Honoring Indonesia’s Everyday Heroes

The Jakarta Globe

Dessy Sagita & Elisabeth Oktofani

Every Independence Day, a moment of silence is accorded to our national heroes, those who sacrificed their lives to make the country what it is today. But for each of those heroes remembered, thousands more are still selflessly toiling away to move this nation forward. Here are just a handful of those unsung heroes:

Paulus J. Agustinus, nurse

Paulus had wanted to become a health worker for as long as he could remember. His father, he said, found satisfaction in his work as a public nurse even though he only earned a meager salary.

“Despite his difficult life, my father passed away with such contentment on his face. I wanted that,” the 50-year-old told the Jakarta Globe. “That’s why I decided to follow his dream and become a nurse myself.”

He moved from his hometown on Kisar, a small island in southeast Maluku, to the bustling city of Ambon to enroll at a nursing academy. While most of his classmates opted for the comfort of working in big cities after graduation, Paulus went to work on Wetar island, about 50 kilometers from East Timor.

“It was 1983. The island was so big,” he recalled. “For that big island, I was the only health worker, serving 23 villages on my own.”

Although Paulus no longer works alone, with 18 other health workers now sharing the burden at the community health center in Ilwaki, Paulus has had to walk long distances to serve the communities he lives with. The island, even today, does not have a public transportation system, so he regularly makes his house visits on foot.

From Ilwaki to the nearest village, Paulus has to walk for at least four hours. If he were to make the rounds of the 23 villages, it would take him three months.

And even after reaching the villages, he still has trouble finding the residents.

“They are farmers, they spend most of their time working on the land, so I have to meet them one by one and ask if they have any health problems,” he said.

Like many other remote regions around the country, malaria is endemic on Wetar, as are health problems stemming from poor nutrition and poor sanitation.

But Paulus said he did not want to work in bigger cities. “I will continue serving here until the day I die, hopefully,” he said.

Achmad Syaiful Kahfi, firefighter

Whenever Kahfi hears a siren, his first reaction is to snap to attention and rush out to look for people in trouble.

“This is our job, rescuing people from fires,” the 42-year-old said. “We must respond very quickly. It’s all about speed, we don’t ever want to be late.”

Kahfi, who has been a firefighter since 1990, told the Jakarta Globe he was nearly killed in a fire in Pasar Baru. He managed to escape but watched the flames claim one of his superiors on the seventh floor of a burning building.

Only last week, he was among three firefighters who ran out of oxygen while rescuing nine people from a building overcome by thick, toxic smoke in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

But even with a job as risky as his, Kahfi has never burdened his wife or his children with the travails of his work.

“I usually only tell my family the good things about my job, especially how people thank us for a job well done in putting out fires,” he said. “It gives us a wonderful feeling to have helped someone. Even when they’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost all their stuff, they still thank us.”

Kahfi said that to make his job easier, people should not panic in the face of a fire.

“In order to effectively put out fires, we need everyone’s cooperation,” he said. “Therefore, the first thing you must do is call us on 113 so we can respond quickly. But you must keep your cellphone with you because we may call back for confirmation.”

For his dedication, Kahfi, a senior high school graduate, was granted a scholarship to complete a diploma at the Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB) in 2002. In 2004, Kahfi undertook a bachelor’s degree at Sekolah Tinggi Teknologi Indonesia and eventually got his master’s degree from Mercubuana University in 2009.

Dwi Sari Tristiana Dewi, water and sanitation specialist

Fresh after finishing her environmental health studies in 2005, Dwi was dying for a little adventure before settling down and starting a career.

As it happened, a reverend from East Nusa Tenggara that she knew offered her a trip to Alor, a quiet island 250 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Kupang.

“I was young and bored. All I wanted to do was go traveling,” she said. “This reverend ran an orphanage in Alor and she asked if I wanted to meet the children. So I went there.”

Without thinking twice, she left her hometown of Ponorogo in East Java and headed off to the remote reaches of East Nusa Tenggara, which she now considers her home.

Touched by the plight of the children at the orphanage, Dwi decided to stay on Alor and use her knowledge as a sanitation specialist to help the island’s people, who are still grappling with poor nutrition and poor sanitation.

“At first, I was like: ‘What have I done? This is a ghost town, jungle and sea everywhere, there’s nothing for me here,’ ” she said.

She started working as an administrator at a community health center in Kokar, which is in the northwest of the island, teaching villagers about hygiene. She has trekked up and down mountains and canoed to 20 islets around Alor to help people.

One of her aims is to get every family on the island to build their own toilet facility. Or at least get every three families together to build a shared facility.

This year, she was named the best health worker in East Nusa Tenggara, being granted the honor alongside 131 other health workers from across the country and invited to attend the official Independence Day ceremony at the State Palace on Wednesday.

“I do wonder sometimes why I stay,” she said. “The pay is peanuts and it’s so far away from my family. But I really can’t leave all those people that I love so dearly.”

Dwi said that no matter how poor they were, the villagers were always willing to share their meager harvests of corn, coconut or cassava with her.

Mira Rahmawati, doctor

When Mira graduated from the medical faculty at Trisakti University in Jakarta in the 1990s, she could have opted for a comfortable job in the city.

But she instead chose to return to Sambas in West Kalimantan, where she had done her internship. “I figured somebody had to stay in this remote place, and I didn’t mind finishing what I’d started,” she said.

Mira has since become the principal doctor and head of the Salatiga community health center for the district.

Now the 42-year-old’s home is eight kilometers down a bumpy, muddy path from the nearest main road.

“What worries me is that our health center doesn’t even have electricity,” she said.

Without electricity, she said it was particularly difficult to store medicine and use some of the equipment. The health center is also only able to provide very basic services, which is far from what is needed.

But Mira’s efforts to fight malnutrition in Sambas has nonetheless been recognized with an honorable doctor award this year.

“It’s not about being a hero, it’s about putting a smile on people’s face,” she said. “And it makes you happy as well.”

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