Rebuilding Solidarity from ‘Anywhere’:
A COVID Response from the Nusantara School of Difference Network
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most Institute for Resource Governance and Social Change (IRGSC) activities switched to working remotely from home and using an online platform to interact, managing nonetheless to build a solidarity movement at the time Indonesia declared its first COVID-19 case in March 2020. (IRGSC is the host organization of the Nusantara School of Difference.)
In the whole province, there was no facility to do COVID-19 swab- testing until the fourth week of April 2020. While such a laboratory is now operating, the test capacity receives very limited use and is expensive; the current cost per person is 1,500,000 rupiah per test, which is about three times the salary of a contract teacher in rural areas. The cost makes it unaffordable for most people in the East Nusa Tenggara province.
Our contribution to coping with the pandemic started in the second week of March 2020, when a friend from Jakarta requested us to translate a government handbook to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to take care of those infected. We did this in two days, for free. It was the work of more than 20 people with different backgrounds including medical doctors, sociologists, and others. We understood that during the crisis we need to work together to rebuild solidarity from anywhere. Anywhere may mean help from someone in Iowa (United States) or Yogyakarta (Indonesia), or Tasmania (Australia).
What was unique in this case was that rather than working with people we know or with whom we had established contacts, here we simply worked with others who shared our goal, even without knowing one another. From the shared experience of the work itself, we got to know one another better and overcome the limitations of physical distance.
We worked with others to collect ideas, to share our anxiety, and to execute planning on a daily basis- during the pandemic. We continued for four months, until the 15th of July 2020, when the government lifted its internal travel restriction. We have produced several things out of this, including the COVID-19 handbook translation, face masks, sterilization boxes for N-95 medical masks, and swab chambers. Moreover, we coordinated and connected the district leaders and heads of provincial offices to communicate with each other and the general public. In short, we assisted and supported the government’s role through an effort of mass solidarity.
At present, we are running a fundraising campaign to build something we call a “People’s Laboratory” to provide not only the best care for COVID-19, but for other contagious diseases as well (something the government does not provide). This is our long term goal and we have raised funds for the training of lab operators and now waiting for the first laboratory provided by the government to do a mass test for COVID-19. This is a response to the public demand for the urgent need of a biomolecular-based-surveillance laboratory. We aim to set up at least one laboratory on each big island in the province (a total of four), in order to support the surveillance task on a large scale.