on Solo Diaries (Indonesia), 10/Jun/2009 01:37, 34 days ago
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As of today I have approximately 8 weeks left in Indonesia; I am a little more than 2/3 of my way through this journey. Time to take stock of where I’ve been and what I feel I can do in the short time I have left.Are people with disabilities in Solo any better off today than when I arrived in February? Hardly. I have to say, sadly, that the exact same number of disabled people is working at our partner companies as the day I started here. Granted, Solo’s main industries, furniture- and garment-manufacturing are heavily dependent on export and the world is simply not buying right now. There are a few bright spots and some good potential at a few companies we have prospected, but the supreme challenge will remain the PWD’s themselves.There is a strange entrepreneurial culture in Indonesia. The very fact that employment is divided so specifically into“formal” and “informal” sectors highlights this culture. It seems that everyone wants to be in business for themselves, whether it’s pushing a food cart around the streets, or operating a small store, or making a few garments on a sewing machine at home for sale. For PWD’s this is especially appealing as for the most part, they are used to being isolated, don’t have to worry about travel to and from work, and, frankly, are afraid of the big bad world outside their homes. Unfortunately, operating a business that can actually provide a livelihood is more than sitting behind a counter with a few items for sale, or making a few t-shirts and hoping someone will buy them.So we are taking a“if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach. Yes we are still heavily promoting the idea of PWD’s becoming employees of companies, but acknowledge that there are many people who will simply not be interested – on both sides. As a result, we are looking at creating a type of hybrid, informal/formal employment, where those PWD’s that can produce items but have no market, can be put to use through companies. These companies will outsource production to local people at a pace they can manage and pay them piece work for their products. This creates a market for the products and ensures stability of income for the producers. One of our clients, a garment manufacturer, is looking to outsource bead work, which, based on current volume, could result in steady income for 5 or 6 PWD’s. Another client, a furniture manufacturer, has indicated that they would be willing to outsource manufacture of lamp shades, and pillows for pet beds, of all things, to local PWD’s.Of course everything in Indonesia progresses at a snail’s pace, at least compared to what I’m used to. It’s very difficult to get people to ‘do’ things. It’s so difficult to understand – in our culture we just plough ahead and make things happen, but here that simply doesn’t work. So right now what we have is potential, no more. No actual work, no actual progress. VSO strongly educates its volunteers that expectations generally need to be lowered, then trimmed, then reduced, then, for good measure, decreased. They are not kidding. I wish I could adequately explain the roadblocks that are constantly thrown up. Patience and resilience are a VSO Volunteer’s most valuable tools. Most returned volunteers indicate that the positive changes they were able to facilitate were different from what they planned, were often subtle, and only apparent in hindsight. That is what will keep me going over the next eight weeks – hopefully Iwill leave something useful behind. I don’t think I ever said I wanted to change the world, but if I did, I was way off. Better to hope that I just change something.