Made Anthony Iswara, Jakarta – Members of the Indonesian diaspora are lending a hand in the domestic struggle against COVID-19, although they have said that the government could do more to allow them to help address national crises.
On May 18, the Manpower Ministry and the Indonesian Diaspora Network Global (IDN Global) kicked off the Diaspora Peduli (Diaspora Care) fundraising program, which is seeking donations from Indonesians abroad to help 5,000 workers who have been furloughed or laid off.
Each recipient family in the program is expected to get US$50 (Rp 735,025) per month, and donors can choose or communicate first with the beneficiaries by looking at their profiles on www.diasporapeduli.id. The ministry expects at least six million members of the Indonesian diaspora to participate in the campaign.
"I am proud and touched because even though [members of] the diaspora themselves are facing this COVID-19 pandemic, they are still showing their care and love for our country," Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah said in a statement.
As of May 18, more than 3 million workers have either been told to stay home or have been laid off as a result of the pandemic, Manpower Ministry data showed, although the ministry could only verify about 1.7 million people as the remaining workers had invalid names or addresses.
IDN Global founder Dino Patti Djalal said the donations would go directly to the recipients' bank accounts and "not a single cent" of the donation would go to the ministry or IDN Global. He said he hoped the partnership would inspire a similar movement at a larger scale.
But Dino said that in the long run, the government needed to form a national body for the diaspora that could better connect the two sides for joint efforts. Before the pandemic hit Indonesia, citizens living abroad had been asked to return home to contribute and "reverse the brain drain", but many of them did not know who to reach out to or what office would help them in the placement process, Dino said.
The Indonesia Migrant Worker Protection Agency (BP2MI) covers only migrant workers who perform manual labor. That accounts for about one third of Indonesians abroad. The ministry has a limited budget and thin human resources for dealing with the estimated 5 to 8 million Indonesians abroad, Dino said.
"So unless there is a systematic presence of an institution that deals with the [whole] Indonesian diaspora, I'm afraid that we will have unfulfilled promises or policy shortcomings in engaging with the Indonesian diaspora," Dino told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Nikko Akbar from the Overseas Indonesian Students Association Alliance (PPI-Dunia) said his organization wanted more involvement in the government's COVID-19 efforts.
PPI-Dunia has so far raised about Rp 200 million (US$13,585) through events including e-sports competitions and an online pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) session, and the organization is actively promoting physical distancing on social media.
PPI-Dunia has been using the funds it has raised to buy hand sanitizer, masks and protective gear for Indonesian medical workers and people affected by the virus.
It has also sent an open letter to the government recommending ways to deal with COVID-19 based on a comprehensive review of other countries that had been "relatively more successful" in doing so."We hope we can be directly involved in government campaigns and its COVID-19 task force," said Nikko who is leading a PPI-Dunia team to respond to the pandemic in the Asia-Oceania region, "because I believe that many PPI members who are experts in their own fields are very open to not only join discussions but also to directly go in the field to handle COVID-19."
The Research and Technology Ministry and the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) launched a scheme on April 9 that allows local research groups from universities, NGOs and state institutions to partner with Indonesian scholars living abroad to propose research ideas on COVID-19. The proposals are due on May 30.
International Indonesian Scholars Association (I-4) secretary-general Sastia Prama Putri expressed her support for the initiative and other partnerships that had recently been developed with the government.
However, like other diaspora communities, she said, diaspora researchers should be given a larger role in solving national problems in the future. She recommended the government facilitate cross-appointments between universities as one way to increase cooperation.
"If the country opens up and encourages the involvement of the diaspora, we will certainly be very happy and want to contribute to solving various national problems, including COVID-19," Sastia said.
South Tangerang resident Dewi Komalasari, 40, said she was happy to receive help from the Diaspora Care program after she was laid off as a restaurant worker in late March. She is raising two children alone.
"Even if it is small [in value], the aid is very meaningful for me because I can use it to buy staple foods. I will use it as wisely and as economically as possible," Dewi said, as quoted in the Manpower Ministry's press release.