SASKATOON — The Development and Peace partner organization Arkomjogja builds housing for the urban poor in disaster-prone areas of the world in a grassroots way that also builds a spirit of community.
Co-ordinator Yuli Kusworo was in Saskatchewan recently, describing the work of Arkomjogja and how it is addressing issues of poverty, inequality and climate change in Indonesia.
The Development and Peace solidarity visitor spoke in several locations across Saskatchewan from March 3 - 13, including Holy Spirit and St. Mary parishes in Saskatoon and St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, with presentations also scheduled in Yorkton, Regina and Swift Current, Kindersley, North Battleford and Rosthern.
Armella Sonntag, provincial animator for Development and Peace, introduced Kusworo March 3 at Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon.
An award-winning architect, Kusworo is the co-ordinator and one of the founders of Arkomjogja, which works in the historical city of Yogyakarta and on multiple projects in other regions of Indonesia. He also acts as a consultant on Development and Peace’s reconstruction program in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Kusworo began his presentation by describing his home country. Consisting of some 17,508 islands, Indonesia has a population of nearly 260 million, with 746 local languages and more than a thousand ethnic groups. “We have a national language, Bahasa, to connect with each other.”
Millions of hectares of rainforest in Indonesia are being lost at a rate of about seven per cent each year, he reported. Climate change is having a big impact on the country, he added. “Before we had six months of rainy season, now, only three months.”
In addition, the island nation is located in the so-called “ring of fire,” prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, including the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day 2004.
In responding to housing needs in the wake of disaster or in the midst of poverty, Arkomjogja works closely with the people they are serving, involving them in all stages in a process of consultation and empowerment. This is in contrast to projects by a developer or a government, which don’t take into account what the poor need or want, he said.
“We are not only building physical things,” he said, admitting that it takes more time and effort to tend to the “non-physical things” — such as community building, social cohesion and a self-help spirit.
“Poor people have a tradition of building housing for themselves,” he noted. “We work as friends with poor people in the community.”
The Arkomjogja team includes senior and junior architects, community organizers, an engineer and an accountant, and has worked in 16 cities in Indonesia. Kusworo has also worked in other countries after disasters, including the Philippines and Nepal. They tailor their response to the nature of the community — for instance, taking a different approach in urban and rural areas.
The team uses local knowledge and materials, and fosters a spirit of cohesion in a process that includes a co-operative and consultative process of community mapping, community planning and community implementation. “Houses are built by the community together,” said Kusworo. This is more cost effective as well as building community spirit.
The process also increases the capacity of the people to advocate for themselves, to find a voice and speak to government or work together to achieve other goals, he noted. He also shared video testimony from some of those whom Arkomjogja has worked with, in which they described the impact of having “support for what we are lacking.”