The Indonesian Diaspora’s Response to Social Isolation: Donations for Food Supplies and Peer Counselling Programme

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The Indonesian Diaspora’s Response to Social Isolation: Donations for Food Supplies and Peer Counselling Programme

Boxes of Indonesian instant noodles ready to be distributed to those in need

Author: Rebekha Adriana, researcher, Leiden University alumnus. You can contact Rebekha at rebekhaadriana@gmail.com

Fieldsite: Rebekha conducted research among the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands.

There are large numbers of members of the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands and they all come from a variety of economic and social backgrounds. These consist of Indonesian students, Indonesian nationals who have been living in the Netherlands for several decades, and undocumented migrants who come to the Netherlands for work to provide financial support for their family back home. Within the diaspora community, everyone maintains close ties to other members and they all connect through social media. Several members of the community have established Facebook groups for the purpose of connecting with all of their fellow Indonesians in the country.

Since the Coronavirus outbreak started to spread throughout the Netherlands, this Facebook group is also used to share information and news on the pandemic, including the measures implemented to control the spread of the virus. In the Netherlands, the government has taken measures to control the spread of the virus, including closing restaurants, sports facilities, daycare centres, offices, schools, cancelling public events, and urging people to blijf thuis (stay at home) except for grocery shopping or essential trips. This has been going on since mid-March. When going outside, people must keep a 1.5-meter distance from other members of the public. These measures, which were originally meant to last until the 6th of April, keep being extended: first until the 28th of April,  and now until the 20th of May. These will most likely be extended again for several months. Like in other places, these measures have changed life drastically, with many businesses and schools being closed, people losing their incomes and struggling to cope with the restricted mobility as well as the limited direct social interaction.

In this difficult time, I found at least two community initiatives from the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands, both aimed at helping fellow Indonesians.

One of these was an organised fundraising initiative to provide and distribute food supplies to those who are the most vulnerable in this situation, which is undocumented Indonesian migrants.

Picture of groceries ready to be distributed shared on the Facebook group

In mid-March, a few days after the Netherlands implemented social distancing measures, I saw an Indonesian in the Facebook group posting a call to prayer for those Indonesians who are the most vulnerable during this time – those who don’t have a work or residence permit in the Netherlands (undocumented migrants). Undocumented migrants usually come from a lower socio-economic background in Indonesia and they move to the Netherlands to work in informal sectors as housekeepers, providing cleaning services, or as waiters, to provide for their family back in Indonesia.

The person expressed concerns over the undocumented migrants who had lost their job and income because of these measures and cannot receive financial support from the government, having no residence permit and work permit while they must pay their rent and send money to their family back home.

Moreover, their undocumented status also complicates the process of grocery shopping in this pandemic. As a preventive measure against the spread of Coronavirus, most markets in the Netherlands do not accept cash payment and only accept payment by card, while undocumented migrants are not even eligible to open up a bank account in the Netherlands due to their statusTherefore, not only does this mean that these migrants cannot afford to feed themselves, but it is also troublesome for them to buy groceries during this pandemic.

This Facebook post sparked many responses from other members, including the admin, who also wanted to do something to help them. Within days, the admin started to open a fundraising platform for donations to be distributed to these undocumented migrants through the Facebook group. Luckily, the Indonesian diaspora responded with great enthusiasm and within a short time, they managed to gather a generous amount of money, with people asking the admin if they can still donate even after the end of the initial fundraising period.

After the money was collected, the admin reached out to several Indonesians who were in contact with these undocumented migrants to organise the distribution process. Donations are distributed to the different cities where these undocumented migrants live. Several Indonesians volunteered to distribute the donations, they went grocery shopping for staple foods such as instant noodles, rice, and eggs with the money from donations and contacted the undocumented migrants to pick up the food supplies at specific locations. All the steps involved in the process of donation, including the grocery receipts, a screenshot of the total amount of donations, and the food supplies bought, are documented and shared in the Facebook group so everyone knows how the donations are distributed to those in need.

Recently, the Indonesian diaspora community organised another fundraising initiative, this time to donate money for medical protective equipment for health professionals in several hospitals in Indonesia.

Another community initiative from this diaspora is a programme that offers counselling sessions, organised by the Indonesian Student Association to help any Indonesians who have mental health problems specifically related to life under social distancing measures.

Promotional image for the counselling programme organised by the Indonesian Student Association

For this counselling program, Indonesian Student Association works together with Indonesian students who are pursuing a graduate programme in Psychology in the Netherlands as the counsellors. This counselling is also free of charge. The organiser told me during a phone interview that the Indonesian Student Association had been doing this counselling program every year, but the program was usually limited only to Indonesian students and focused on struggles and issues as an international student. This year, the Indonesian student association decided to extend this counselling to all Indonesians since this Coronavirus outbreak affects everyone, not only students. They decided to do this after hearing stories from many Indonesian students who are struggling with restricted mobility, big changes in daily routine, and limited daily social interaction, especially for those who live alone with no roommates or housemates. This counselling program is advertised on the Instagram page of Indonesian Student Association as well through Whatsapp groups.

Those who want to participate have to register and answer some questions about their condition, so the admin can decide who will be their counsellor depending on the specialisation of each counsellor and the condition of each person. The counselling session itself is done online through Whatsapp and depends on the readiness of those who sign up whether they want to do the counselling via text or video call. According to the organiser, at least 16 people have registered for the counselling sessiond. The programme is expected to continue for several months during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Surviving in a foreign country is not easy: you are alone and away from your family. For the Indonesian diaspora community, their fellow Indonesians become their family away from home and the diaspora community become a place to which they turn for help and support in a difficult time. Luckily, the Netherlands-based Indonesian diaspora is quick to help its fellow members, having developed the above-mentioned initiatives during this pandemic.

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