Foot Soldiers in the War against Poverty

This is one of the most important books we have ever had which captures the life of underdeveloped rural communities: Foot Soldiers in the war against poverty: Program, Perspectives of 100 Participating Scholars.

The national program to confront poverty has at its vanguard Presidential Instruction No. 5/1993, which then became known as the Aid Program to Least Developed Villages, or IDT. Along with the increasing popularity from the above, efforts to eradicate poverty, in whatever form they take, have become clumped under the IDT umbrella in public perceptions.

This is despite the fact that IDT is merely a part of the overall fight against poverty under a broader national movement. Now in its fourth year, the IDT program has entered 28,223 villages, involving 3.4 million heads of households and 123,000 community groups.

In the structural mechanism of this program, one of the most important components, apart from funding, is assistance. Individuals are assigned to help community groups in running their enterprises and organizing their members. Usually, these assistants hail from the immediate community, and are residents who have already established a better quality of life.

Especially for the most underdeveloped villages, the central dan regional governments assign assistants drawn from the academic community who wish to serve in rural communities. At least 4,000 of these scholars, on call around the clock, have been posted in the country’s poorest communities.

Some of their experiences in the course of their duties have been compiled in this book with the 100 entries culled from 790 submissions to the Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas).

The writings illustrate that this effort to eradicate poverty is a truly extraordinary struggle, and one which requires a dedication without hope of material rewards.

Testimony to the sometimes daunting problems confronted is the experience of Ujang Taofik Hidayat, an assistant in Kokondao, a village in Jayawijaya, Irian Jaya.

“It is not easy to reach Kokondao,” Ujang writes. “From the capital of the regency, one must walk for 11 hours to reach the village. The villagers told me I was the first government worker from outside Irian Jaya to ever set foot in the village. All of the villagers gave me strange looks.” (pp. 523-524)

From these stories, it is clear that the IDT program is undoubtedly a breakthrough in the war on poverty. While the program is aimed at demolishing the thick wall excluding the poor, it also supplies the first notions of belief, hope and future for the unfortunate.

In addition to providing a positive psychological influence, the program’s funds have stimulated economic activities of the community. Sangir Talaud in Sulawesi is one example. With funding of Rp 60 million, the program has worked with sidewalk kiosks and shops to reduce costs of essential consumer goods by 25 percent to 30 percent. (pp. 397-402)

Another notable positive effect is its motivation of communities to strive for their own independence, revealed in different examples. The inclusion of the physically disabled in the program can be claimed among its successes. Related to this is the routine assistance to the elderly from profits of the IDT communal groups.

The diverse stories of these 100 assistants are truly fascinating. In general, their experiences are humorous and unique, without ever straying from the focus of their main role of providing assistance. Realities of their toil will hopefully strengthen an understanding that the poverty eradication movement can be compared to an eternal light; once lit, it should never be extinguished.

From the observations and experiences in the field, this book can rightfully be described as a first-hand source on the program. And if experience is the best teacher, then the valuable lessons from these scholars should be drawn upon to improve and perfect the IDT.

Let us hope that the real-life experiences in this work, which was published especially for Yayasan Bina Bangsa and Bappenas, will strengthen the conviction of all parties that bettering the welfares of least developed villages is not a pipe dream.

The successes are real, evident by the better quality of life of the people and the daily decreases in those villages classified as least developed.

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Masri Sareb Putra
Articles: 711

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