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It takes a village | The Jakarta Post
Sent: 17 January 2013

Scenic: Doko is a lovely village in Blitar, where residents are striving to improve their lives.

Community development programs usually start with handshaking, flag-waving and smiles all round. But what happens after the bunting has faded and the politicians have retreated to the cities? Duncan Graham reports from Blitar, East Java, where one project hasn’t turned to mud.

In the late 1980s three men from the backblocks arrived at the Malang office of Made Dharsama Polak’s business consultancy, PT Dayapertiwi Mukti.

The men represented 22 households and their quest was basic and universal: They wanted a better life for their families and friends.

They also knew that worthy goal would never be achieved if they continued as casual farm laborers, forever tilling other men’s soil, hoping that one day the government might recognize their plight.

Man with a plan: Made Dharsama Polak attracted NGOs from Southeast Asia, Europe and Japan to observe the projects that fostered a new village, Doko.As an offshoot to his company, Made ran an NGO specializing in community-based economic development programs. He put together some ideas and the men went home to ponder their next move.

The problems were significant and the barriers high. Many people lived in bamboo shacks in the forest. There was no village center, no services and no government interest. 

With no security or collateral the banks were equally indifferent. The people were just surviving.

Made’s plan required them to raise cash and apply for an interest-free loan. Each household tossed in Rp 200 (then about 10 US cents) and the group borrowed Rp 300,000.

They used this to buy coconuts, shred the flesh and processed it to make cooking oil.

Working for a living: Roesmiati is fattening three cows destined for slaughter and tends her peanut crop.

“We couldn’t eat the coconuts, even though we were hungry,” said Roesmiati, whose late husband Sutrisno was one of the trio that approached Made Polak. “Were we poor? Very! Everything had to be sold and the loan repaid.”

It was, so another was taken out, this time for Rp 750,000. Chickens were bought and a machine purchased to grate the coconuts. 

An international conference of aid agencies held in Batu near Malang and organized by Made Polak attracted NGOs from Southeast Asia, Europe and Japan. Dutch and German groups visited the project and offered more loans. Churches in the Dutch province of Friesland also helped.

Later Made helped negotiate with a local farmer for the group to buy 210 square meter blocks on time payment. From serfs to landlords — it was a significant psychological and economic shift.

Initiative: Mohamad Prawoto is the Doko village coordinator. He decided life had to be more than laboring for others and attended a training in Central Java too see how other villages were getting ahead.

The European agencies have since moved on, reckoning the project has gathered its own momentum and achieved its goals.

These are substantial. About 200 people now live in a village called Doko that never existed 23 years ago.

Doko squats on a hillside flanking a teak forest and a river that runs year round. The soil is fertile and the climate benign. It has electricity and tolerable roads. Most houses are brick or concrete with tiled floors. Some have satellite dishes. One looks grand. 

This isn’t a snapshot of the new Indonesian middle class, but is a sketch of small-scale and low-level rural prosperity. Although growing rice, corn and other crops remains the core industry, the villagers have diversified.

Some residents have gone overseas or to other provinces, remitting money. Roesmiati is fattening three cows destined for slaughter and tends her peanut crop. Gita Iswantari makes kripik mbothe (cassava crisps) and sells these locally. 

Jarni bought a motorbike and uses this as an ojek (motorcycle taxi) ferrying people and goods around the district. The farmers prepare their own organic fertilizers and work their fields using local knowledge, not instructions from Jakarta.

Irwan Wahyu Saputro and Mohamad Prawoto, the village coordinator, were the other two members of the trio that decided life had to be more than laboring for others. They went on training programs in Central Java and saw how other villages were using their initiative to get ahead.

Despite their success they still can’t access bank loans. The houses stand on community-owned ground and the families don’t have the certificates banks demand for security.

“We still need access to money to build our stock,” said Roesmiati. “There have been many stops in our journey. When you walk fast and slow it can be painful.”

“This isn’t a special village,” said Made, “but it has some special people, determined, smart and hard working. I feel proud of what’s been accomplished.”

— Photos by Duncan Graham - Original Link


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