ISLAND OF HOPE IN A SEA OF NEED – Jakarta Flood Relief Feb 2007
by Peter Lane
A truck loaded from flood rubbish lead our two vans of volunteers and flood relief goods from International English Service Church, Jakarta, into the crowded courtyard of the Jati Negara, Kantar Lurah (Precinct Office), which was the distribution point for the flood relief.. Floods had devastated Jakarta early in February. The truck, negotiating about 500 local men women and children who were waiting for flood relief scheduled between 9 – 4pm, dropped its load at the back of the Precinct Office building, on an already 5ft high pile of rubbish until it can be taken away later. It’s 8.30am on this hot steamy day and people have been waiting since 7.00am.
When the flood struck Jakarta a week ago, those affected by the flood were given coupons enabling them to receive simple medical treatment and some supplies. Apparently 15,738 families had been affected by the flood from a total of 39,180 people for whom the Precinct Office was responsible for, and tragically 8 had drowned. The courtyard of the 3 storey precinct building had also had 8ft of water inside it and adjacent eating areas, still showed flood devastation of mud and rubbish. Just after 9.00am there were a few short speeches from local dignitaries and around 9.30am the relief aid began.
First problem. Like out of control floodwaters, the crowds immediately surrounded the tables where 6 volunteers would exchange their coupons for a medical prescription enabling them to see doctors in the clinic set up in the main building. It was hopeless as no one could move. Volunteers jumped on table trying to get some order, get queues etc. While it seemed out of control somehow, local security men, like surf rescuers, pulled red ropes through the sea of people, and established queue lines. People shuffled into them. Somehow in the exuberance of planning what relief to give out and who would do it, some of the organisational aspects got overlooked – like where would people queue to give in their coupons. Was there shelter from the heat? What about mums and children in a big crowd? With instructions to the crowd yelled out over microphones, organisation kicked in. There would be two groups of prescription holders : mums and babies and everyone else. Mums and babies got the hard deal, they made 8 queues, ten deep standing in the hot sun waiting to get into the building while the more fortunate “everyone else” 3 queues of 15 deep, queued under the shade of a tarpaulin. Others sat and waited to join the queues.
10.30 am Absolute Chaos erupted again when a relief worker decided to get the volunteers who were processing the coupons to face the other way – so that hundreds in the lines were now facing their backs and had to regroup to face them! Somehow, with much scratching of heads by the crowd over this strange decision, things sorted themselves out again. Asian ingenuity.
11.20am. It’s hot. Seeing the plight of sweating mums and babies exposed in the hot sun, security men scrambling into trees erected a much appreciated tarpaulin giving some shelter from the heat. The entrance into the building was the proverbial eye of the needle, 2 doors through which hundreds would be going. While it was all under the control of security men it was still a potential bottleneck. Once inside, patients sat in groups of 8 in a waiting area before entering the “clinic”. Once inside the “clinic” they sat waiting their turn, in a large cool room, to be seen by one of 8 doctors. It was well organised with plenty of volunteers supervising things. On average, doctors who worked non stop, spent an average of 3-5 minutes per patient analyzing their physical condition and then writing out a prescription for medicines. The flood of need was endless so I wondered how long the doctors could hold out. While I estimated they needed at least 20 doctors to cope with the needs, apparently another team of doctors were at another flood relief clinic, held the same time as ours. After treatment the person then handed their prescription to a volunteer which was then passed on to a dispensary where 15 volunteers worked non-stop putting together medicines to deal with flu, fever, coughs, and blood pressure. Exiting the clinic, they waited under shade for their name to be called to receive their medicines. On receipt of their medicine from the dispensary they then went to another window and got a small pack of dried foods, noodles or a rice. It was simple but effective. Or was it?
For if you are illiterate nothing is really simple. How do you know what the medicines are? How many tablets do you take? Do you swallow the cream or apply it? Volunteers handing out medicines, combating the large scale of illiteracy had to patiently and carefully explain to patients what tablets to take, and how many to take. Considerate dispensary workers wrote numbers: 3×1 (3 times daily), to try and combat the illiteracy.
Several organisations worked together on this humanitarian project: IES Jakarta had sent a team of 6 volunteers and donated 50 million rupiah for medical supplies that Ober Berkat (Operation Blessings Indonesia) purchased and distributed on the day. As well OB had organised the doctors. Another team from Dewan Kelurahan handed out the food which they had supplied, Action Faim (action against hunger) in their smart shirts, and the privatized SCTV team in their red t-shirts, who dealt with social relief, as well as other media crews, district supervisors etc. Quite a day!
I found myself a job in the clinic collecting the prescriptions from the patients and then rushing them into the dispensary. When other volunteers, (who were doing jobs like sitting patients down in the clinic, directing them to the doctor and then out through the exit) took a tea break, sometimes I found myself the ONLY volunteer in the clinic and armed with a few Indonesian words like “Ibu” (mother) “lappaur” (exit) “sini” (here) I managed to keep things going until help came. Patients were delighted to see me helping!
1pm The afternoon relief activities escalated- no break at all from need. Whereas in the morning mums came with one child, now we had mums with 3 children needing assessments, elderly folk were being brought in, then a few minor surgeries were taking time – a young boy with a nasty blister that needed lancing, young men with minor cuts and lacerations that needed attention. Most heartbreaking was a 4 year old boy face covered in blisters from an over turned cooking pot, patiently enduring the dead skin being cut off. Not one tear, not one complaint – a brave boy indeed. I took out endless wads of prescriptions – the dispensary team rolled their eyes. The doctors and volunteers were tiring – I was tired, so I took ten minutes to refresh myself with tea and cake went back to the clinic.
2.30pm a big roar went up in the clinic – Four more doctors who had finished attending 900 people at the other clinic, joined us. Hugs, handshakes, smiles, spirits lifted, the clinic hummed as we went into overdrive. We desperately needed their help for glancing outside there was still a vast sea of people queuing for medical treatment who had to be seen before 4pm. While they waited, they chatted laughed. I never saw one argument, jostling for queue places. Overall you sensed the commitment and compassion of the volunteers to treat flood victims with respect and dignity. In my experience of traveling in Asia I know that this does not always happen. Just before 4pm smiles all around when I told the dispensary team – “last prescription“. By 4pm the last patient had been seen, official workers estimated over a 1000 people had been treated, the doctors went, the dispensary team packed up their medicines, the food team their food. There was time for some brief farewells between the teams, a refreshing drink of cold tea and as we walked from the courtyard another truck of flood rubbish was dumped at the back of the building.