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Jakarta Post

Jeremy Irons: From trash to treasure

  • Julia Suryakusuma

    The Jakarta Post

Gianyar, Bali   /   Mon, December 2, 2013   /  11:35 am
Jeremy Irons: From trash to treasure

Hot topic: Jeremy Irons'€™ celebrity status could also draw attention to an issue even closer to his heart: the welfare of Indonesian children. Courtesy of Rio Helmi

After visiting Jakarta recently to promote Trashed, a documentary by Candida Brady on the global waste crisis and how we are trashing our planet, Jeremy Irons went on to Bali to continue his campaign.

His Trashed campaign? No, not exactly. He went to our famous holiday island to visit a posyandu (integrated health services post) under the care of the Kartika Soekarno Foundation (KSF).

Kartika had seen Trashed in Venice and was so affected by it that she decided to invite Irons, the narrator and co-producer of the film, to Indonesia. She hoped he could raise awareness on the issue of waste here, because it has long been a massive problem across Indonesia.

So what'€™s the connection between garbage and health services?

It is none other than Kartika herself, the daughter of former president Sukarno and Ratna Sari Dewi (née Naoko Nemoto), his Japanese wife. Kartika established her foundation in 1998 as a response to the financial crisis that was besetting Indonesia and much of Asia at the time.

Godmother: Kartika Soekarno poses with children at a posyandu in Gianyar. Courtesy of Rio HelmiGodmother: Kartika Soekarno poses with children at a posyandu in Gianyar. Courtesy of Rio Helmi

She feared the disastrous economic situation could have resulted in a '€œlost generation'€ of Indonesian kids, trashed by poverty and inadequate government services. Stunted growth due to malnutrition and a lack of educational opportunities threatened tragic consequences for both our children and our nation. Kartika understood this, and sprang into action.

Luckily, Indonesia has had the posyandu system since 1978. It was considered one of the best examples of community-based healthcare in the developing world when it was set up. Unfortunately, the system deteriorated rapidly after the fall of former president Soeharto in 1998. It had been an integral part of the wider mechanisms of New Order social engineering, and these were quickly dismantled in the Reformation era.

Revitalizing the posyandu system is not an easy task. It requires not only an injection of money but also new and more effective strategies for community health. According to Stephen Woodhouse, former UNICEF representative in Indonesia (1995-2000) and executive director of KSF since its inception, '€œthe aims and objectives of the KSF are to maximize human potential by focusing on what we know to be cost effective interventions that are going to make a difference for children'€.

And make a difference they have. Since 1998, the KSF has created '€œ200 Taman Posyandu that integrate health and nutrition activities with learning activities in the districts of Gianyar, Solok, Gresik, Blitar and Kebumen; retrained over 1,000 posyandu volunteers to detect child health issues early, improve health and nutrition counseling and led early learning activities; and built local government capacity to invest own funds for the long term implementation of posyandu revitalization in five districts of Indonesia'€, and more.

Yes, Irons'€™ star status has been put to good use to draw public attention to the issue of trash, but Kartika felt it could also draw attention to an issue even closer to her heart: the welfare of Indonesian children. That'€™s why she invited Irons and his wife, Irish actress Sinéad Cusack, to visit a posyandu in Gianyar supported by the KSF.

Heavyweight stars: Actor Jeremy Irons (front, left) and Kartika Soekarno (center) watch children being weighed at a posyandu (integrated health services post) in Gianyar, Bali. Kartika'€™s foundation has created 200 posyandu that integrate health and nutrition activities with learning activities. Courtesy of Rio HelmiHeavyweight stars: Actor Jeremy Irons (front, left) and Kartika Soekarno (center) watch children being weighed at a posyandu (integrated health services post) in Gianyar, Bali. Kartika'€™s foundation has created 200 posyandu that integrate health and nutrition activities with learning activities. Courtesy of Rio Helmi

Everybody'€™s happy: Jeremy Irons and his wife, Irish actress Sinéad Cusack, sing with children at a posyandu in Gianyar. Courtesy of Rio HelmiEverybody'€™s happy: Jeremy Irons and his wife, Irish actress Sinéad Cusack, sing with children at a posyandu in Gianyar. Courtesy of Rio Helmi

So on Nov. 14, Irons, Cusack, Kartika, Woodhouse and Yusmanetti Sari (KSF health programme coordinator) made the one and half hour trip from Karangasem, where Irons was staying, to Gianyar.

In the car, Woodhouse briefed on the need to focus on early child care, as recent global research findings show that the first 1000 days are vitally important because that is when 98 percent of brain cells are developed. Nutrition is critical in this period.

'€œThose first 1000 days are also when attitudes are formed'€, he said. '€œSo when we talk about trash, if you can simply show kids '€” even at the age of two and three '€” that throwing things away has a downside, that will be permanently engraved in their psyche for the rest of their lives'€.

Arriving at the posyandu (one of the 26 in Gianyar supported by the KSF), the group was greeted by the bupati (regent) of Gianyar, Anak Agung Gde Agung Bharata, other local officials, the female staff of the posyandu, the teachers and, of course, the children themselves '€” about 30, all wearing neat uniforms. The female staff also wore elegant black and white uniforms designed by Kartika, which she herself wears whenever she visits the posyandu.

The guests of honor were given frangipani garlands, and a welcome dance was performed by local children clad in colorful traditional Balinese costumes. After speeches by the bupati, Woodhouse and Irons, they were shown a wide range of posyandu activities: child-weighing, food supplementation, samples of nutritious meals for different age groups, under-five growth charts, immunization '€” and lots more.

Nutritious and delicious: Examples of food are displayed at a posyandu in Ginyar. JP/Julia SuryakusumaNutritious and delicious: Examples of food are displayed at a posyandu in Ginyar. JP/Julia Suryakusuma

By the time it was all over, Irons seemed enormously impressed by the posyandu.

'€œI was delighted to come to Bali to see the work of the Kartika Soekarno Foundation,'€ he said. '€œHow can we educate society if we don'€™t educate our children? You have to lead by example.

If it'€™s seen to work here and children'€™s health is improving, intelligence levels improving, other places will want to follow. Often in life, we think a problem is too big.

'€œYou have to start small, show that it works, and everyone wants life to be better, so it will eventually spread,'€ he concluded.

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