Mobile health clinic aids homeless children in Indonesia

By Megan Ferringer
Rotary International News -- 5 January 2012

A Rotary Foundation Matching Grant project that grew out of a Group Study Exchange (GSE) has provided basic mobile medical and dental care to thousands of children who lost their families in the 2006 eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia.

During a District 1200 (England) GSE visit to District 3400 (Indonesia) in 2008, team leader Hugo Pike discovered that many homeless children living in Yogyakarta, Java, needed medical care. His district developed a plan to outfit a vehicle as a mobile clinic that would be staffed by medical teams from a major hospital in Yogyakarta.

“The plan was to have a mobile clinic to make regular visits to parts of the city where a significant number of homeless children were living,” says Pike, a member of the Rotary Club of Chelwood Bridge, Avon. “The children would be given a medical and dental checkup and, when needed, basic treatment.”

According to Elly Wisanti Utama, of the Rotary Club of Jogja Merapi, homeless children constitute a marginalized group in most parts of Indonesia, and their access to health care and other services is severely restricted.

Merapi erupts again “There has always been a great concern to develop a project helping street children,” Utama says. “We were lucky to meet Hugo Pike in 2008, and this health services project wouldn’t have ever happened if he hadn’t led the GSE team to visit Yogyakarta.”

The US$20,000 project got underway in September 2010, funded by clubs in both districts and a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant. A month later, the project came to a sudden halt when Mount Merapi unexpectedly erupted again, killing more than 350 people and forcing the evacuation of nearly 350,000 residents. The medical teams assigned to the mobile health clinic were redirected to assist the hard-hit hospitals.

Last February, the medical teams were reassigned to the mobile clinic. With the relaunch of the project came an expansion; by partnering with various hospitals, the clinic was able to reach children at 22 locations.

By the time the project ended in June, it had provided health care to 3,636 children -- more than three times the number originally envisioned.

“It was a great honor for Nur Hidaya Hospital to join with Rotary and to work together for humanity,” says Dr. Arus Ferry, director of the hospital. Receiving free health services should be a “fundamental right” for the poor children in these neighborhoods, Ferry says.

Pending a new source of funding, Pike and others are hoping to continue the project in the future.

“For the children, this service made them feel more secure and cared for. For the health workers, this service opened their minds to see the reality of different parts of the world,” says Dr. Sony Aria Laksana, director of Permata Bunda Hospital. “I hope this project can be sustained.”