Our loving neighbor

Font Size
Teresa S. Abesamis-125

Grassroots & Governance

Our loving neighbor

The recent earthquake and tsunami disasters in Pula, Sulawesi, have brought to my foremind the special regard of Indonesians for Filipinos, which I observed during my many teaching trips to Indonesia in the late ‘80s. Many of the highly paid expat executives in Indonesian firms then were Filipinos whom the Indonesians were said to prefer to “white people” because of unpleasant memories from their colonial past. Some expats had been brought there by our first multinational: SGV, the accounting and management consultancy. The biggest ad agency which handled the Unilever account was headed by a Filipino, and its creative director, Eleanor Modesto, was a Filipina. A young Filipino was liabilities marketing director of the fastest growing bank in Jakarta. The Filipino executives were paid in expat level US dollars with perks such as housing and country-club memberships.

And our team of professors from AIM were treated with respect by both government and business organizations that contracted us to conduct degree and non-degree courses in Jakarta, Bandung, Pontiak and other areas. We were flown in on business class airfare and housed in five star hotels, and paid expat rates!

Meanwhile, unknown to most, an Indonesian NGO founded by an Indonesian woman has been quietly providing technical and funding support to several individual and community developmental and disaster-relief initiatives in our country.

Wadah Foundation was established in Jakarta in 2008 by Anie Djojohadikusumo, daughter-in-law of Dr. Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, the economic adviser to then President Suharto. “Ibu Anie” (mother Anie) as she is known, came from a large family of modest means in a small town in East Java. Although she married wealthy businessman Hashim, one of the sons of Dr. Sumitro, she had absorbed the values of sharing from her mother who managed to share their meals with their poorer neighbors, despite her having 16 children.

Wadah, meaning “woman” first got involved in the Philippines by working with the Rotary Club of Cebu to provide some support to the community initiatives of Fr. Ned Disu on the island of Jao in Bohol following the earthquake in 2013. Shortly after that, the tsunami Yolanda struck Leyte.


CNN hero Robin Lim, half-Filipina midwife born in Baguio who has been resident of Bali for many, many years, lost no time and was in Leyte two days after the disaster struck, initially moving from one devastated area to another, helping to deliver babies in make-shift facilities with no electricity, fetching water from wells, and sleeping on packing cardboard.

Wadah Foundation Indonesia promptly sent funding for immediate disaster relief including tarps for roofing, medicines, knives and other survival tools through the endemic debris. Wadah founder Ibu Anie coordinated with her old friend Tina Ferreros, a long-time Bahasa-speaking resident of Indonesia who happened to be back in Cebu to care for her ailing father until he died just before the Yolanda disaster struck.

Two months after the disaster struck, Robin Lim had settled her maternity efforts in Dulag, where she hired midwives who had worked with the NGO Mercy-in-Action which turned over their birthing facilities to her. The clinic project was initially largely funded by her personal resources and contacts. Soon enough, from focusing on general disaster relief, Wadah Foundation provided logistics and management support to the clinic, including mobilizing support from the LGUs around Dulag, the local Department of Health offices, PhilHealth, and the Armed Forces in the area.

Robin Lim had focused on training the local midwives on “gentle birth” which meant no anesthesia unless absolutely necessary, immediate skin-to-skin contact with mother of the newborn child, no cutting of the umbilical cord but allowing it instead to fall on its own, and of course, breastfeeding. Sustainability became a reality because the birthing facility was soon accredited by the DoH and PhilHealth. Wadah Foundation provided scholarships for the midwives enabling them to obtain college degrees, thus making them eligible for access to the DoH-PhilHealth funding support for maternity benefits for their patients.

By 2017, or four years later, the midwives having obtained college degrees, Wadah Foundation phased itself out from the Dulag project.

Wadah Foundation has developed a strategic approach to the assistance it provides. It invests its resources in promising initiatives mainly to “women helping women to help themselves,” thus ensuring sustainability. In the 10 years since its founding, Wadah has expanded all over Indonesia and is now also working in other countries. One of its expansion policies is working with CNN Heroes, including Robin Lim of Baguio and Bali, Efren Peñaflorida of Dynamic Teen Company in Cavite, and Anuradha Koirala of Nepal who was recognized for her campaign to end human trafficking of women and children from Nepal to India. Wadah Foundation has also begun to work in Malaysia. Wadah International has a Filipino, Alfredo “Al” Torno as its Secretary-General.

Wadah provided some support to Dynamic Teen Company, but notably, arranged for Peñaflorida to do technology transfer of his “Kariton classrooms” in urban poor communities in Indonesia where Wadah supported literacy projects.

From being ad hoc and project-oriented, Wadah has institutionalized itself in the Philippines with the establishment of Wadah Philippines, with headquarters in Cebu City. Sparkplug Tina Ferreros is on its Board of Trustees. Wadah Philippines is now mobilizing disaster relief for the typhoon Ompong victims in North Luzon and is doing spadework to put up a birthing facility for indigenous women in the middle of Palawan and for building 200 toilets for families in an upland barangay in Cebu City. It has provided computers for the Cebu Rotary-supported E-learning school on the island of Jao in Bohol. It also provided some support to Tuloy Foundation of Fr. Rocky Evangelista. Wadah has also provided equipment support to alternative learning systems in various places in Cebu. Space does not allow us to include many other Wadah initiatives in this column.

Wadah’s initiatives now include a broad range of development concerns, from literacy and education, to health, to women empowerment, to urban renewal, disaster relief, culture and history, including reconstruction of remnants of the 13th Century Madjapahit Empire which included the Sulu Archipelago.

I liked teaching in Indonesia because I felt valued as a Filipino professional there. I know that Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, helped us with the Organization of Islamic States (OIC) which it then chaired, in our effort to neutralize Nur Misuari’s rebellion. And they have always cooperated with our peace and anti-terrorism efforts. It is really sad that we identify more with China and the United States when the Indonesians are virtually our family.

Today, Indonesia could certainly use our help in disaster relief operations in earthquake and tsunami-ravaged South Sulawesi which is so close to our southern borders. My students used to tell me that the people of Sulawesi are more like the Filipinos. They look more like us; and they even dance the Tinikling!

It is therefore good to read that our Department of Foreign Affairs is working on plans to provide such assistance to our loving neighbors in Sulawesi. It is certainly the least we can do to reciprocate their kindnesses.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.