Indonesians fight coronavirus with gotong-royong

Mr Mukroni, the leader of a warteg group, handing over a free meal to a motorbike-taxi driver in Jakarta.
Mr Mukroni, the leader of a warteg group, handing over a free meal to a motorbike-taxi driver in Jakarta.ST PHOTO: COURTESY OF MR MUKRONI

JAKARTA - Several residents in the Cipageran Asri housing complex in West Java gather every day to whip up tasty meals for a neighbour afflicted with the coronavirus.

When the man sought treatment at a nearby hospital, other neighbours gave him N95 face masks and sent encouraging text messages: "We all support you. Hopefully, you are in a good shape."

But this has not always been the case, the neighbourhood's community leader, Mr Yuli Setyo Indartono, told The Sunday Times.

"Previously, many of them were anxious and had panicked. The man was the first and only infection case here. But after getting proper information from community leaders, the residents have calmed down and some even offered their help," he added.

"Now the patient and his family are happy because they are no longer ostracised."

As the virus spreads rapidly across South-east Asia's largest nation of 270 million people and the death toll climbs to more than 500, Indonesians in Cipageran Asri are banding together in a community spirit known as gotong royong to help their neighbour in need.

The neighbourhood has been hailed as exemplary by President Joko Widodo, who on Monday (April 13) called for empathy and solidarity as reports of families of Covid-19 patients being stigmatised and bodies being rejected for burial continue to hog the spotlight.

Mr Joko, in an address to the nation on Saturday (April 18), urged Indonesians to demonstrate the spirit of gotong royong during the health crisis.
“We must highlight acts of helpfulness, not to brag, but rather, to raise hopes, inspire and to be followed by others in a massive way so as to benefit everyone.”

Similar initiatives to help the country's most vulnerable groups are also in full swing.

Humanitarian organisation Aksi Cepat Tanggap has rallied up to 1,000 street food stalls, known as warteg, in and around Jakarta to cook and distribute 100 packs of rice meal daily to informal workers and labourers who have recently lost their jobs.


The warteg group leader, Mr Mukroni, said stall owners like him can help others in need while maintaining their business during the pandemic, which he felt was worse than the 1998 financial crisis.

In East Jakarta, food stall owner Khumayah has turned Good Samaritan several days a week, cooking rice, fried noodles, scrambled eggs and vegetables for motorcycle-taxi drivers and street vendors. Although her business has nosedived after Jakartans were ordered to stay home to curb the virus spread, she felt compelled to help those who were worse off.

"I was about to give up," said Ms Khumayah, 29. "But now, I can help others in need whose income plunge even more drastically."

In the healthcare sector saddled with shortage of equipment and overworked doctors and nurses, an extra helping hand has come in the form of student volunteers to disseminate credible information on the virus to the public.

Third-year medical undergraduate Kenly Chandra and his friends have formed Jejak Kebaikan (in English, Traces of Kindness), a community of student volunteers who help to collect donations online to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals across the country, including remote Papua and East Nusa Tenggara provinces.

"My team members drive on their own to the seaport to deliver the PPE sets. Sometimes we bring packages for 27 hospitals at once," he said.


Medical graduate Aditya Putra, one of the coordinators of 15,000 volunteers organised by the Education and Culture Ministry, has helped to produce an educational audio clip on the virus which is translated to local dialects, such as Javanese, Sundanese and Bataknese.

He said: "Each one of us listens to the content at home with our families. So we begin disseminating the information from home."