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Urban Chat: Coronavirus, charities and charlatans

Lynda Ibrahim

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, April 3, 2020  /  02:15 pm
Urban Chat: Coronavirus, charities and charlatans

People wear a mask to defend themselves from the coronavirus. (Shutterstock/-)

As the number of COVID-19 patients rises daily, so does the number of stories about blue-collar workers struggling to make ends meet.

Creative industries such as fashion and art, often deemed as secondary if not tertiary needs, suffered an early blow as countless festivals and bazaars got canceled during the supposedly profitable pre-Idul Fitri months.

Powered mostly by small and medium-sized enterprises, many creative business owners are quietly counting their liquidity to pay out the mandatory Idul Fitri bonus and measuring their survival beyond. The creative human resource, many of whom are proud freelancers, are starting to wonder.

Another problem also soon emerged. A large chunk of Indonesia's labor force works in the informal sector, largely unregulated and seldom shielded by an adequate safety net.

The app-based ride-hailing drivers, taxi drivers, food hawkers, self-employed parking attendants, seamstresses, low-skilled construction laborers – not only do they live a hand-to-mouth existence, their daily income comes from a healthily running economy.

Now that work from home, physical distancing and quasi-lockdown measures are in place, these folks are rapidly losing their livelihood. They still go out, risking infection to feed the family.

Continuing to work while risking infection has also been forced upon many of our medical professionals. A sudden surge of infectious patients of this magnitude was not factored into the supply chain of protective suits, which left our medical and burial workers making do with raincoats and other makeshift protection.

The problem is by no means unique to Indonesia, as doctors in Europe and the US are screaming loudly on social media over the lack of standardized protective suits (a doctor in New York tweeted what she was given to wear, a New York Yankees plastic poncho).

During a press briefing last week, State of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo openly admitted that his team had been scouring suppliers around the world for masks and gloves.

The good thing is, when push comes to shove, generous souls come forward. Global luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy reappropriated its perfume production line to make free hand sanitizer for France, while Prada bought complete ICU units for Milan hospitals.

Paragon, the mother company behind the lucrative cosmetics brands Wardah and Makeover, generously donated billions of rupiah to referral hospitals — a move soon followed by other large corporations in Indonesia, some preferred sending out goods than money.

The Indonesian Twitterati, for all their noise and snarkiness, have been known to be fast in mobilizing help. Either through private donations or public crowdfunding accounts, wallets were quickly opened to distribute masks and hand sanitizer to informal sector workers, or meals to overworked health workers.

A handful of resourceful names in the local fashion scene sprang into action. Renowned designer Anne Avantie announced a shift of production line to make protective suits for hospitals, Cotton Ink aimed to produce 10,000 protective suits through crowdfunding, Major Minor donated much-needed masks, while young designer Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan raced to sew coveralls for often overlooked community health centers (Puskesmas).

Party organizer Ola Harika Rachman endeavored to produce facial visors for hospitals, as many are running out of goggles and face shields to protect from patients’ respiratory droplets, the main source of infection.

However, in the midst of this madness, alongside the well-meaning charities, roam profiteering charlatans.

A friend ordering boxes of surgical masks for donations got scammed, receiving used masks instead while the online seller disappeared without a trace.

Another friend trying to simultaneously giving cloth masks to the poor while empowering work-needing seamstresses almost got robbed with an exorbitant sewing fee from a cheeky operator.

A pal’s sister wanting to send factory-issue disinfectant ended up with both the hired driver and hot items vanishing into thin air.

A buddy’s brother selling cheap cloth masks for donations saw his products being resold for profit.

The diehard leftists instantly, and oh-so-predictably, blamed capitalism. The misty-eyed yogis blamed the dark side of humanity. I just blame the charlatans, note their full names, and prep my voodoo dolls (What? They so deserve it).

Does that mean that you should withdraw from helping out? God, no.

Help out in any way you can and feel safe to do. Donate to crowdfunding efforts, distribute sanitizer, send out meals, even spread the information as there are well-meaning people who want to donate but aren’t very informed. Most of these things can be done from inside the safety of your house with a click or two on your gadget.

Even if you have no extra pennies to spare, you can still help by keeping yourself healthy, keeping your job, or keeping your business afloat so your workers get to keep their job. Being healthy and employed today means helping the government for not becoming yet another burden.

Until this pandemic passed us all. After which, if my voodoo dolls didn’t prevail, we round up the profiteering charlatans. (ste)

– Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer with
a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.

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