The Beauty of Solidarity

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

A woman from Bungbangsari village participating in the reconstruction of her house

Drizzling rain accompanied the arrival of JRS and UNPAR (Parahyangan Catholic University of Bandung) at Mr Suherman’s home (Mang Akung) on 20th May 2010. “Welcome,” said Mang Akung with a smiling on his face, welcoming the visitors to his home in Takokak Sub-District, Cianjur District, West Java. “I cannot find words for JRS, but I just realized that I’m much calmer now. Yesterday when another earthquake occurred (18/05), I was not so scared anymore in this house. Neighbors said that the earthquake was quite big. However, the shakes didn’t make us panic about this house. We left the house calmly and later checked the umpak (building foundation),” said Mang Akung.

 Mang Akung feelings were also shared and expressed by other beneficiaries of JRS West Java Earthquake Response Program during the last visit of JRS and UNPAR team. The stories of trauma and grief of losing the house that would often be heard during the initial visit after the earthquake on 12th September 2009 had not been heard again. Gratitude and news about the activities to repair and rebuild their homes dominated villager’s conversations. Funny anecdotes experienced during the construction process colored the dynamics of program implementation; encounters with local traditions being one of them. In the Takokak’s tradition, the owner of a house will cut a chicken just before the house construction starts. The chicken’s blood then is to be dripped in every corner of the building site. Seeing blood on the construction site made JRS field facilitator panic as he thought that an accident had occurred. Fortunately the house owner explained the tradition shortly afterwards. The involvement of local staff speaking the Sundanese language and knowing local traditions facilitated a smooth communication as most workmen and villagers still have difficulties in using Indonesian language.

 Positive appreciation of the community towards JRS programs helped in the house construction. Even though the rebuilding of the 25 houses took place in distant parts of the area sometimes difficult to reach by four-wheeled vehicles but construction and repairs could be completed within 75 days.

 While usually professional construction workers from the local area usually receive IDR 45,000 (workmen) and IDR 50,000 (foreman) with additional meals, cigarettes and snacks. However, for this humanitarian program they were willing to receive IDR 40,000 (workmen) and IDR 45,000 (foreman) plus a meal served by the house owner.

 ”Every job has ups and downs. However we experienced more ups than downs,” said Mr Eman as the spokesman of construction workers. “Obviously, JRS program is different from what we normally do. It’s a bit heavy at the beginning since it’s unusual, for example to create earthquake resistant folds on begel (rings).

 “We felt our tiredness disappear when seeing the houses completed and the owners happy,” added the workman.

 The experienced construction workers were also supported by construction assistants consisting of relatives, neighbors and the beneficiaries, all volunteering themselves for the construction. This gotong royong (voluntary community work) culture is the social wealth of a community that will have to continue to face “disasters” in the future. Through openness and inclusiveness the JRS team provided opportunities for the communities to participate and take ownership during the program. This sense of ownership in the communities helped overcome difficulties in the process as they could be solved together. Beneficiaries, construction workers, material suppliers who are all local people facilitated a smooth construction process. Everyone felt involved in this humanitarian effort.

 In the afternoon when the JRS team returned to the base camp in the village carrying their hungry stomachs through the cold weather, suddenly some construction workers brought fruits or crackers from home. For agrarian communities such gestures are not merely a “take and give” but carry a sense of kinship, sharing with the visitors (in this case the JRS team). The construction workers who are mostly farmers always share their crops in every harvest. They felt that’s “the only thing” they could do to show their appreciation after they obtained lots of knowledge while joining the program. Attending a course on bamboo at Parahyangan University in Bandung on 27 January 2010 became a meaningful memory for them. “I have sat at the university, with lecturers and college students, even though my head was dizzy due to the air condition,” said a workman proud.

 Sometimes the construction workers even brought their own meals when rebuilding a house for a very poor villager.

 Solidarity, mutual support, sharing and caring for each other made this program implementation enjoyable. Construction workers, beneficiaries and the JRS team build up relationships with one-another. Even local people surrounding the beneficiaries provided some voluntarily assistance. For example when the construction took place at Mr Uci’s house in Pasawahan Village, neighbors took turns in sending meals for the workmen.

 “Summarizing this program it can be said, that it let us feel and see the beauty of solidarity within the community,” says Dini, who accompanied the JRS program in Takokak Sub-District for the JRS country office.

Theresia Kushardini

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