Human rights in Indonesia: Three stories

Part 1. Saturday, May 1, midnight: the birth of a new association
I’m not quite sure I’ll get a good night’s sleep. My room is a few metres from a busy street here in Yogyakarta. Now close to midnight, it shows no sign of getting any quieter. I hope the constant buzz of motorcycles and cars will be ignored thanks to my exhaustion.

The evaluation workshop came to a close yesterday, and I think it left participants with an understanding of the need to evaluate a human rights program throughout all of its stages, and not simply at the end once the program is over. The participants, alumni of Indonesia’s Annual Human Rights Training Program, an offshoot of Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program, took the time to reflect on the impact the 2-week training program had on its participants, and just as importantly, the impact on their organizations and the communities in which they live.

With that workshop out of the way, the evening was spent with members of the program’s committees on the agenda for a meeting held today. Over twenty members met to discuss an item they’ve been thinking about for a long time. But first, a bit of history. My organization, Equitas, has been working in Indonesia with civil society groups, the government and the national human rights commission for about 15 years. In that time, a number of people from around the country who have participated in our programs have called themselves “Equitas alumni.” But no formal structure assembling the alumni had ever been created. With the advent of the Indonesian Annual Human Rights Training Program in 2008, it became clear to the alumni that they would be a more effective force for change by establishing themselves as a group that is legally recognized. But the movement towards this legal recognition has been a slow process, in part because the alumni are still a disparate bunch from all over this amazingly vast country of over 240 million people. Creating a legal entity in Indonesia is not without its challenges, but the alumni, and not Equitas, came to the decision to create a legal entity.

I’m happy to say that all that changed today. Fittingly taking place on May 1, May Day, Equitas alumni formally voted to establish themselves as a legally-recognized association: “Association of Equitas – Indonesia” an independent group of human rights educators from across the country who have proven that they can plan and deliver a high quality training course on human rights. And I’m sure they will do so much more as an association. It was thrilling to hear them overwhelmingly approve the decision to move forward as an association. The meeting over, they were keen on going to the May Day rally downtown in front of government offices to advocate for stronger protection of labour rights. You will do great things, Equitas – Indonesia.

Part 2. Sunday morning, May 2: human rights and social work
And now I get ready for the final part of the trip, seeing the start of a training of trainers here in Yogyakarta for the Ministry of Social affairs (MOSA). We have a three-day TOT for a select group of MOSA staff who will learn how to train their colleagues on the integration of a human rights-based approach into their social work. It’s not a lot of time – usually TOTs are at least 5 days and give participants the time to fully explore the ins and outs of training. But 3 days was all the participants could manage. The tricky part is this: once they complete the 3 day training from May 3 to 5, they have one day off and then they themselves will facilitate a basic 3-day training on the rights-based approach to social work for their colleagues. Usually the turnaround time between a TOT and delivering another workshop is a lot longer than one day. We’ll see what happens. We have Dr. Steve McDonald, a Canadian resource person with us who has been defying his jetlag and soaked up the wonders of a new country. Leading the facilitation is Dr. Edi Suharto, a former participant to one of Equitas’ programs. Today we have a planning meeting to prepare for both workshops. I for one will only be around for the first two days, then I’m headed back home, hopefully on a journey that will be shorter than the trip over here.

Part 3. Sunday night: A needless death
I end with a story that has been occupying my thoughts for the past three months. My first trip to Indonesia was seven years ago this week. Like Steve this time around, back then I soaked up all the newness of a country I’d never visited. The oppressive, humid heat, the constant roar of traffic, the pleasing and sometimes nasty taste of foods I’d never eaten before (I think I’ve had enough durian), the novelty of an exotic language, and the utter fantastic-ness of learning about the lives of like-minded human rights educators who were fighting for what they believed in. One of those educators was the affable John – Pak John – whose piercing laugh lights up a room and whose facial expressions remind me ever so tellingly of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Over beer and karaoke back in 2003, John showed me a photo of his wife and young children, torn at the edges probably owing to the frequency of being removed from his wallet and shown to friends.

I have had the privilege of working with John on a number of occasions since then. He was scheduled to facilitate the Annual Human Rights Training Program last February, but had to cancel because of the sudden death of his nine year-old son. My colleague told me the news in an email. I was in Jordan facilitating another workshop, and the news hammered me. John had taken his ill son to the doctor, who then misdiagnosed him with malaria. Not having done a proper test, the doctor did not know that young Jacky had dengue fever. Although it is rarely fatal, the World Health Organization estimates that 40% of the world’s population resides in areas prone to the disease, and an estimated half million people contract dengue fever each year. About 5 percent of those, or 25 000 people, die of the disease.

My oldest son is also nine years old. Upon hearing that John’s son had passed away, I felt as though my heart had been torn apart; there was just no way I could focus anymore. No parent should face the agony of surviving their children, and especially not at such a young age. Access to health is a basic human right: it includes access to the highest possible quality of health care available. How difficult would it have been for the doctor to conduct the proper test? Later on the doctor went and apologized to John and his family, but an apology won’t ever bring Jacky back. My heart still aches; I’m so sorry, Pak John.

2 thoughts on “Human rights in Indonesia: Three stories

  • I am so sorry to hear Jacky’s death. It is unbearable to have experience such type of incident for any parents. My sincere condolence to John.

    Glad to know that MOSA people will get opportunity to share their learning and skills just after the TOT. Hope you can able to observe your training outputs.

    Rakib, Bangladesh


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