The noise of passing trains accompanied our phone conversation with Aspiah that morning. The 55-year-old woman, usually addressed by her nickname Mak Pi’ah, is sitting at Bojonggede Station, Bogor District, waiting for the train to Tanah Abang in downtown Jakarta. Mak Pi’ah is one of the caseworkers involved in the LeaN On project by INVEST DM. She is responsible for COVID-19 risk communications to marginalized community members in Jakarta and Bogor. Joining as a LeaN On caseworker under the coordination of Yayasan Kusuma Buana (YKB) and the Human Initiative supervision, Mak Pi’ah was the first caseworker who reached the target of 330 participants successfully.
In Tanah Abang, Mak Pi’ah provides risk information and COVID-19 prevention education to the female sex workers community. Mak Pi’ah treats her duty as if it is her full-time job. She runs her day-to-night outreach routine. With public transportation, she would travel further than 50 kilometers to meet the marginalized communities who need access to information and education on COVID-19. In her golden years, Mak Pi’ah is still strong and passionate to reach as many left-behind communities as possible, including those living in Pademangan, Jatinegara, Jakarta Kota, and Pinangsia.
Mak Pi’ah also supports people with visual impairments and other comorbidities, especially those with diabetes. Reaching the community members with diabetes is a personal calling to Mak Pi’ah as she is a peer living with type-two diabetes. When asked about how the activity impacts her health, Mak Pi’ah replied that the opportunity to help people with diabetes had given her great encouragement.
“I know my body very well. If I feel tired, I’ll sit still and take my medicine. I only need fifteen minutes to feel as good as normal. The key is not to let my illness limit my activities. I also want to spread the spirit to other people with diabetes,” said Mak Pi’ah to the LeaN On team.
Mak Pi’ah gained many experiences even though she has only been a LeaN On caseworker for a month. One of her joy was when the sex workers extend requests from several other groups eager to get information and education on COVID-19 prevention from Mak Pi’ah. She usually follows up immediately and schedules meetings with them.
Mak Pi’ah relies on face-to-face meetings. “My outreach is in person, Mas (a local term for a young man). That’s because many of the community members I work with do not have cell phones or internet (connection). Some of them have cell phones, but can hardly use them beyond very basic functions. With face-to-face sessions, I strictly comply with all the outreach SOPs and health protocols. I only reach a maximum of 10 people for each meeting,” added Mak Pi’ah.
We asked Mak Pi’ah about the tips for meeting LeaN On’s outreach targets, and she said her success was inseparable from YKB’s enduring support. Full of gratitude, Mak Pi’ah added that she relied on her old network when she was a volunteer in several social programs before joining YKB. It was through a series of encounters that Mak Pi’ah got to know some of the female sex workers, people with disabilities, and people with comorbidities.
On a separate occasion, we talked to LeaN On caseworker coordinator from YKB, Nanda, who has known Mak Pi’ah for a long time. Nanda was not surprised by Mak Pi’ah’s achievements because she has been a notably passionate and tenacious caseworker in various outreach activities. She is also known to have a broad community network base. These were the reason Nanda invited Mak Pi’ah to be one of LeaN On caseworkers.
Nanda had a story to tell about Mak Pi’ah’s strong connection with diverse marginalized communities. When he visited communities of people living with HIV/AIDS and female sex workers for other YKB program, some were inquiring about Mak Pi’ah.
“Mas Nanda, where is Mak Pi’ah? Many people here need her to educate them. We know some communities who want to be informed about corona as we did. They want Mak Pi’ah’s visit,” said Nanda, imitating the requests of the community members he met in the field.
Of course, Nanda highly appreciates Mak Pi’ah’s performance, but on the other hand, he has concerns about the caseworker’s health condition given her diabetes. He always reminds Mak Pi’ah to take it easy whenever her body is not up for doing outreach. But the unwavering perseverance and dedication keeps her going. In just one month, she has delivered COVID-19 risk-communications to more than 300 targeted community members.
Furthermore, Nanda acknowledged that being LeaN On caseworkers did not only improve the caseworkers’ outreach capabilities. The financial incentives that LeaN One provides also helped caseworkers, many of whom are the marginalized communities themselves. Nanda wrapped our conversation with a statement of appreciation to LeaN On by INVEST DM that organizes an inclusive COVID-19 risk-communications program while supporting its caseworkers to cope with the current economic hardship.
LeaN On by INVEST DM is an inclusive RCCE program that aims to provide access to risk information and education on COVID-19 prevention, including information on available social protection services, for 165 thousand people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in seven regions in Indonesia. This program is supported by the American people through USAID, and in partnership with BNPB, Kemenkumham, MAJu (The Asia Foundation) and a consortium of partners consisting of Mercy Corps Indonesia, ASB, ThisAble, Human Initiative and AtmaConnect.