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In Indonesia’s early struggle for independence, heroes were defined as people who brandished sharpened bamboo to defend their nation against the might of colonial powers.
Today, the definition has changed for modern times, without the pressing need to go to battle for sovereignty. The definition extends to many different types of people, from celebrities with a passion for the arts to unsung heroes who collect garbage blocking a river’s water gate.
In short, in defining what links them all, a hero is a person who sacrifices their own comforts for the greater good.
Here are some choices of the nation’s finest citizens (as well as several longtime expatriates with a love of Indonesia) doing their part for others.
Educational Inspirations: Indonesia ranks low in international in education assessments, with the country placed 61st out of 65 countries for math proficiency in the 2009 Program for International Students Assessment; only four places from the bottom. In 2006, Indonesia had ranked 50th of 57 countries. But the archipelago has also seen individuals shining through, such as Septinus George Saa, a Papuan boy who won the First Step to the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004, and many other youngsters winning Mathematics or Physics Olympiads.
These children owe their success to the help of dedicated people, such as Yohanes Surya, who travels around the country to find bright young Indonesians; Anies Baswedan, the Paramadina University rector who launched Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesia Teaches), an initiative to send the best and the brightest young university graduates to the country’s far-flung regions; Butet Manurung, who dedicates her life to teaching children in Jambi’s remote forests; and Iman Usman, co-founder and president of Indonesian Future Leader, a non-profit organization aiming to empower the country’s youth.
Green Gains: The burgeoning middle class in Indonesia and the accompanying rise in expendable income among its members led to a rise in spending which, in turn, means more garbage. The government may be making an effort to decrease the levels of waste, but it’s not enough and, just like yin has yang, rising volumes of garbage results in a rising awareness of recycling. Green communities, such as the one established by 34 state high school teachers and another established in East Jakarta’s Susukan subdistrict, as well as individual initiatives, such as that taken by architect Ridwan Kamil who built his home from recycled bottles, are making green the new black. Push-biking communities, such as Bike to Work, which is led by Toto Sugito, also contribute to decreasing pollution level in the city.
Health is Wealth: Indonesia is working hard to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. It is targeting to minimize its maternal mortality rate (MMR) to 102 per 100,000 live births by 2015, but last year the country still recorded an MMR of 228, which is the highest rate in Southeast Asia. To help the country reach its target on maternal mortality Ubud-based midwife, Robin Lim, has been promoting her gentle birth approach for the past decade. Her continuing efforts won her the 2011 CNN Hero of the year. Many health activists, such as the “floating nurses” who deliver health services in East Nusa Tenggara and the HIV/AIDS activists working to curb the number of sufferers of the disease have also given their energy, time and money to help the country reach the MDGs.
Fashion, Film and Music: Indonesia’s fashion designers have started to gain international recognition for their talents, with designer Tex Saverio becoming a household name here after Lady Gaga wore one of his designs. Auguste Soesastro launched his couture line Kraton in the US, Didit Hadiprasetyo, has showed his collections in Paris, while Ardistia Dwiasri has made New York her base. Another up-and-coming designer who deserves special mention is Didiet Maulana who transforms traditional ikat material into modern and chic design.
The nation’s film industry has also been boosted, with Hollywood expressing an interest in remaking The Raid, an action movie directed by Gareth Huw Evans, originally from Wales but who has made Indonesia his home. One of the film’s stars, actor Joe Taslim, has also landed a role in the next installment of the Hollywood flick Fast and Furious.
Indonesia’s music scene is pretty much flooded by pop music, but composer Andi Rianto introduced something new by bringing the orchestral Harmoni music show to television audiences. Since the show began to be broadcast, other television stations have copied the idea.
Young singers Raisa Andriana and GAC (Gamaliel, Audrey and Cantika) posted videos of themselves covering various songs on YouTube, which resulted in their securing record deals with major recording companies.
Kitchen Kings (and Queens): The much-discussed proposition — how to bring Indonesian culinary treasures to the world — is finally becoming a reality. While he always emphasizes that he is not a cook, William Wongso is a confirmed foodie, and one with a passion for sharing his love of fine food with the world. He released that passion through his French restaurant, William Kafe Artistik. Today, he promotes Indonesian standout dishes, such as rendang (the spicy beef dish) that was recently voted number one in an online survey of the world’s best cuisine and as a consultant for Indonesian cuisine on national flag-carrier Garuda’s international routes.
Journalist Bondan Winarno has become a hero among the growing ranks of Indonesia’s middle class with a love of food, first through his Jalan Sutra group, sharing information about great bites, his chain of traditional coffee shops and, with his daughter Gwen, hitting the road for light-hearted restaurant reviews broadcast on the Asian Food Channel.
Not to be left out of the picture is Farah Quinn, whose long-running television show and hefty endorsements prove that she is no mere flash-in-the-pan television celebrity chef; and her recipes are lapped up by viewers at home.
Sporting Chances: As the surprise overall champion of the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, which was held on home soil, Indonesia perhaps has fewer sporting heroes now than in the past. During the nation’s longtime sporting stronghold of badminton, Liliyana Natsir and Tontowi Ahmad became the first Indonesian mixed doubles pair to win the All England title in 33 years. Simon Santoso scored a famous victory at the 2012 Djarum Indonesia Open, showing that he may be ready to take over from perennial national number one and 2004 Olympic gold medalist, Taufik Hidayat.
Weightlifter Triyatno became an instant household name with his silver medal victory in the 69 kilograms category at the 2012 London Olympics. But who are the future heroes to watch out for? Rio Haryanto is already making an impression as a racing driver, with dreams of F1 stardom. In tennis, teenager Tami Grende, 15, already has a slew of titles to her name.
Entrepreneurial Spirit: The best way to curb unemployment is to create jobs through entrepreneurships. But a lack of capital is often a stumbling block to would-be entrepreneurs’ big dreams. However, one young man named Andi Taufan Garuda Putra established a micro-finance institution, Amartha Finance, to help people with limited or no capital to start their small and medium enterprises in Ciseeng, Bogor regency, West Java. Taking Grameen Bank in Bangladesh as his inspiration, Amartha charges 24 percent in interest per year, much lower than the conventional banks, whose interest rates can reach as high as 20 percent per month.
One successful entrepreneur is Sandiaga Uno, whose efforts not only impressed local and regional forums, but also an international one when he was invited to attend the Entrepreneurship Summit in 2010.