Endang Susilowati: Finding her own way
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JP/Ridwan M. SijabatEndang Susilowati is neither lobbyist nor lawyer, although she studied law at Mataram University in the past.
But Endang has her heart set on finding her own way to help migrant workers from West Nusa Tenggara who get into trouble overseas, and to empower them.
The power of love has motivated her to do simple things as she has handled major cases and humanitarian missions over the past three decades.
Most migrant workers and their relatives in the province are not familiar with the Panca Karsa Association (PPK), the NGO she has led for a decade. But they know Endang well for her tireless efforts in providing legal advocacy for migrants facing prosecution overseas and those having other troubles and disputes with their employers in their workplaces abroad.
Endang impresses migrants by her humane touch and treatment. They call her a true savior and heroine, as she has remained active in looking and advocating for migrants who are in dire straits.
“I have no power nor money and I cannot act like Robin Hood to save people facing the gallows or a firing squad overseas. But I have a heart to communicate with relevant parties to seek better and humane solutions to avoid judges from giving death sentences to our criminalized migrants,” she told The Jakarta Post after making a visit to a mother and her three children released from detention by Malaysian immigration officials recently.
Endang offered the former migrant worker a bit of money to start work as vegetable vendor to support her children who were born in Melaka, Malaysia, from her marriage with a Central Lombok migrant. The husband is serving his two-month jail sentence in Malaysia. The family was netted in crackdown launched by the Malaysian immigration authorities in May.
Born in Singaraja, Bali in 1960, Endang, the mother of two from her marriage with an entrepreneur in the city has done her daily work patiently, although she is no longer as energetic as she was in 1990s when she was executive director of PPK.
“Now we are seeking funds to bring the relatives of six migrant workers facing death sentences in Kuching, Malaysia; Saudi Arabia and China to have them meet each other. Such a family gathering is expected to bring consolation to all and can be an effective way to seek an acquittal of charges or amnesty from the [foreign] heads of states,” she said.
In 2010, Endang brought the relatives of Abidin bin Asmawi, a migrant worker sentenced to death in a murder case, for a family gathering in Seremban, Malaysia. The grief of Abidin’s wife and his mother when testifying at the appeal court led the panel of judges to acquit him of the murder charges.
In the same year, she also arranged another gathering that helped gain the release of three migrant workers who were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in another murder case in Kluang, Malaysia.
Endang, now coordinator of the PPK’s legal advocacy division, said the relatives of the six migrants sentenced to death in the three countries have repeatedly visited PPK’s office to seek information on the convicts’ latest condition “but we could not do much to help them because either the central government and the provincial administration has not been notified of the cases yet.”
“We have met the governor and the Central Lombok regent to seek financial aid to allow the relatives to meet with the six migrants, but we were given only Rp 5 million (US$530), a sum which is far from enough,” she said, adding that the presidential task force has not been aware of migrant workers facing death row in Kucing and China.
She stressed the importance of a familial approach to seek amnesty for the migrants facing death in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. She said the three sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia were waiting to apologize to the victims’ families at an appeal court or otherwise they would be executed.
“The PPK has since long informed this cases to the presidential task force and the Foreign Ministry but the government has moved too slowly and this will cause the convicts to lose a chance to get a lighter sentence,” she said.
Endang who has also actively been involved in the gender movement, small-scale enterprises and anti-human trafficking programs in the province, called on the provincial and regency administrations to reform their mind-sets on labor migration to minimize cases befalling migrants overseas.
“The main and urgent issue is no longer remittances or foreign exchanges but job creation and education campaigns, as the province has much money. Most uneducated and poor people have sent workers to work overseas because they could find no jobs home to improve their livelihoods,” she said.
She also said that the government has distributed a huge amount of funds in bank credits to help returning migrant workers develop small businesses, but the program was not running well because of high interest rates and complicated administrative requirements.
“The numerous programs and the funds become idle while most people continue living in poverty and backwardness. Labor migration remains the only alternative for them to change their life,” she said referring to permanent houses in least-developed villages that were constructed by migrant workers.
She regretted that many children have gone to school with the hope that they could sometime leave for Malaysia and the Middle East to seek jobs. Many migrant workers with mental problems during their employment have scanned Malaysian ringgit and Saudi Arabian real banknotes and put them on their walls because they have failed to bring the money home.
Endang appreciated the provincial government’s work to decentralize labor exports to ensure the true recruitment of workers, the provision of necessary information and their training to have required competence or skills.
“The presence of labor supplying companies’ branches and the ongoing construction of an international training center in Selong, East Lombok, were expected to give close supervision, appropriate recruitment and good training for migrant workers before their departure,” she said, citing the main causes behind rampant labor abuses.