Civil society groups forge solidarity for resilience

In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, a non-profit organisation is building COVID-19 resilient localities and assisting women savings groups to actively fight against the global pandemic. Annisa Hadny reports

This is the thirty-third in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN.

Yogyakarta is a historic city on the Indonesian island of Java. On the steep banks of the Code river of Yogyakarta, squatter slums are home to some of Indonesia’s poorest communities. According to the Department of Housing and Regional Infrastructure, the area accompanied by slums in Yogyakarta is 278.7 hectares, which is 8.17% of the total city area and 90% of them are on the riverside.

ArkomJogja is a non-profit organisation working with marginalised communities in slums, rural areas and heritage sites, to improve their quality of life. With a multi-disciplinary team led by architects, Arkom aims to improve housing conditions as well as strengthen local networks to enhance community resilience.

Paguyuban Kalijawi, a network of riverside women’s saving groups, has been part of Arkom’s first independent community-driven slum upgrading pilot programme. Paguyuban Kalijawi acts as a platform for women to accumulate community savings to facilitate renovation and other development activities. Arkom runs different capacity building activities for the members of this network. By May 2015, the association had grown to 217 members, in 23 groups, and had renovated 235 houses independently.

Shifting business online

Atik Rochayati is a local woman from Yogyakarta who is also an active member of Paguyuban Kalijawi. She is a grocery seller who grows onions and spices and trades them in the local market in exchange of a small amount of money. As a member of Kalijawi, Atik is involved in community savings schemes and was part of many renovations conducted by the group in the community.

Like any other informal communities of the world, people in Atik’s community were also fearful of COVID-19. “At the start of the pandemic, the first thing I felt was fear. When the lockdown began, it affected the entire economy including my small business,” says Atik.

Owing to the country wide lockdown, Atik wasn’t able to sell her products to the market and earn money. As a result, she had no other option than using her savings to provide food for her family. “We had Ramadan and Eid at the beginning of the pandemic, when we usually have a fairly high economic turnover. But this year, the situation was entirely different,” she adds.

Seeing no other option, Atik decided to go online to sell her products. She gathered the contact information of her customers, started selling onions and spices using WhatsApp and delivered the products by her family members. “During the lockdown, the prices of onions and spices increased a lot. I took this opportunity to provide people with home-grown products at a reasonable price,” she proudly shares.

COVID resilient villages

In order to enhance community resilience, Arkom using their village based groups undertook the “COVID-19 resilient villages” initiative. Under the initiative, the residents of the selected villages were oriented on the COVID-19 protocols to which they should adhere . Community taps were also established in suitable locations to support the hand washing scheme.

The community carried out mapping exercises to identify suitable locations for installing community taps. In order to maintain social distance, a limited number of participants took part in the exercise in an open space, wearing masks and face shields.

“At least, many people were reminded of washing hands when they saw the communal taps. People living around the faucet volunteered to provide hand washing soap,” Atik adds.

Another component of COVID-19 resilient villages was to attain food security. In order to achieve that, the villagers were assisted to grow their own food, raise livestock and survive on their own.

The pandemic has also facilitated the collaboration among different organised groups. “Prior to the pandemic, there was no collaboration between the Kalijawi and Pringgomukti paguyuban, two groups formed and assisted by Arkom. So far, we were just doing our own activities, and only knowing that there are such and such associations. However, during this pandemic the associations collaborated and built networks and activities together,” Atik notes.

Arkom, Kalijawi, and Pringgomukti together created a Whatsapp group to communicate easily. They have also formed a task force group where they meet regularly to discuss the community condition. Now they are planning to carry out joint business activities to attain food security as well as to bring economic prosperity in both the communities. Now they are planning to carry out joint business activities to attain food security as well as to bring economic prosperity in both the communities.

Kalijawi and Pringgomukti have started a collective enterprise through which they provide daily household essentials to community members at an affordable rate. In addition, they collectively practice urban farming.

According to Atik, the pandemic has taught the benefit of having organised groups. “When people are afraid, the organisations reinforce each other. We are not here to receive assistance only, because it is of limited nature. We should think that the effect of assistance can be extended so that we can thrive on our own in future,” she proposes.

“The economic side of the herbal drink was new to us. It helped a lot of people. But to do something big in the future, we need to learn about good business management. Marketing must also be expanded and managed optimally,” she concludes.


Interviewer’s Perspective

During a pandemic, resilience is an important thing that must be achieved together. Given that the impact of this pandemic is not only in terms of health, but also of the community’s economy, resilience resolution cannot only focus on health infrastructure. The existence of people with middle to lower incomes often escapes the government’s perspective in implementing policies at the start of the pandemic.

Social capital is an important asset in making resilience efforts against this pandemic. The existence of an organised group like Paguyuban Kalijawi has an important role in spreading this social capital to people outside the organisation. The strength of this togetherness can encourage them to remain economically viable as well as campaign for health protocols in their daily lives. Thus, the existence of an organised group like this can also be a strength for the government to be able to solve this pandemic holistically and create community resilience.

About the Interviewer

Annisa Hadny is a community architect and urban designer who works at the Knowledge Management Department of Arkom Indonesia. She has a lot of interest in the field of social-culture architecture and urban context, community resilience, and community driven approach.

About the Interviewee

Atik Rochayati is a groceries trader in the traditional market who is the general secretary of Kalijawi and the coordinator of Kalijawi’s collective enterprise