-  Do we really make a difference?  -

January 13, 2014

During Tag’s recent trip to Indonesia we learned something quite gratifying and exciting – that sharing knowledge does work. Sitting on the ground sipping tea in a small community centre in Central Java, not far from Jogjakarta, we queried what activities and functions were carried out by the community centre.

The young villagers told us how they had begun implementing a program of disaster preparedness, including mapping of the village, collating data and setting evacuation routes. “When did you start doing this?” we then asked. “Around a year ago,” they responded. To our amazement they said, “Someone from our organisation went for training in Israel, where they learned about community centre development.”

Sitting there shield from yet another whopping great Indonesia afternoon downpour, that really cheered us up. “Wow,” I thought, “we had to come to the middle of nowhere to learn the effects of our efforts.” It is unlikely that those villagers understood the huge surprise and elation on our faces, but when one sees how far knowledge can spread and the impact it can have on the ground it is difficult to contain the excitement.

We all still got wet getting back to the car, but by that point we didn’t care anymore.

To live in rural Indonesia typically means to be cut off from proper healthcare.

Indonesia consists of 18,307 islands, of which 922 are permanently inhabited. Some are hours of boat travel away from a hospital. What happens when a mother in labour goes into distress? Speaking to people on the ground, one often hears horrific stories with frequently tragic endings.

Indonesia is dynamically growing country, a member of the G20 group of major economies, but its rates of infant and maternal mortality are depressingly high. Although the number of babies and infants that die has halved in the last twenty years, with approximately 40 children out of every 1,000 not making it to age 5.

Maternal mortality rates are also a challenge, despite huge progress. In 1991, 390 of every 100,000 women died during childbirth, and this has nearly halved to ‘only’ 220 deaths per 100,000.

During this visit, we co-hosted a 3-day seminar of women’s health focused in particular on how to reduce the rates of mortality for mothers and babies in more remote locations that do not have ready access to a hospital.

We went out into the villages to meet with community leaders and members to better understand the challenges they face. We were greeted with such incredible graciousness and hospitality. We learned that more regular training of local midwives and better access to the expertise situated in hospitals can have a transformative effect of the lives of rural people.

Dr Diana Flescher of Haddasah Medical Center in Jerusalem delivered workshops as did our medical intern from Ben Gurion University Thoman Betjeman, who was helping to research and scope the medical needs in the villages.

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