Indonesia: Finding freedom

Originally published
By Phil Vine, International Federation information delegate in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Disasters inevitably hit vulnerable people the hardest. The elderly, the sick, the poor, the disabled - people who only have a limited capacity to handle day to day challenges - are likely to be totally overwhelmed when a disaster strikes.

In the Javanese city of Yogyakarta, this sad truism was played out time and again in the wake of the 27 May 2006 earthquake.

The"Mandiri" is a community of disabled people who live and work together on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, fashioning children's toys and religious icons out of paper and wood.

The name "Mandiri" means freedom from others.

The cooperative's members have a range of disabilities and get around in wheelchairs and on crutches. One man is able to hold a wooden nativity figure with his foot as he carves with his hand. Around them their youngsters, free from disability, help and play among the toys. Before the earthquake, business was really thriving, with export markets in Malaysia, Australia and Canada.

But the quake destroyed the co-operative's workshops and their accommodation nearby, turning their business into a pile of rubble. Tragically, one of their 15 members, a 31 year old man, was killed in the disaster.

"I lost my friend and also we thought the earthquake would completely finish the business," says Tarjono Slamet, the group's coordinator, who lost his leg and had his hand deformed after he was electrocuted in a work accident.

"Then we would lose our independence again."

But the unwavering commitment of the Mandiri community, and support from agencies such as the International Federation, means that independence has become a possibility again.

With their accommodation destroyed, the cooperative members initially moved into tents and temporary shelters that were set up on the grounds of the ruined workshop.

The workshop was rebuilt by an NGO, and in recent months, the Netherlands Red Cross has stepped up to fund its refurbishment.

"They'd reached a certain stage before the earthquake with national and international customers, but lost them because they couldn't fulfill the supply chain," says Paul Van Der Laan from Netherlands Red Cross.

Because of their positive attitude and mental strength, he says, the cooperative only needs some material support to help them get back to where they were before the earthquake.

"All they need is assistance with shelter, machinery and raw materials for three months," explains Van Der Laan."This won't be a long intervention."

The community's thoughts are already turning to the future, an optimism that was perhaps unthinkable in the weeks and months immediately following the earthquake. Eventually Pak Slamet and the Mandiri hope that disabled people from other parts of Java will come and join them.

"Now we can allow a little bit of smile," says Pak Slamet,"because the Red Cross helps us."