National

Rembang regency provides
free education, healthcare

Residents of Rembang regency, Central Java, benefit from free healthcare and a free nine-year compulsory education program that relieves families of having to pay school fees through junior high school.

Rembang is a barren region, similar in feature to neighboring regencies Blora to the south and Pati to the west.

The area is inhabited by 490,000 people and consists of 14 districts, seven of which are located along the north coast of Java.

The southern areas of the regency are marked by hills from the Pegunungan Kapur Utara mountain range, with Mount Butak rising above the rest to an elevation of 679 meters above sea level.

The tallest peak in the region's north is Mount Lasem, at 806 meters, now part of the Gunung Celering nature reserve.

Due to its arid topography, the region experiences little rainfall, which usually arrives during two months of the year, and the area often experiences water shortages.

The local administration has made efforts to empower residents by providing free education and healthcare.

"We have launched a free nine-year compulsory education program," said Rembang Regent Mochammad Salim.

Students, including those at SMP 2 Rembang junior high school, have benefited from the program. One student, Padmanusa, had to pay Rp 35,000 every month in school fees before the program was launched.

"We have stopped paying school fees as of this semester. We know the administration provides free schooling now," said elementary school students Padmanusa, Paramita and Isti Nurmarita.

The local administration also provides health coverage for residents with local identity cards.

"They are entitled to free medical treatment and third-class, in-patient treatment at the Soetrasno District Hospital in Rembang," said Salim.

Soetrasno Hospital director Agus Setioadi said the hospital was equipped with 195 beds, 177 of which were assigned to inpatients, 10 to the intensive care unit and eight to the maternity ward.

"We have allocated 88 beds to those receiving third-class treatment, who make up the majority of our patients," he said.

As of last year, the hospital is equipped with 150 nurses, nine general physicians, a dentist and 20 midwives, while plans have been made to add two pediatricians, four general physicians, eight midwives and two ambulance drivers.

Rembang is one of the least-developed regencies in Central Java. Home Minister Mardiyanto, previously the province's regent for two consecutive terms, said Rembang, along with Banjarnegara and Wonogiri regencies, remained disadvantaged.

"I hope Rembang will make use of its deep (sea) shelf areas by building a port," said Mardiyanto.

He also said there was hope Rembang could get a slice of Exxon Mobil's profits from its oil exploration activities in the area, as indicated by Exxon Mobil spokesperson Deva Rachman in The Jakarta Post early this month.

A number of exploration companies have conducted feasibility studies in the region to explore its abundant mineral resources.

With a coastline spanning 65 kilometers from Kaliori district to Sarang district, most of Rembang's coastal residents earn their livings as fishermen, and with 13 fish auction facilities, the regency is one of the richest marine thoroughfares in the province.

In Kaliori, salt farms on both sides of the highway from Jakarta to Surabaya dominate the landscape. Salt and fishery products from the area are distributed to various destinations, including Semarang, Surabaya and cities in Sumatra.

"We have plans to set up a sugar mill in this area," said Salim.

The proposal could benefit local farmers, who make up 50 percent of the population, allowing them to sell their sugarcane produce to the mill.

Rembang is slowly beginning to take off, following the prediction of the late Raden Ajeng Kartini, a national women's rights champion and wife of Rembang regent Djojodiningrat during the Dutch colonial era. Kartini passed away on Sept. 17, 1904, in Rembang.

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