One of the longest running charity foundations in Indonesia, Yayasan Usaha Mulia has been helping the disadvantaged for over 40 years.
Human Asia catches up with Olvia Reksodipoetro, the Chairperson of the organization between 2005 and 2015, and now on the governing board.
Tell us about the beginning of YUM – the history of how it all started.
Olva: In the late ’60s, Father Herman, a Franciscan priest, and Sister Rina Ruigrok, a Dutch nun, worked together to assist the homeless and destitute in Jakarta, Indonesia. In 1971, Ibrohim Wessels, a Dutch architect, joined their efforts and together they created heath services and a mobile medical clinic which could travel to the poorest areas of Jakarta.
By 1974, all three social workers were members of Subud, a spiritual movement dedicated to enhancing a person’s contact with the power of Almighty God, and the spiritual guide of Subud – Bapak Mhd. Subuh – gave the project his blessings and recommended that a legal foundation be formed called Yayasan Usaha Mulia (literally Foundation for Noble Work). Thus Yayasan Usaha Mulia (YUM) became a legal entity in 1976 and its Board comprised both Indonesian nationals and foreigners.
At that time, the percentage of poor people in Indonesia was very high and there was an insufficient number of medical institutions to serve the poor. For this reason, by 1980, three mobile clinics were in operation, and a tuberculosis clinic was set up in Cipanas (West Java). It was also during that time that many poor children could not afford to go to school; for this reason, YUM provided more than a thousand sponsorships every year thanks to funding from Terre des Hommes, Netherlands.
For the past 40 years, YUM has been operating projects that have assisted people across the country regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, age or gender.
Tell us more about what YUM is doing right now to alleviate poverty in Indonesia.
Olva: YUM’s mission and vision continue to be to improve the quality of life for Indonesia’s poor and to do so, to work with communities in providing holistic and sustainable support in the areas of health, education and community development.
Today YUM operates a range of projects in the Indonesian regions of Java and Central Kalimantan. Among others: children libraries in both regions, a vocation training centre in both West Java and Central Kalimantan, a sustainable agricultural project in Kalimantan, an organic farm in West Java, community health education in both regions, a preschool and tutoring classes in West Java, and educational sponsorships in both regions.
How does your work fill the void on what’s already provided by the government?
Olva: For example, in the area where we work in Central Kalimantan – the sub-district of Bukit Batu near Palangkaraya – malaria was endemic. Thanks to funding from the Jephcott Charitable Trust (UK) and the German government, YUM was able to develop a comprehensive malaria control program that included diagnosis and treatment, clean water, sanitation and anti-malaria bed nets. The malaria project has reduced cases to nearly zero.
At the time, the local government had no funding to run this kind of project. A year later, the Global Fund for Malaria started a comprehensive project to control malaria in Kalimantan.
Unfortunately, for too many years, too little was spent by the government on education, in particular outside of big cities where the quality of education is very low. Lack of skills is therefore acute in both regions where we work and government institutions are insufficient to address this problem. It is for this reason that YUM established a vocation training centre both in West Java and Central Kalimantan.
There is no library provided by the government in both of our working areas. It is for this reason, that several years ago we started community libraries which are now accessed by more than a thousand visitors every month and where we run weekly educational and creative programs for children, as well as hygiene and nutrition workshops. These libraries are a huge benefit for the community as many kids are now able to come and read books, something that did not exist before in those areas.
Tell us a real life story of a community that YUM has helped. What positive impact has YUM made in that community?
Olva: From Ibu Nurmiatun, member of the Banturung (Central Kalimantan) community:
“Before we had the clean water network installed by YUM, we had so many difficulties obtaining water and as a result we often got sick! Because there are a lot of stones in the ground, we could not get water. We had to constantly ask for water from our neighbors who had drilled wells. Now, 55 families in my community have clean water coming to their houses!”
Define what success is for YUM.
Olva: For me, success for YUM is to continue assisting poor communities to become healthier, have a better education and for them to be able to get out of the poverty cycle. If YUM can do that for more and more people, that’s success.
Though YUM is already 40 years old, we are still a small NGO. For this reason, we have decided to continue to concentrate our efforts in two regions of Indonesia only, and to increase our impact in both areas. This of course depends on our ability to attract sufficient funding in order to do so.
We want to know more about Olvia Reksodipoetro. Tell us more about yourself.
Olva: I was born in Paris, I moved to Indonesia in 1974 where I worked for the United Nations and met my husband. In 2005, having just retired, I was asked to become the Chair of YUM which at that time was in poor condition. Based on my professional experience I felt it should be possible to revive YUM and make it once again transparent and accountable. Thanks to the help of other dedicated and experienced Board members and new staff, YUM was once again growing and expanding.
What’s the biggest challenge for YUM right now?
Olva: The main challenge for an NGO is always about its ability to attract funding to run its projects.
In order to not be completely dependent on donors’ funding, we started a number of sustainable projects a few years ago which now provide 11% of our budget needs. We hope this percentage could be increased; for example, we wish that some of our projects could become financially sustainable, in particular our vocational training centers.
The other challenge is to attract experienced staff because local NGOs are unable to offer attractive salaries. This is particularly acute in Central Kalimantan because we work in a remote area and there is a shortage of educated people.
How can people help YUM?
YUM always needs funds to run its projects. Therefore donations are most welcome.
YUM strongly believes in volunteerism as a way to, not only support our projects, but as a channel for cultural exchange. Besides individual volunteers both local and foreign, YUM welcomes local and international groups who are looking for a meaningful and exciting alternative to the typical tourist destinations.
And, we would really like to partner with young entrepreneurs who could share their skills with us.
Thank you, Olva.
If you would like to donate to Yayasan Usaha Mulia, please visit their home page.