COVID-19 continues to rise in Indonesia

Christian-Muslim co-op provides food and employment

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Mission co-worker Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta follows all health protocols daily. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The COVID-19 pandemic is growing rapidly in Indonesia, which has one of the highest number of coronavirus cases in Asia. But with fewer than 100,000, the total number of confirmed cases is still relatively small compared to those in the United States.

The real numbers may be much higher, according to mission co-worker Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta, who has served in there since 2003.

In April, Adeney-Risakotta and her husband, former mission co-worker Bernie, who retired in 2019, chose to shelter-in-place rather than travel to be with family in California, where the virus is raging.

Farsijana teaches at Duta Wacana Christian University, helping prepare Christian leaders to serve the church in the world’s largest Muslim country. While collaborating on developing a peace studies program, she also heads the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (KPI) in the province. KPI is a predominantly Muslim group that seeks to empower women and children.

She is the founder and director of the House of Authentic Sense (HAS), a community-based cooperative of village entrepreneurs from throughout the province of Yogyakarta. As a grassroots organization that practices principles of economic justice, the HAS Co-op is a place where community members help each other build businesses and save money. It brings together Muslims, Christians and people of diverse economic and educational backgrounds to collaborate in grassroots poverty elimination and advocacy for a just and peaceful society.

Through the co-op, community members learn skills and build businesses around food processing, batik making, goat milk processing, organic tea cultivation and more. Particularly in smaller villages with limited opportunities for steady employment, microenterprises provide women and men with livelihoods.

As in many countries, in Indonesia many people go hungry if they are not able to work, keeping the government from issuing a total lockdown. The Saudi government did forbid the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. All but urgent travel is now forbidden in Indonesia. Wearing masks in public places is mandatory, social distancing is encouraged and large gatherings are forbidden. Schools and universities are all online.

During the pandemic, HAS collaborated with the Center for Studies of Development and Social Transformation (CSDST) at the university to purchase member products, including rice, tea, coffee, soy sauce, snacks and other food, to make up packages of basic supplies for co-op members to be delivered at the end of Ramadan, the traditional month of fasting.

“The fasting month was special for me this year because I fasted along with my Muslim friends as a sign of solidarity and concern as we struggle to understand what is happening in our broken world,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “COVID-19 teaches us about solidarity and cooperating to help each other so we can transform the frustration of having to stay home into satisfaction of knowing we are producing quality products that will feed many families.”

During Ramadan, Adeney-Risakotta said HAS also organized virtual discussions about the meaning of Ramadan and the celebration of the ascension of Jesus Christ. The ascension of Christ is a national holiday in Indonesia that this year came at the end of Ramadan. HAS involved a network of mutually supportive institutions including Sunan Kalijaga Islamic Boarding School, the Center for Security and Peace Studies at Gadjah Mada University and CSDST at Duta Wacana Christian University.

HAS has been especially important to its members during the pandemic. Just ask Suko Hadi. The co-op stepped in to buy his tea at a time when there were no buyers because long distance transportation was shut down. Young premium shoots of tea must be constantly picked to avoid damage to the plant. The pickers are economically challenged residents around the village of Pagerharjo. Picking tea is their only means of earning money to feed their families. The co-op also gave Hadi a small loan to keep his business afloat during the pandemic.

Indonesia’s founding principles

June is the month for celebrating Pancasila, the five principles that are the foundation of Indonesia as a nation-state.  Those five principles are:

  • The great oneness of God
  • One just and civilized humanity
  • The unity of Indonesia
  • Representative government based on the sovereignty of the people
  • Social justice for all Indonesians.

These principles provide a legal basis for Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Confucianists to enjoy equal rights within the largest Muslim population in the world. HAS and CSDST held a virtual seminar to discuss how Pancasila values ​​can help build a citizen’s economy during the pandemic. Government officials from the Pancasila Ideology Empowerment Agency and the Office for Co-ops and Small-Medium Enterprises were keynote speakers.

“I am very grateful that HAS Co-op is a joint organization built by people from many different backgrounds,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “HAS can continue its activities in creative ways, even when the pandemic requires people to stay at home. HAS encourages villagers to follow pandemic health protocols while continuing economic activities through creative means even when local marketplaces are shut down.

“At a time when people are suspicious of ‘outsiders’ and many villages even put up roadblocks to keep non-locals out, HAS demonstrates that people from different religious, racial and economic backgrounds can support each other. Economic democratization is going well.”

Currently HAS is advocating for substantive cooperation between village producers, government officials and large retail outlets. Co-op members need help with ensuring quality control, consistency of product, as well as continuity and trademark management. They need further training, as well as the right contracts for marketing and distribution.

Farsijana  and  Bernie Adeney-Risakotta planned to be in the U.S. in November to visit supporters. With the current travel ban, they are hopeful they can return to the U.S. in early 2021. 

Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering to support the peace and reconciliation work of church partners through World Mission.

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