JAKARTA – They toil on the fringes, without any job security or set hours or decent wages. And the coronavirus has made their already difficult lives harder, and more hazardous.
And so a group of university students in Yogyakarta, on the Indonesian island of Java, set out to help these “informal workers.” On social media, they put out the word: We need money to help these people whose work is seldom appreciated. In just one week, the donations rolled in.
Then, said organizer Ari Wijayanto, they fanned out to distribute 400 bottles of hand sanitizers and 30 bottles of hand soaps to pedicab drivers. Construction workers. Food sellers. Motorcycle taxi drivers. Traders in the city’s wet market, where stalls offer perishable goods like live meat, fish and produce.
And as demand for sanitizers increased and price rose, the students made plans to make it themselves.
“They are the most vulnerable people here. Some of them do not have social insurance. So we want to support them,” Wijayanto said.
For many, the rise of COVID-19 has led to a decline in income.
As of Thursday, the government said there were 893 confirmed cases in Indonesia, including 16 in Yogyakarta. This growing threat has meant a decline in visitors to Kota Gede, one of Yogyakarta’s most popular tourism areas.
“Today I saw almost no tourist came here,” said Yeni Pratiwi, a fried snacks seller there.
According to Pratiwi, since the COVID-19 outbreak, she has lost 40% of her daily income.
“I cannot just stay at home. Staying at home means my family will have nothing to eat,” Pratiwi said.
The two bottles of soap and a bottle of hand sanitizer she got from the students will enable her to maintain hygiene while working at the market for eight hours every day.
“They are really helpful. My children usually provided anti-bacterial hand soap to me. But it is difficult to find now,” Pratiwi said, and very expensive.
The delivery of soaps and sanitizers was planned on Tuesday but was delayed until Thursday; the students needed to obtain their own masks and other equipment to protect themselves. When they did, they also handed out fliers on hygiene.
The students have big plans. They hope to open a kitchen distribute foods to informal workers at three different places in Yogyakarta. They are looking to raise more money to serve their needs, including medical supplies and masks.
The need is great, said one student, Raihan Ibrahim Anas: “Some of the pedicab drivers we met today said they cannot get any customers.”
And until the government steps up, he said, the students will step in.
While nonstop global news about the effects of the coronavirus have become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. "One Good Thing" is an AP continuing series reflecting these acts of kindness.