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Indonesia: volunteers feeding poor people as lockdown hits daily wage earners

Indonesia is trying to contain the urgency to help the poor, as the Coronavirus pandemic has left many Indonesians destitute.

A group of volunteers are travelling around the Indonesian cities providing free meals to vulnerable daily wage earners in their neighbourhoods, ranging from rickshaw drivers to trash collectors.

Millions of Indonesians have been thrown into poverty in recent months and are struggling to make ends meet in a country that has recorded more than 1,100 deaths from Covid-19, the highest toll in East Asia outside China from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

An elderly man gets free food from a volunteer amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia. Image credit Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana, Reuters

“It is time for us to act,” said 19-year-old Sherina Redjo, one of the 15 university students behind the volunteering initiative.

The volunteers jump on their motorbikes to distribute free food packages around four times a week for the fast-breaking time during Ramadan in Depok, a satellite town on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta. The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is widely observed in the Muslim-majority country.

While conceding their efforts may only scratch the surface of the problem, Redjo says no matter how small it is “it will certainly help them”.

The volunteering group estimates they have handed out more than 660 meals since they started in the middle of March.

The pandemic outbreak has cost for 2 million people their jobs in just six weeks, the country’s finance minister said in early May, adding that the country’s efforts to eradicate poverty had been set back by a decade.

Volunteers preparing free food for distribution in Jakarta. Image credit Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana, Reuters

The volunteers are trying to collect as many donations as possible on social media to pay for the food. On a good day, they can raise enough money to produce 50 packs of boxed food.

The beneficiaries are mostly daily wage earners, such as rickshaw drivers, delivery workers and garbage collectors, whose livelihoods are hit the hardest by Covid-19.

“I thank them so much for giving me this package and I pray for their generosity,” said Bambang, a cycle rickshaw driver.

The goal of the volunteers is to ensure the poorest people with some food to eat before they go to sleep.

“We are trying hard to provide some dinner to them so that at least they can sleep with their bellies full,” said Luqmanul Hakim Yullyadi, 19, the group’s designated cook, who learned culinary skills from his mother who runs a food catering business.

“I joined this initiative because I feel pity and sympathy for many of my friends whose parents’ income was disrupted because of this pandemic, and also for those people on the street whose life depends on daily wages,” he admitted.

Image credit Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana, Reuters

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