These days the news seems to be saturated with stories of greed and corruption, of individuals who ignore common law and decency to further their own interests. It is enough to make anyone lose faith in their fellow citizens.
But there are still noble people in our communities willing to dedicate their lives to serving others. Last Friday, six previously unsung heroes were honored for their public service at the Role Model (Sang Teladan) Awards ceremony in Jakarta.
These inspirational figures were chosen by a panel of doctors, sociologists, journalists and social activists from 857 nominations put forward by communities in 31 provinces across Indonesia.
“We evaluated them based on their commitment, obstacles that they’ve overcome, their roles in their communities, the effect of their work and the sustainability of their programs,” said spokeswoman Sulastri. “But above all, they should have what we call ‘a genuine heart,’ a sincere motivation to help others.”
The six winners were awarded trophies, certificates and a cash prize of Rp 50 million ($5,850) each.
Here are some of their stories.
Anto Bagus, dentist
“Many people still believe that being born with a cleft lip is a sign of a curse,” Anto Bagus said. As a dentist at a community health clinic in Mojokerto, East Java, Anto made house calls to patients during his spare time.
He found that many children born with cleft lips in the community were kept hidden at home by their parents out of shame. “They cannot go to school and lead normal lives,” Anto said.
He added that when a cleft lip is left untreated, it can put children in danger of choking on their food and lead them to develop slurred speech habits, impairing them for life.
A simple surgical procedure can rectify the condition, but at Rp 15 million ($1,755), it is beyond the reach of many families.
Another option is to install a palatal obturator, a prosthetic that covers the cleft palate and can help kids to speak more clearly. But this treatment is also costly, at Rp 2.5 million ($293) for a single prosthetic. The devices also must be replaced every three to six months as the children grow.
“I thought, there must be something that I can do for these kids,” Anto said.
In 2008, he introduced his own invention to patients — the adjustable obturator. Made of acrylics, the device was much more affordable than previous types, at only Rp 500,000 ($59), and could be adjusted for fit with the twist of a screw.
But even at the greatly reduced price, the prosthetic was still too expensive for many families. Some parents refused to treat their child’s condition, saying it was a punishment from God that must be suffered for life.
Anto decided to take action, personally visiting the homes of children with cleft lips to discuss treatment with their parents. In some cases, he even offered to install the prosthetic free of charge.
“It’s a delicate situation,” he said. “The parents usually get very defensive when discussing their children’s condition. I have to be subtle in my approach and come as a friend, instead of as a dentist.”
Anto’s invention has now helped more than 30 children in Mojokerto.
“I’m happy to see them grow up healthy, play with friends and go to school like other normal kids,” Anto said. On July 1, 2011, Anto patented his invention at the Directorate General of Intellectual Property Rights.
“I want more children in Indonesia to use this device and lead normal lives that are free from pain and discomfort,” he said.
Eulis Rosmiati, midwife
In 1991, midwife Eulis Rosmiati was assigned to work in a remote village on the southern coast of Sukabumi, West Java.
“When I was first assigned to Ujung Genteng, I was appalled by the condition of the village,” Eulis said.
There are around 1,250 families living in Ujung Genteng and around 60 percent of them survive on a daily income of between Rp 15,000 and Rp 20,000 ($1.76 and $2.34), mostly through fishing and agriculture. Access to health facilities is very limited. “There’s no clinic in Ujung Genteng,” Eulis said. “The nearest one is in the city of Ciracap, about 30 kilometers away.”
For most families, the clinic is only accessible by taking an ojek, or motorcycle taxi, along the poorly maintained road, at a cost of around Rp 50,000 ($5.85).
“This is very expensive for people in Ujung Genteng,” Eulis said. “But when there is a medical emergency, they have no other choice.”
The young midwife decided to do something about it.
First she organized a program called Seliber, short for seliter beras , or one liter of rice. Under the program, farmers are encouraged to set aside two spoonfuls of uncooked rice per day. At the end of the month, they have around 60 spoonfuls, or one liter, of rice to sell at the market. The money is then contributed to a collective fund of petty cash to help those in need of medical help.
Encouraged by the success of Seliber, she then established a program called Meronce Kasih, or Piecing Together Care. Under this program, fishermen were asked to set aside one kilogram per month of the small fish they would normally toss back into the sea. The little fish would then be sold at the market and the money set aside for medical emergencies.
Eulis didn’t stop there. She also organized a social gathering and money collection group called Tabulin, short for tabungan ibu bersalin, or the “expecting mothers’ fund.” Young women in the village were encouraged to save Rp 1,000 (12 cents) per day each to contribute to the fund, used to support pregnant mothers.
Finally, Eulis approached the relatively well-to-do families in the village and asked them to make their cars and motorcycles available as village ambulances that could take people to the nearest clinic in the event of an emergency.
The people of Ujung Genteng nominated Eulis for a Role Model Award for her creativity and tireless dedication to their community.
Last month, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan visited the village and promised to establish a clinic there in the near future. “We all hope that the governor will soon realize his promise,” Eulis said.
Michael Leksodimulyo, general practitioner
While working as the director of a private hospital in Surabaya, Michael Leksodimulyo’s life changed when he witnessed a simple act of kindness.
In 2008, Michael was visiting a slum in his city with Hana Amalia Ananda, the founder of the House of Care Foundation, or Yayasan Pondok Kasih, on a mission to provide free medical care to the poor. Along the way, the pair encountered a sick old man.
“He appeared physically and mentally ill,” Michael said. “His clothes were tattered and his face was covered in snot. But Ibu Hana got out of the car, wiped his face with the sleeve of her beautiful kebaya and kissed and hugged him like a long-lost friend. She then took him to her car to give him food and medical help.”
Hana’s actions deeply moved Michael. He decided to leave his position at the hospital to work full-time for the foundation.
As the community health director for the foundation, Michael established a mobile clinic service that tours the streets of 64 disadvantaged neighborhoods around Surabaya. His patients now include beggars, buskers, becak drivers and sex workers.
Michael said he has learned a lot from his new line of work.“When you serve, serve out of love, not pity,” he said. “If you do it all out of love, you won’t see any barriers between you and the people you serve. And you’ll be willing to give everything you have to see them smile again.”
Michael also wanted to help his patients help themselves, so he started a number of programs to help families pay for their children’s education and earn additional income.
The foundation now runs sewing and knitting classes for women and helps elderly people generate income from fish-farming. Michael and Hana built the ponds themselves and help the elderly keepers harvest the fish to sell at the market.
Visitors to the Role Model Awards Web site voted for Michael as their favorite role model. But the doctor remains humble about his achievements.
“Everyone is born equal,” he said. “I believe there should be no more poor people in this country.”
Award winners also include Salvi Riani (who started Radio Sehati 101.1 FM, which gives medical information in West Sumatera), Widarti (devised self-sufficiency programs for her East Java village), Tiara Savitri (founder of Indonesia Lupus Foundation). Runner-ups, Non Rawung (founder of Indonesia Torch Foundation) and Aisah Dahlan (founder of Peer Partners Foundation for drug addicts), received special recognition.