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Jakarta Post

Yearender 2020: The year of unexpected changes, silver linings

  • Budi Sutrisno

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, December 25, 2020   /   11:10 am
Yearender 2020: The year of unexpected changes, silver linings Visitors enjoy the sunset at Jambak Beach in Padang, West Sumatra, on Dec. 1. The beach in Padang city has been a popular tourist destination for those living in the city and the surrounding area to unwind. (Antara/Iggoy el Fitra)

Like no other time in recent history, 2020 has been the year of people accepting fundamental alterations to life, in which unprecedented uncertainties have challenged standards of living and emotional circumstances.

While the coronavirus pandemic has generally put the government's political will and priorities to the test, as well as revealing the true nature of the administration, it has at the bottom affected all elements of society.

Even though it is still uncertain whether or not Indonesia has gone through the most painful part, some people have opted to take the wise path to let out a deep sigh of relief and think about what they have learned from the year as it finally comes to an end.

World changes, but dreams continue

When the country started to impose large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in April, 36-year-old fitness instructor Ahmad Ramdhani from South Tengerang, Banten, had to leave behind the job he had held for 16 years, having lost all of his clients.

Health measures have not only been about travel restrictions and canceled holiday trips but have also spelled disaster for business supply chains as people are obliged to stay home, forcing moneymakers to adapt in order to survive.

Ahmad is one of nearly 30 million Indonesians in the working-age group affected by the pandemic. This number, as reported by the Manpower Ministry in late November, includes those whose working hours have been reduced and those who have completely lost their jobs.

Read also: ‘Aisyiyah launches online entrepreneur school in response to global pandemic

After waiting for months with no apparent signs that conditions would improve, Ahmad took his fitness classes online, which unfortunately failed to attract participants.

He finally earned income by selling rolled tobacco, although the job went against his personal values as a non-smoker, while joining a temporary fitness project in Tegal, Central Java, traveling many kilometers on round trips every day.

“I’m applying for any job available. I do it not for myself but for my family and our dreams. The storm will pass, but we must reinvent ourselves to survive,” the father of four told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

In the same spirit of resilience, 25-year-old Franssisca Xaveria, an aviation paralegal in a United States law firm, continued with her plan to marry her beloved one just before Christmas after learning that the pandemic would not be over anytime soon.

She admitted she had been nervous about the health protocols she had to follow during the wedding, which the couple had planned since January, but she finally convinced herself to carry on for the sake of her own happiness.

“At the moment, we can just focus on making the relationship legal instead of thinking about having big parties. [...] Happiness can be found even in the darkest place, so now it depends on how we pursue it,” she said.

Agony, recovery: Life after loss

The world has also been turned upside down for 27-year-old East Java resident Dea Winnie Pertiwi after losing her father, her mother, as well as her sister with her unborn child, to COVID-19 from late May to early June.

Dea said she would break down in tears every time the news about umroh (minor haj) pilgrimages showed up as it reminded her of her shattered dream to visit Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca with her parents this year.

“It’s still hard to let them go because everything happened so fast and suddenly for me. I feel like I haven’t been fully healed right up until now. The real pain started not on the day they died, but the day after,” she said.

Read also: ‘COVID-19 is real’: Virus ravages family in Surabaya

Dea’s family members are among more than 20,000 out of over 600,000 COVID-19 cases that have turned fatal so far in Indonesia as the country scrambles to contain the virus. Her province has contributed the largest number of the deaths.

As the outbreak continued to worsen, even health workers had to witness firsthand the deaths of their own relatives and friends, said Gia Pratama, who leads an emergency department at a private hospital in South Jakarta.

“Some of my cousins, classmates and fellow doctors who worked with me have died from the coronavirus. It’s just physically and mentally draining,” he said.

As many as 363 medical and health workers have died of COVID-19 infections, consisting of 202 doctors, 15 dentists and 146 nurses, according to data from the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) as per Dec. 15.

Before 2020, Gia said, the big common expectation within the medical industry for this year was just to resolve the muddle surrounding the Healthcare and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan), which has been struggling with financial deficits.

“When the pandemic started, no one was ready. I myself wore a raincoat for protection, and many decisions were taken spontaneously,” he said.

Coping with extreme sadness and denial, many family members of COVID-19 victims have sought professional help, so have those who experienced the loss of employment, social support and relationships.

Members of the Indonesian Clinical Psychologists Association (IPK Indonesia) treated a total of 14,619 people from March to August.

“Some clients who had completed their treatments came back after the pandemic made quite crucial changes in their lives and brought more severe issues than they already had,” IPK chairwoman Anna Surti Ariani said.

Read also: Seven months on, health crisis continues to take a toll on mental health

Recent research by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) shows that coronavirus impacts, especially financial losses, have taken a toll on the mental health of 61 percent of people in the productive age group.

“On the bright side, we are now seeing an increase in the awareness about mental health,” LIPI researcher Lengga Pradipta said.

Human-powered efforts to the rescue

Although technology has allowed us to deal with the virus more easily by easing the redistribution of wealth to reduce inequality, digital learning, cross-border sharing of research data and contact tracing, it would mean nothing without the vital roles played by multi-sector players, an expert has said.

Since the outbreak started, the public has witnessed overwhelming collaboration between leaders of communities and regions in a bid to turn the crisis into an opportunity for all.

“We have seen how something so invisible can have a tremendous impact on society, and now we need to keep rethinking our preparedness and resilience to future threats,” LIPI biotechnology researcher Wien Kusharyoto said.

Read also: Jokowi announces ‘free’ COVID-19 vaccines for all

Better investment in research is one key to determining how disasters play out in Indonesia, Wien argued, saying that the country’s research culture had not been ready for a major disease outbreak.

While approved foreign vaccines have  brought hope for upturns, community members still need to continuously make collective efforts to minimize virus transmission and its impacts, Atma Jaya University medical lecturer Eva Suryani said.

“As Stephen Covey says, ‘10 percent of life is made up of what happens to you, 90 percent is decided by how you react’. Change requires continuous actions and care,” she said.