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Swadaya a story of self-empowerment

I Wayan Juniarta

The Jakarta Post

Denpasar  /  Thu, July 20, 2017  /  08:56 am
Swadaya a story of self-empowerment

Green area: An aerial view of vast paddy field documented in Swadaya. (Swadaya/File)

A new television series showcases inspiring grassroots initiatives from across the archipelago.

Swadaya, a TV series in the making, features a wide spectrum of inspiring stories, from a university-educated entrepreneur who decided to return to his dirt-poor village and start a goat milk “revolution,” to a group of humble, yet determined fishermen who — amid tense opposition and suspicion — planted trees along their erosion-haunted beach, creating a hip tourist destination in the process.

With a title that translates as “self-empowered,” the show is the brainchild of passionate Indonesian cultural photographer Rio Helmi and award-winning American documentary filmmaker Joe Yaggi. 

They promised that Swadaya would inspire the nation on the resilience and innovations of its grassroots communities. 

Rio and Yaggi have both traveled extensively around Indonesia, particularly in the country’s eastern islands, which have missed out on the prosperity of Java and Bali.

“Government and foreign spending are so wasteful in eastern Indonesia,” said Yaggi, who has been making documentaries on conservation, social issues and wildlife in Indonesia since 1993. 

“All that money is concentrated in a few places, it’s not trickling down. When projects do happen, they are typically presented to the people without consultation, so they feel no real ownership.”

Documenting: Rio Helmi takes a photo of local coffee maker.Documenting: Rio Helmi takes a photo of local coffee maker. (Swadaya/File)

Other than providing real-life examples of community initiatives, in which the locals do experience a sense of ownership, the series also aims at addressing the threat of extremism.

“Class issues are the drivers of extremism […] We need to learn to respect people, distribute and share. When people’s needs are ignored, it creates fertile ground for extremist recruiters,” Rio said.

“Communities working together are less susceptible to extremism.”

Swadaya will comprise 13 30-minute episodes. Each episode will give Indonesians a look at how communities can work together and take charge of their own issues, empowering themselves with beneficial projects and programs. 

Viewers can watch the series on Bumi Hijau TV (BHTV), a network of 70 stations with a combined viewership of 200 million people from across the archipelago. 

BHTV is the largest local television advertising syndication partnership in the country, and has distributed over 30,000 factual TV programs and public service announcements (PSA) to local TV partners on social issues, the environment, health and wildlife since 2014. 

Research and production, which saw Rio travel on his motorbike visiting selected grassroots communities, have been running for a year and a half.

So far, the team has produced three extended trailers: “Bamboo Heroes of Bali,” “Goat Milk Entrepreneurs of East Java” and “The Fishermen and the Tree Farm in East Java.”

Delicious: A goat milk revolution is taking place the small village of Gombengsari in East Java by storm.Delicious: A goat milk revolution is taking place the small village of Gombengsari in East Java by storm. (Swadaya/File)

The “Goat Milk Entrepreneurs of East Java” trailer narrates the victorious struggle of Hariono, fondly called Pak Ho, a university graduate who decided to return to his home village of Gombengsari, located on the slopes of Mount Ijen in East Java. 

The village was very poor and Hariono tried to find a way to tackle that problem. 

He hit on the idea of raising a special breed of goats, called Etawa. He convinced a goat breeder in Banyuwangi to give him a loan and he got his first two kids. 

“They were as big as fully grown local goats, and they cost as much. All the villagers told me I was stupid paying that much for [baby] goats. Then they grew to twice the size and the people changed their mind,” Hariono said. 

Hariono was not satisfied with just raising and selling the goats. He soon noticed that the females produced an extraordinary amount of nutritious milk.

So, Hariono started a small dairy enterprise that did quite well. By then, other farmers were paying attention. 

“I couldn’t have just told them to do it in the beginning — farmers need proof, they need to be shown,” he said. 

The group started marketing its products around East Java and eventually Bali. 

Hariono also shared his know-how with other villages, and now they run a WhatsApp group that keeps everyone abreast on prices, demand and supply.

Now, nearly all the roads in Gombrengsari are paved, houses have tiled floors, there are scooters outside each house and children attend primary and high school every day.

Action: The making of Swadaya.Action: The making of Swadaya. (Swadaya/File)

The “Fishermen and the Tree Farm in East Java” episode will show how a group of local fishermen in Banyuwangi launched an initiative to plant pine trees along the eroded coastal line of Rejo beach. 

Initially, the initiative met resistance from other residents, but the fishermen were persistent. 

Eventually, they managed to transform the coastal area into a huge swath of green forest, which later attracted visitors. Nowadays, the beach is known among tourists and locals alike as Cemara beach.

Save the turtles: School children at the Pantai Cemara conservation project.Save the turtles: School children at the Pantai Cemara conservation project. (Swadaya/File)

“Local initiatives have high success rates because ordinary people are invested. Make no mistake, simple people are not ignorant or stupid, they understand new concepts but need inspiration,” Rio said.

Other inspiring stories planned for the series include a motorcycle gang in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, which organizes transport for midwives to reach women in labor, and residents of a remote West Papua coast, who rally around a whale shark whisperer and build fish and crustacean farms to support their village.

Rio, who came from a privileged background, said that the process of making Swadaya has taught him a lot. 

“If you really want to do something beneficial, just do it without calculating your own loss or profit. Work out what the benefits are to your community and go for it. The rest will work out one way or another,” he said about the most important lesson he learned from those grassroots communities.


Swadaya is currently holding a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo ( to raise funds for completing filming. Each show is estimated to cost US$ 75,000 to produce.