Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Week 4: Teach Your Children

Editor's Note: This post was emailed to the weblog address on June 25th, but was never picked up by the blog services. I've been travelling for much of the past week, and have been unable to visit or update the site. I'm sorry I wasn't able to catch the problem sooner.

After June 25th, Yuli and the convoy continued to shop for children's educational and entertainment products right up to my departure from Jogjakarta on June 26th.

The convoy is officially closed now, and I cannot tell you how much your help has meant to the people of Jogjakarta, the convoy, and me. This morning I read an article publishing data from the UN, describing aid donation as $60 million of $80 million short, in particular in the area of tents and tarps, which will still be 30% off it's "one tent per family" target by then end of July. Your donations helped make a huge dent in this area in many parts of the hardest hit areas of Jogja. Children, moms, and the elderly at the end of ungle trails there will always remember the arrival of a string of motorcycles (you'd call them 'scooters') laden with tools, shelter, food, and children's games. You did that.

Here is the week 4 post:

We are winding down the convoy now, but what a wonderful week it has been! I'm afraid there is no time to upload pictures, but I will try to add them next week. On Monday, we called on a friend we had helped , who had access to a pickup truck. We loaded 20 wheelbarrows, 100 shovels, numerous crowbars, saws, hammers, and some cooking oil and other odds and ends into it, along with one brave Indonesian man to sit on it all, and headed out to 8 different villages who had requested clearing help on previous visits. With a few motorcycles following, the truck got as close as it could to each village before the bikers finished off the delivery with wheelbarrows on their thighs. Quite a site.

That evening, Yuli and I met with a team of young educators who had been picked by the Indonesian government to develop Children's centers in 21 government-chosen locations. The concept was for the educators to deliver fun educational activities to the children in these centers with material the government provided, and on Saturday (yesterday) to train local volunteers to carry on the "playgroup" type activities for these children, who otherwise would be left to play in the dust and rubble, sit by the side of the road, or be turned to begging by their parents and village elders. The problem was that in typical Indonesian government fashion, they delivered materials for only three of the centers, and no volunteers had turned up. We all suspect the lack of volunteers is due to protracted negotiations on the payment for "volunteering"...

To cut a long story a bit shorter, Yuli and I suggested that from the convoy's travels, we could find between 6 and 10 volunteers from villages heavy with children, and we could fund the books, games, and activities for all of them. Our associates jumped at the idea. During the week, Yuli and I lined up the volunteers. The four of us spent Friday shopping. We spent about $1500 on multiple copies of 50 children's books, children's knitting patterns, badminton sets, footballs, paints, crayons, pencils, canvas, reams of paper, puzzles, educational posters, plastic bowling sets, and so on.

Saturday the volunteers arrived, and while we weren't in attendance,Yuli's sister Dewi was, as one of the volunteers. Apparently an uproarious riot was had, and the volunteers stayed and trained for seven hours, trying out every game, song, activity and reading technique on offer! At the end of the day, volunteers from SEVENTEEN villages headed off with playgroup kits for their villages...averaging more than 100 children in each village. A little teary-eyed again, I am happy to inform you that at less than a dollar per child, you have delivered fun lifeskills games and activities to the children in remote and devestated areas of this region, AND the training to ensure they will be used well. Please understand that these opportunities didn't even exist for these kids before the earthquake. In one short, crazy week you and the convoy have fostered significant change that can effect generations of area families, because some of these kids will grow up having learned to think and problem-solve and cooperate and compete healthily... at the ideal age. Thank you again.

Tomorrow we will do another, smaller round of shopping for further children's centers with the remainder of the convoy money. That will bring the convoy's operations to an end, and all of us thank you. "Thank you" is not enough, but no words are adequate. Look for further pictures, and a final general accounting at the blog in the next fortnight.

On behalf of Yuli\'s convoy,

wishing everyone love and peace,

Thank you.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

2nd week update....

3rd week technically, but 2nd week funded by charity.

This week the convoy spent Rp. 14,000,000, pretty much finishing the initail contribution from St. paul's Episcopal Church in Brunswick, ME. However, Yuli and I and the rest of the convoy, not to mention the villagers in the areas circled in blue and orange, are floored, grateful, awed, and not-quite overwhelmed by the additional roughly $2700 pledged and mailed to St. Paul's from the congregation of St. Matthew's in Parker, CO, and friends and family from London, California, Colorado, Tennessee, Carolina, Virginia and probably other places I don't know about yet. I had no idea this would happen, but I'm proud and moved to be associated with such great people. I'm not naming names here because I don't want to publicize anyone without permission, but I know who you are, and we will not forget. Our goal is to get all of this money properly spent and its purchases disbursed by June 28, at which point we will wrap up convoy operations.

The new funds will go to a couple of new, more ambitious projects that I'll outline before sharing a couple more stories from the road this week.

With all the evidence of people digging themselves out and beginning to imagine a new life within brick walls again someday (remember that Yuli had been supplying shovels and chisels and pickaxes this week), the requests for wheelbarrows have picked up pace. These are items that the villagers cannot afford (roughly $30 each, three times the cost of the tarps/tents which they also cannot afford), but they also cannot be carried out to distant towns on the backs of motorcycles. So, Yuli and her team are spreading the word to the village leaders that if they organize a car, the wheelbarrows will be available for pick-up at her compound. I think this is a great idea, as it is the logical next step after all the clearing and demo work and as it puts a bit of responsibility on the villagers to take some positive action towards their own rebuilding.

The other project is still in process, but I hope something comes of it. You've seen the pics of forlorn kids, and they are crushing images, to me anyway. Through our British Embassy friends we've come into contact with a group of Indonesian teachers whose charity has consisted of driving to similar villages and conducting creative playtime sessions with the young kids wherever they can find a space. They've more recently been transitioning leadership of these sessions to local parents. Where your donations come in is in providing play kits (toys, books, etc.) for the villages.

Oh -- a 3rd item: down below you'll see a pic of a woman drinking ginger tea with a straw from a clear plastic bag... your money will also get a bunch of plastic cups and plates out to many of these villages this week.

Both the wheelbarrows and the playkits are relatively higher-end items, but now that food, water, tents, tools, and toiletries are in the flow, we can move to these items. It is true that villagers have been shifting rubble with their bare hands, and children have been playing with it for want of anything else. I'm excited about both of these new charity lines.

Just a couple of pictures here: This is what gave the convoy the bright idea to use your funds to distribute plastic cutlery in the next ten days.

Yuli found this man two days ago. He's nearly deaf and unable to take care of himself. Though his life probably began with more modest accommodations than these, Yuli learned that several youths in the village had assembled this structure for him so that he could move out of his animal pen...

You can see where he keeps his food on the ground in the bottom right foreground. He apparently has to fend for himself for his nourishment, which is only the locally wildly growing jackfruit. Yuli looked at his food, and saw that it was blackened. They returned to this village today with rice and other foodstuffs for him, as well as some toiletries and baby products for the younger villagers who built his shack.

Friday, June 16, 2006

All Along the Watchtower

I've been finishing up my work obligations for this semester, and Yuli's been overseeing the convoy all week, so we haven't had much of a chance to update the blog, but we'll do a thorough update this weekend. In the meantime, I've culled some of the more interesting pictures from the last few days, and one or two small stories. I'm leaving some of the best for later, when Yuli and I have a chance to collaborate, because she's told me some wonderful stories about her visits this week.

For me, the brightest spot is a story I heard this morning. it seems one elderly villager who was on the road and missed the Convoy's visit, but not it's charity, a couple of days ago got himself all the way to Yuli's compound late yesterday afternoon (on a bicycle, perhaps) just to thank her (and you)! I haven't heard the details, but he tracked her down by word-of-mouth all the way from his village to her door, thanked her profusely, did not ask for more, and promised to make a thank you gift as soon as he had supplies again... that kind of recognition goes a long way.

One of the less wonderful but more interesting snippets was about a village she visited at the request of one of my colleagues from the University (an Islamic institution catering to the poorest segment of the community). Her motorcycle convoy, laden with relief supplies funded by the congregation of an American Episcopalian church, came to a stop in front of what used to be the town hall, next to what used to be the town mosque, to find a relief team from the Islamic Defenders Front on their way out of the area, and the area itself full of long-bearded men and heavily-clothed women. Some of the relief the town had already received bore the flags and logos of the IDF.

The IDF, for those of you for whom reading this blog constitutes most of your education about modern Indonesia, is the organization responsible for the annual pillaging of (and occasional violence at) restaurants and bars that serve alcohol during Idul Fitri, launching demonstrations and intimidation campaigns against "pornography" (a term which here encompasses both pictorial-less Playboy magazine and women exposing their navels (or lower arms or hair or... in public), and, most significantly, near-Taliban-like vigilante enforcement of Sharia law in destitute or recovering regions of the country, such as tsunami- and rebellion- -ravaged Aceh.

In short, the vibes were such that even Yuli's devoutly Islamic sister Dewi was shivering and scared, and wanted nothing more than to dump the supplies and turn around. Yuli, sadly, was too scared to take any photos, so a verbal anecdote is all we get. That said, the community WAS extremely grateful, and I like to think the convoy did its bit for religious tolerance.

Anyway -- on to the pictures, which paint a thousand words each, so I'll try to refrain.

Dinner preparations underway for a tented community. Most of the extremely rural communities are relying on the indigenous "jackfruit" for sustenance. When the convoy gets there, there's better nutrition for a couple of days.

Yuli is seeing more and more communities dragging themselves out of the shock, using more than a thousand years of training to fashion an existence of what remains around them and what comes to them from people like you.

This family has gotten washed and dressed for the evening meal at the relief shelter quite a bike ride down the road...

...while this father and son make the long desolate trek for a bucket of water. Even so, they must also perceive the small signs of progress around them...

...like this infant, who, with his elders, will finally have shelter at night, and escape from the sun in the day...

...and these brothers who, with their father nearby, assist in the demolition of their old home, which the quake left incomplete, so that they may also assist in the construction of their new one...

...and a community pitches in to raze the larger structures ...

...while others practice traditional healthcare on a village elder, and prepare to settle in for the night...

I can't even begin to imagine what it must feel like for a)earthquake victims to see Merapi blow and feel the earth tremble in response, two weeks after everything around them is destroyed; or b) Yuli and her convoy to be heading home after hours of driving and succouring, and look out across the countryside as they hear and feel the erruption through their vehicles... when will it end? This is the blast that trapped two and may have buried six others where I stood about a month ago and took pictures of sandbags lugged up the lava slopes.

Well, it's a long hard road wherever we live. I know it's less hard when we enlarge our communities to seize opportunities to aid and love when they appear before us. Thank you again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Circle Game

I'm not in Gaza.  I'm not in Israel. I'm certainly not in Iraq.  Or New Orleans.  But I was in DC on 9/11, and I watched the Pentagon burn for several nights, though I didn't know anyone who died.  I only saw their families' and Government's reactions.  And now I am in Jogjakarta, and I've finally seen the altered states we enter into when inexplicable pain transforms our relationship with our environment.  Not to say I've never grieved or been close to grievers,  but so many -- that's different and informative.  Yuli tracked down a friend of hers from university, and found she'd lost her mother.  An old woman wanted to take us to the spot where they buried her daughter-in-law carrying her first grandchild six months along. We begged out, but her son was nearby, asking someone, more than two weeks after the fact, "Where's Nia? When does she come back?"  In the days after the quake he had seemed the most together of that area's victims.  Another resident shows us where the earth opened up, swallowed a river, and ruined any hope their generations-old kampung now has of surviving on their homeland.

 The convoy drives daily, and they see hundreds of victims everyday.  The majority still smile, trying to shake off their personal disaster and 'soldier' on.  They take the shovels and clear the homestead.  They team with others and tear down walls anticipating rebuilding.  They may complain about their invisible government, or how little their children now have, but they smile, and somehow I know their families will recover.

 A significant percentage remain visibly stunned, but still functioning.  They walk their children through the rubble, they sit on salvaged couches, beds and balays by the side of the road a few meters from their tents and uncleared land.  They eat, they stare off into the distance, but they are there.  They, too, may still find a path to recovery.

 But the others.  Grief and shock turning to rage and madness.  In Allah and God a possible answer, and this can only be explained as an act of Allah and God.  There is nothing acceptable on which to vent the grief and rage, of which there is so much.  So I have to wonder what any humans think they can gain from committing acts that fuel such emotions?  I used to hear modern poetry about ending the cycles of hatred and war… once in awhile a politician would actually make it into office having talked about these cycles.  But it's been a long time since that happened anywhere. Instead we only hear reports of humans creating situations like the one I'm living now, and threats to make more of them.  So much ignorance, all over the world.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More notes from yesterday

Though I could write a lot, I know that most people lack the time to read, so I'll just post a few more scenes from my excursion with the convoy yesterday, to give you an idea of the progress taking place in some locations, and the ongoing need in those and other locations. For the record, Yuli just smsed me from the road that we brought aid yesterday to Manggung Timbul Harjo, Jongrangan, Ganjuran and Trihardono inPundong, and Donotirto and Tirtohargo in Kretek -- all in the Bantul region.

What a way to meet the family! This is a survey shot of Convoy Headquarters, also known as Yuli's family Kampung, situated just across the Jogja border in Bantul. I'd only met her sister Dewi before, so when we arrived, it was rapid-fire handshake-and-bow time, as the place was swarming with neighbors, cousins, aunts, uncles, and their offspring. You see mostly men here, as the women were inside assembling the packages. Though a little less "developed" than family homestead in my youth, many times in this preparatory hour I felt this must have been what my Uncle's home on Deer Hill must have felt like in the early 70ies with my cousins and their neighbors swarming the yard.

The convoy departs. Sunday we had fourteen motorcycles, carrying 29 people (one couple brought their toddler) and loads and loads of stuff.

This says it all about our first stop: formerly used to entertain or earn, now it sits in pieces by the narrow village access road where virtually no visitors ever come, still hoping to earn.

Just across the lane from the broken guitar, I saw generations of one family's women watching us. Grandmother, mother, daughter (with child), adolescent, younger sibling, and a sombre auntie. See this disadter through their eyes for a moment.

At our second stop, we passed this boy, who looked like he hadn't moved in the two weeks since the quake. His mother set him here, near the road and far from the danger of falling debris caused by aftershocks.

Yuli caught this mother and child out for a stroll through the hometown at our third stop.

While waiting for a lost or misplaced motorcycle unit, other members didn't rest, instead giving aid of another sort by the side of the road.

Getting towards evening, the convoy reste at its next-to-last stop. Some prayed with villagers. The mosque here was destroyed, so Yuli's sister puts on appropriate clothing she brought with her, borrows a sleeping mat, and prepares to kneel in the right direction, just outside someone's new shelter.

The white tent where Dewi prayed bordered this village road, where much of the village life now happens, as every residence and shop on either side of the road and extending back into the jungle was shaken to the ground. So here a girl reads and does her school work on the family bed, a group of young men eat behind her, while down the road a group of men team up to bring down the remaining walls of a destroyed house.

And just the other side of the road, the rubble of his home has become this child's playground, or wilderness.

And finally, after we'd gone out further than the southeast corner of the map posted below, and returned, and bums and backs and shoulders and heads were bumped ragged by the driving, it was time to eat, in near-total silence, and go home to bed.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

They took me along


The Leader

The Record-Keeper
(noseless, she likes to add)

The Leader and Record-Keeper with her brother,
tireless neighborhood charity collector Joko,

and a recipient of convoy donations

The Leader and Record-Keeper's sister, Dewi

The Convoy (Today's Version)
Leader waving left of center (next to brother), Leader's sister Dewi waving back right

The Middle-Person
(coerced into being pictured donating these shovels)

24 hours later, and we're back at the Dixie Diner for another update. I joined the convoy today, and confirmed with my own eyes what Yuli has been describing in words and visuals since the day after the quake.

I've received more than one comment about the absence of photos of the Convoy's Leader. Therefore, in order of importance, the pics of the project participants above. Remember to click to enlarge.

Firstly, I have to say that until we got into the deep deep jungle/rice-farming areas, it was inspiring to see that so much really has been done in these past two weeks by everybody involved in the relief efforts. The great majority of the masses ARE sheltered and fed. Yet even in those more accessible areas, Yuli was thrilled to be able to point out a shovel in use here, a sleeping mat there, cleaned clothes hung out to dry all around, and say "that's thanks to you!" At which point I would say, "no, that's thanks to you and mom's church." More accurately, it's thanks to all of us, because none of us could do any of this if we weren't working together.

However, what I saw after we got off the main roads and onto the little tracks, defies verbal description. Here, it's the elderly, the very young, the mothers with multiple children (some, sadly, recently inherited), the injured, and the transportless that need, and get, the convoy's help.

I can't begin to explain how exhausting this work is. I can't imagine how the convoy does this every day. That said, the Leader's dozing off next to me and wants to go to bed, so I have to log off now. Some more notes and action pics tomorrow. I suppose the last thing to say tonight is about how much virtually disbelieving thanks I got from convoy riders and the helpless. I always pased the thanks off to you all, and back to the convoy -- you have no idea how much impact your contributions are making.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

X Marks the Spot

For anyone who wants to play along at home, here's a map (remember to click if you want a big ledgible vedrsion). The convoy has dropped off goods at all the circled names, and sadly, they are all pretty flattended. More importantly, I've drawn "X"es in two of the unnamed areas they've been instrumental in aiding. These are areas where the towns don't even get put on a map, and directions to them are of the "go over the hill, turn left at the gap in bamboo, turn right at the 15th tree, go over two more hills, then make a slight left for a kilometer" sort. They've done more than these two areas, but these are the only ones Yuli was sure of tonight.

Activity Saturday, June 10

The convoy split in two to cover more ground.  One team went to the Bantul and Imogiri towns of Mredo Kulon, Kiyaran, and Gondonli Saluran Sriharjo, bringing tents, shovels, toolkits, toiletry packets, sleeping mats, and cooking oil to each.  The other did a shorter run to Ngepos and Depok.  They met later to share their notes and observations, and have supper.

Tomorrow I carry the camera. I have intentionally not travelled with the convoy, for both convoy safety and economic reasons.  An Indonesian motorcycle convoy won't be harrasssed too much, but add a white guy and all bets are off.  Also, prices tend to increase when "colonials" are present, and even though the funding is foreign, I want the convoy to be what it is: a locally managed and inspired organization. That said, I'm missing all the action, and Yuli thinks an appearance by me would make it more "real" for the team... so, I'll dress quietly and walk softly. Pics sure to follow.

Week 1 Summary and Thoughts

Technically this was Week 2 of the convoy, but for the purposes of our donors, it was week 1.

Donations: $3025
, all from the congregation of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Brunswick, Maine. Words of thanks cannot suffice, and special commendation to my mother, Leslie Brancart-Randolph for well and truly galloping with a ball to make the donations accessible in Indonesia nearly overnight!

Converted to Indonesian Rupiah: $1372 (RI.12,550,000 + $35 bank fees), of which approximately RI. 11,000,000 had been spent as of 11:00 AM today, Saturday.

Towns/Districts visited, surveyed, and aided: Tues: Kepek Kidul, Gunung Pujuh, Nembangan, Bogok, Pentung; Wed: Kepek, Paker, Watus, G. Pujuh, Muntuk, Nembangan, Yahya; Thurs: Delinggo, Patuk, Gunung Kidul, Piyungan; Friday: Mredo, Sewan, Canden, Paker, Jaranan.

Supplies: Yuli's accounting book has detailed figures, but in general most of the aid is in the form of what you see in the pictures below: tents, blankets, hardware tools, baby milk, toiletries, cleaners, lanterns and blankets. A few specialty items stand out: eye drops, frying oil, plastic wrapping.

Yesterday and today, productive ideas have arisen from responses from victims, and from neighbors. Yesterday morning a 20-year olf neighbor of mine on my largely undamaged development died from fever carried by a mosquito. Now I know why I pay Rentokill to bomb my home every three months. Yesterday the convoy began supplying mosquito coils (this morning my sole job while helping Yuli shop was to count out 107 BOXES of mosquito coil.... Yuli was busy counting 137 tubes of toothpaste..as I watched the shopping cart fill up with toothepaste, I kept seeing legions of clean teeth in the countryside). One recipient complained that they should be given the liquid-pumpspray kind rather than the burning coil kind. Yuli was taken aback -- they shold be grateful at least, one assumes. The recipient is asking too much: the cost of outfitting fvillages with the aerosol or pumpspray varieties is beyond the reach of the convoy's funding, and we here ALL know that it is not unfair to say that Javanese NEVER use the stuff responsibly or safely -- overspraying and within the vicinity of children and food.

However, it IS true that the other stuff is effective against cockroaches and actually kills the bugs and remains effective for several days, if not longer. So, Yuli and I decided to equip one convoy rider with the sole responsibility of spraying camp areas that the convoy visits. This way we control the amount used and protect the food and children. And we're doing it with your contributions, thank you very much!

Please know that as an educator and teacher trainer I am thrilled with the opportunities your contributions are giving Yuli and her convoy members. It can't be emphasized enough how many life and professional skills Yuli and the convoy riders have been able to learn in this week alone simply due to the challenges of acting responsibly and quickly with sizable amounts of money that they now have access to. With additional funding arriving from several other sources in the next two weeks, it might be possible for the convoy to survive well into July on donations from our donations.

In particular, riders are learning the convoy's start-time cannot be "elastic" as so much of Indonesian timesense is. Elastic relief time means unnecessarily prolonging the suffering or disease risk of needy victims, and overburdening other convoy vehicles, such that all the day's aid cannot get out to where it needs to go without significant delays. The riders are also learning the value of action, and the power of their own individuality. A sub-team of the convoy will begin it's own mosque-rebuilding task, aiding villagers in the clearing and cleaning up of destroyed mosques, as in many towns they have come across villagers still praying amid the rubble of their religious sites, which is dangerous and unsanitary.

Yuli herself is learning a great deal. I hope she'll write her own comments here eventually for you, but I don't want to push her in that area. She's slowly realizing how much she's being given to spend, and quickly learning to delegate so that it can be spent. She's learned that this needs planning, and the planning comes from information gathered in surveys during previous days, and everyday as they ride out. As she was confronted with the inevitable return to regular jobs of many of the convoy's original early volunteers, she realized she would have to develop a contact list of potential riders, and convince them to ride for nothing more than lunch and gas money... This kind of personal aggression is not a highly respected Javanese trait, but it IS a trait of successful businesspeople here and elsewhere. After reminding Yuli that everytime we go somewhere in town, we spend half our time greeting people she knows -- she may be the most popular common citizen in Jogja, and I had no doubt in her ability to keep the convoy's numbers up on a volunteer basis. I was thrilled to not only see Yuli working the phone successfully over the past couple of nights, but also to hear her delegating the convoy-building job to others: creating a network.

She's also come across some villages that are actively trying to clean, clear, and recover their land, and others (most) that are doing almost nothing on their own. The sight of the former inspires her to chastise the latter and encourage them to empower themselves, as well as to give the convoys' donations conditionally: telling recipients that the convoy will be back around in a few days and expects to see the items used and visible progress.

In short -- I did not expect to see my own personal "critical thinking" agenda addressed so significantly, but I now realize that your donations are permanently expanding the futures of these convoy riders. What they pick up in this month or six weeks is simply priceles when applied to the rest of their lives and their families.

Again, and again, and again... thank you


The day's silly fact: We also filled a cart with laundry soap... the uses of the soap, as illustrated on the back, are for both laundry and dishes and kitchen counters. That was quite a surprise to me. Is that normal? Is there an entire line of redundant, superfluous cleansing supplies in the US and the West?

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