations, as well as minimize the negative effects of the misuse of contraceptives,” said head of the Department of Trade and Industry of Surabaya, Widodo Suryantoro, to Kompas.

Dewi Candraningrum is Chief Editor of Jurnal Perempuan, a publication aiming to educate and train readers of gender equality, opposing any forms of violence against women. Candraningrum believes that banning the sale of condoms to unmarried individuals in Surabaya is a bad sign. “This could lead to many unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies, which at the end endangers the lives of women,” she said. “Regulations are not clear in Indonesia. Sometimes they promote [the use of condoms], sometimes not; everything is so arbitrary if related to sexuality,” she continued.

In January, East Java’s city of Jember announced a plan to carry out virginity testing to high school girls, not allowing them to graduate if they failed the test. The plan sparked widespread condemnation, especially among human rights and women’s rights groups, including Jurnal Perempuan. Indonesian officials have recently apologised over said proposal, after top Islamic clerical body, the Ulema Council, announced the tests were not compatible with Islam. The city council of Jember apologized for any offence caused to women and Indonesian students.

How can such proposals to combat the spread of disease and unplanned pregnancies be put forward in the first place, and could they be linked with the general lack of sexual health education in the country? Vidia Darmawi is an independent consultant for the evaluation and review of HIV programmes, having worked with Family Health International and AusAID on HIV projects in 2002-2010. She thinks “it is not because of low-educated local authorities; it’s just that we don’t have an enabling environment or support from the government.”

Sex education in Indonesia is considered a taboo and Candraningrum says that teaching it “is considered harming the life of girls.” The government and education institutions view sex education as promoting ‘free sex’, a term coined by conservatives in an effort to ban sexual education, which Candraningrum believes should be changed to ‘safe and responsible sex’.

 In 2012, former Education Minister Muhammad Nuh said he objected to sex education being taught in Indonesia’s secondary schools, stating that children don’t need formal education about sex because they will learn it “naturally”.

In the same year, the newly appointed Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi declared that the Education and Cultural Ministry should address the spread of HIV/AIDS by providing proper education for schoolchildren. Nafsiah, a Catholic, added that she would promote condom-use to youngsters, which resulted in backlash rallies by Muslim groups considering the move an act of promoting indecency among the country’s youth. Consequently, several weeks later, Nafsiah withdrew her plan of kondomisasi (distributing free condoms), reported to have said: “With confidence, I do not agree with the distribution of condoms to our young people, absolutely not.”

Several countries in Asia have documented large reductions in common STDs through successful condom programmes. In a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Thailand measured a 95% drop in common curable STDs during the 1990s, following introduction of the 100% condom-use programme, implemented by STD clinic staff working with sex trade establishments – in Indonesia we see 40-50 percent condom-use at best. Cambodia measured large decreases in STDs over five years following a similar intervention.

An anti condom programme poster by Umat Islam Indonesia Menolak Kampanye Kondomisasi (Muslims against a condom distribution programme)
An anti condom programme poster by Umat Islam Indonesia Menolak Kampanye Kondomisasi (Muslims against a condom distribution programme)

Namibia, a country that once had one of the highest rates of HIV, took aggressive action to reduce the spread of the virus. In a five-year plan (2010/11-2015/16), in conjunction with the US government, life skills-based HIV prevention is being taught at secondary schools, more than 25 million condoms are distributed every year to the public sector, and over 60% of men and women aged 15-24 have advanced knowledge of HIV, compared to Indonesia’s 20%, mentioned earlier. Sex before the age of 15 has also dropped in Namibia, as has the percentage of people reporting multiple partners. Could Indonesia take a leaf out of Namibia’s book?

In 2013, Terence H. Hull—Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University—along with Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, Peter McDonald, Anna Reimondos and Ariane Utomo produced a report titled Sex Education: Do primary students understand how pregnancy can occur? A comparison of students in Jakarta, West Java, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi, Indonesia, to understand Indonesian students’ understanding of conception. The study covered students from a wide variety of backgrounds in four different regions of Indonesia with contrasting economic, geographic and sociocultural and population characteristics. 1,762 grade 6 students (11 to 12-year-olds) provided answers to the following list of behaviours and processes, indicating whether they believed each behaviour or process could lead to pregnancy:

1) When a man and a woman kiss

2) When a man and a woman hug

3) When a man and a woman have sex

4) When the sperm comes into contact with the egg.

Just over half of the students showed an advanced understanding of conception, correctly identifying that hugging and kissing do not lead to pregnancy and that sexual intercourse and the sperm coming into contact with the egg does. An additional 16% of the students had a purely biological understanding of pregnancy, and the remaining third were categorized as ‘other’, indicating a poor understanding of conception. Students in general schools and those in top-rated schools were more likely to have an advanced understanding of the causes of pregnancy than students in Islamic religious schools and schools with average performance. Location also had a significant effect on the understanding of conception, with West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi showing particularly lower odds in comparison with Jakarta.

Studies in the West have proven that children have the intellectual capacity to understand the process of sex and reproduction by the end of primary school, and children as young as six are able to understand the fundamentals of how conception occurs.

Hull and co. observed “the obstacle to providing children with comprehensive sex education thus has less to do with the children’s ability to understand than it does with the strong apprehension of parents, teachers and policy-makers, to discuss sex with children…”

What happens when children are not provided with accurate information at an early enough age? They are most likely to turn to other sources, for instance their friends, the media and the ever-available Internet. Due to the quality of information available from these sources, adolescents are increasingly at risk of practicing unsafe sex.

Much effort is needed to overcome challenges provided by Indonesia’s current decentralized school system. Due to decentralisation, even current topics such as HIV and AIDS, which are included in the minimum standards for the national curriculum, do not always reach the district or school levels and are not always adhered to by textbook publishers, as reported by UNESCO (2010). Teachers are often found to shy away from talking candidly about sex to pupils, due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and teacher training must be implemented. Darmawi would like to see the education ministry “equip selected teachers with good materials and skills on how to convey [the message]” adding that “parents should also be involved in pre and post [class] discussions on sex education.”

Darmawi says, “In general, we’re really making progress in Indonesia compared to 10 years ago. HIV services can be accessed widely, information on safe sex can be more easily found in hotels (in red light areas), shops and posyandu (children and pregnant women clinic).” Hull and co.’s report concludes, “In the interim… for individual schools or districts, the local content curriculum provides some opportunities for including reproductive health material.” When asked whether any progress has been made since his report in 2013, Hull responded: “No improvement is likely.”

First published in Indonesia Expat (March 11, 2014)

Voices for the Orangutan

Seeing an orangutan in its natural habitat is a rare and magical experience that, for many, will only happen once in a lifetime. 96.4 percent of our genetic makeup is shared with these Great Apes found in the wild on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo only. Due to mankind’s continued encroachment of their natural habitat—particularly  for palm oil plantations, hunting and capture for the illegal wildlife trade—the Sumatran Orangutan population sits at critically endangered (6,500 left in the wild), and the Borneo Orangutan at endangered (54,000 remaining in the wild). Although they are protected by Indonesian, Malaysian and international laws, it is estimated that between four and 5,000 wild orangutans disappear every year.

Dr. Gary Shapiro was the first person to teach a symbolic communication system to an orangutan at Chaffee Zoological Park, California, and the first person to teach sign language to orangutans in their natural environment in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan). “When I spent two years in the forests of Indonesian Borneo teaching sign language to a group of formerly owned “pet” orangutans that were learning to return to the wild, I became much more interested in the species and their plight,” Dr. Shapiro tells me. One particular orangutan named Princess adopted Dr. Shapiro as her father. “We did many things together as she learned her signs and became a free-ranging juvenile orangutan. It was during that time I knew I would devote my life to helping the species survive.”

At the time, Dr. Shapiro felt that not enough money was being spent on education and community outreach to address the root cause of the orangutan’s dilemma. It was clear to him that more had to be done to educate people about the species and their plight, which is why the Orang Utan Republik Foundation (OURF) was founded.

OURF works towards saving orangutans from extinction in the wild by funding education and outreach programs in Sumatra and Kalimantan, through the Orangutan Republik Education Initiative (OUREI), an Indonesia-registered non-profit project active since 2004. These organizations were born of the belief that saving orangutans can only be ensured by the people of Indonesia and Malaysia.

One of the foundation’s unique programmes is university scholarship funding to Indonesian students of biology, forestry and veterinary science. Students receiving these scholarships are required to work with local organisations, becoming more knowledgeable about orangutans during their schooling. They graduate as advocates for orangutans.

Another OURF project is Orangutan Caring Clubs of Indonesia, where the message of conservation is brought to schools, government offices and the wider community. Outreach projects include visiting schools in Jakarta and Medan with film and education materials, engaging local and national government officials in conservation issues, and recently, partnering with other orangutan advocacy groups to fund an educational forum with environmental advisers to the Indonesian presidential candidates.

Ridhwan Effendi is Director of OUREII and ensures all aspects of their programme run according to plan. He feels that due to ignorance, there is no sense of urgency among Indonesians to protect the orangutan. “Orangutans are an endemic species to Indonesia, but many Indonesians are not even aware of them,” he explains. “They often see the orangutan as a problem that must be eliminated, causing damage to crops and plantations. Even at managerial levels of palm oil plantations in Central Kalimantan, they consider the orangutan an enemy.”

Although the government has passed laws to protect the species, Effendi believes the problem remains in law enforcement. In 1990, the government passed UU No. 5 1990, article 21, where it states that a sentence of up to five years and a fine of 100 million rupiah will be given to those who capture, harm, own, kill or sell a protected animal, including orangutans.

In 2011, instructions were passed down from the president (Intruksi Presiden No.10 tahun 2011) to stop any further destruction of rainforest and peat land, however there has been no follow through – in the first three years since its passing, 6.4 million hectares of protected forest were cleared. Effendi believes the new government is more focused on political issues rather than the environment. “It does not seem that the new government is doing anything yet to protect the remaining rainforests and natural habitat of the orangutan. According to national statistics, 48.8 million hectares of ancient rainforest remain on Kalimantan, however Greenpeace’s figures are much lower, at 25.5 million hectares,” he tells me.

Wild orangutans in Central Kalimantan
Wild orangutans in Central Kalimantan by Angela Richardson

Although it may feel like a lost cause, due to the hard work that non-governmental organisations such as OURF and OUREII do, there is still hope. “For every person who might have purchased an orangutan and decided not to because of our programs, six to eight orangutans may have been saved,” Dr. Shapiro explains. “Our field education program helps save individual orangutans that might be killed as pests when they wander into a farmer’s garden or orchard. Peoples’ attitudes have changed and many who would have poached or killed an orangutan are not doing so anymore.”

According to Dr. Shapiro, we can each help to make a difference by paying attention to the contents of our grocery shopping. “Stop buying products made of conflict palm oil, which is produced under conditions associated with the ongoing destruction of rainforests, expansion on carbon-rich peat lands, and human rights violations, including the failure to recognize and respect the customary land rights of forest-dependent communities and the use of forced labour and child labour,” he says. Choosing products that are orangutan-safe will require some investigation, but Dr. Shapiro assures us that there are guides and apps available to help us.

Partaking in ecotourism can also make a difference. Dr. Shapiro urges us to join small groups that visit orangutan viewing areas near and around national parks in Kalimantan and Sumatra, as this helps to support families and small businesses that have an economic interest in keeping forests and orangutans alive. He adds, “It also sends a message to local officials that forests are worth saving for their tour value.”

For those in Bali who would like to help support the orangutan, OURF will be holding a fundraiser, Voices for the Jungle, on March 6th in Seminyak. 

Contact balifundraiser@orangutanrepublik.org for more information. If you can’t attend, please make a donation online: http://orangutanrepublik.org/donate-now

Visit www.orangutanrepublik.org or www.orangutanodysseys.com for more information.


Trust is built with consistency

The recent executions of six convicts from Brazil, Vietnam, The Netherlands, Malawi, Nigeria and Indonesia for drug-related crimes caused worldwide outrage towards President Joko Widodo, the leader so many people—in Indonesia and abroad—had pinned their hopes on to improve human rights in Indonesia.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff reached out to Jokowi prior to the executions, pleading to save their citizen Marco Archer, but Jokowi ignored her plea. As a result of the executions, the ambassador to The Netherlands and Brazil were recalled in what seemed like a political statement, showing their discontent with Indonesia’s decision.

On social media, Indonesians have shown their support of the President’s decision, urging foreign governments to “go ahead”, and “see if we care” to the threat of recalling ambassadors. President Jokowi responded to criticism by stating, “The war against the drug mafia should not be half-hearted measures [sic], because drugs have really ruined the good life of the drug users and their families.” President Jokowi has declared that Indonesia is in a state of emergency over drugs, with 4.5 million users requiring rehabilitation. He added that 1.2 million drug users could not be rehabilitated and nearly 50 of them die each day.

Drug trafficking is a serious crime in Indonesia, and we’re all made well aware of it when arriving from a foreign country; announcements made on flights and billboards warn travellers of the death penalty in airport terminals. Many people are arguing that the convicts knew what they were getting themselves into when they got involved in the world of drugs. What many others are having difficulty accepting is that there seems to be an inconsistency within the law.

Capital punishment in Indonesia is carried out for terrorism, murder and drug-related crimes. Last year, Indonesia paid $2.1 million to save Satinah, a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia found guilty of murdering her employer in 2007, yet on home turf Indonesia has shot five foreigners for a crime which most people would agree is far less grave than murder. Human Rights Watch has called this a “double standard”.

In 2007, the Indonesian Constitutional Court recommended legal changes stating that if a prisoner has been on death row for 10 years without execution, and has been of good behaviour, the sentence should be commuted to life in prison or 20 years. In April of this year, two Australian members of the Bali Nine who are now on death row for drug-related crimes, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, will have been in prison for 10 years and have shown themselves to be remorseful and rehabilitated men, even helping other convicts in their prison to change.

In September of 2003 one of the Bali Bombers, Ali Imron, received a verdict of life in prison after showing remorse for his involvement in the terrorist attack that killed 202 people in two nightclubs in Bali. If a man capable of blowing up hundreds of innocent people receives life in prison for showing remorse, how can it be consistent that Sukumaran and Chan be shot to death, especially after showing rehabilitation and serving nearly 10 years in jail already?

This brings us to the question: who decides what one man’s life is worth over another’s?

60 more convicts, including Sukumaran and Chan—and several other foreigners—are in line for further executions. The question is, what message will Jokowi send if he executes these remaining convicts and what retaliation will Indonesia receive from the countries of these foreign convicts? Has he jeopardized his relationship with the international community so early in the game?

Unfortunately for everyone involved, only time will tell.



The School on a Landfill

The province of DKI Jakarta (Daerah Khusus Ibukota, not including Bogor, Tangerang, Depok and Bekasi) has a population of over 9.6 million (2010), each individual of which produces waste. Shockingly for a city of its size, there is no solid waste management plan in place, and recycling is left in the hands of a few non-governmental organizations and the pemulung (rubbish pickers), who work hard to sort through millions of people’s mixed rubbish before it’s taken to a landfill. An estimated 6,000 tonnes of rubbish is produced a day in Jakarta, 2,000 of which is thought to end up in the rivers, causing flooding and diseases.

Rubbish collected in the province of DKI Jakarta all ends up at the largest landfill of Indonesia – Bantar Gebang. This massive 111-hectare rubbish tip is more than meets the eye, as it homes 5,000 inhabitants who live and work here as scavengers, including a pre-school and a primary school, where the children of the scavengers come to get an education.

The first thing you notice when getting close to Bantar Gebang is the smell. It is a stench like no other, and the closer you get to the mountain of rubbish, the stronger it stings your nostrils and the back of your throat. It is a smell I will never forget. Driving into the vicinity, you are met with a shanty town built right on top of and amongst the rubbish and flies number in the thousands.

Rubbish at Bantar Gebang

Arriving at the primary school on Bantar Gebang, Yayasan Dinamika Indonesia, we are greeted by children running around, playing and screaming on their morning break. It’s like arriving at any other school, except this school is surrounded by rubbish, and the odd pemulung rummages through trash left in the shrubs on the school grounds as the kids play. Here we meet Nasrudin, Head of YDI, who explains the story of his school to us, which has been in operation since 1996.

“There are 362 children at this primary school and 52 at the pre-school down the road,” Nasrudin tells us. “We have an open door policy with flexible rules to try and keep children in class. We will even let them sleep if they need to.” Nasrudin has been at YDI since it opened and knows more about the children of Bantar Gebang than anyone else.

Beautiful children at Yayasan Dinamika Indonesia, the school on Bantar Gebang
Beautiful children at Yayasan Dinamika Indonesia, the school on Bantar Gebang

After visiting the classrooms, it is interesting to see that these children are quite introvert, not like street children, who are oftentimes boisterous. The children of Bantar Gebang are well-behaved and many have dreams of becoming something other than a scavenger. Many of the children I spoke to wanted to be a teacher, a policeman or even a football player. The sad reality is that most end up working on the landfill or in factories nearby.

Aspirations of the children at YDI, Bantar Gebang, include policeman, football player and doctor
Aspirations of the children at YDI, Bantar Gebang, include policeman, football player and doctor

“Once the children know how to read and write, they often want to leave and start earning money for themselves doing what their parents do,” Nasrudin explains. “90% of the crane drivers on the landfill are YDI alumni and we also have many grandchildren of alumni attending.” This truth becomes evident when looking at how the number of students goes down as the grade number goes up: Grade 1 (69 students), Grade 2 (79 students), Grade 3 (54 students), Grade 4 (59 students), Grade 5 (41 students) and Grade 6 (27 students).

Pemulung who live and work on Bantar Gebang predominantly come from Indramayu in Cirebon, with a minority from Madura and Karawang. The pemulung mostly work directly for the pengepul, someone who acts as a middle man and buys the rubbish from them at a cheap price, selling onto their bosses, who then send the recyclable items on to recycling factories. There is a monopoly system at play here, whereby the pengepul give the pemulung loans in order to keep them under their thumbs, forever indebted to them. On this landfill, the pemulung work five days a week, wading through mountains of mixed waste in search of recyclable items, with two days left to sort through what they’ve collected, earning between Rp.150,000 to Rp.200,000 a week. The children usually help with the cutting up of plastic and sorting of collected rubbish after school hours.

“Many of the children have skin irritations, and they all have cacingan (worms),” Nasrudin tells me. Anemia is also another common illness these children face, although surprisingly, the number of dengue fever cases is very rare and there have been no reported cases of tuberculosis. Living on a landfill is extremely unsanitary and dangerous, and four pemulung lost their lives recently to a landslide of rubbish. When touring the landfill, I was saddened to see men, women and children working in such terrible conditions, completely oblivious to the foul smell or rotting garbage they have become accustomed to.

Nasrudin and some of the children of YDI

“The children find it hard to make it into state schools after they leave us,” Nasrudin says. “There is a certain stigma which is attached to children of Bantar Gebang.” It is wonderful to hear from Nasrudin that a few of his students have gone on to working at big companies such as Panasonic after completing a university degree, thanks to Yayasan Dinamika Indonesia. Oman, one of the alumni of YDI, even came back after studying Mathematics at STKIP Kusumanegara, to teach the children at a place which gave him hope for the future.

YDI now receives financial support from the government under Biaya Operasi Sekolah, which helps to pay for their operational costs, however they are currently looking for sponsors to help pay for teacher’s fees, as the funds they receive do not cover this.

If you are interested to sponsor this extraordinary school, or volunteer your time to teach English or Mathematics to the children of the pemulung, please contact Nasrudin at +62 (0)8129848401.

First published in Indonesia Expat, February 2014