Neighbours look after one another to combat Covid-19 in Central Java

A resident of community unit (RW) 05 of Jomblang subdistrict, Candisari, Semarang, Central Java, plants hydroponic crops. The hydroponic project is part of the Jogo Tonggo program, a community movement in Central Java in response to Covid-19.
PHOTO: The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Central Java, home to more than 30 million people, has chosen a different approach to handle the Covid-19 outbreak rather than imposing large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) like many other regions across Indonesia.

Instead, it has come up with its own strategy dubbed Jogo Tonggo (neighbours looking after each other), a community movement program in which people collaborate to ensure people maintain physical distance, manage food supplies and help others in response to the pandemic.

Residents of community unit RW 5 of Jomblang sub district in Candisari, Semarang, are among the Central Java communities that have been implementing Jogo Tonggo in the past few months.

More than three-quarters of RW 5’s residents work in the informal sector, mostly as day labourers and street vendors. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the province, 393 of the 539 families in RW 5 have been financially impacted, according to Mohamad Qunut, a Jogo Tonggo facilitator in RW 5.

To help these families, neighbours built a hydroponic garden and started a collective lumbung pangan (food barn) at the RW 5 office.

“We had no idea a resident had been planting hydroponic crops for a while, not until another resident came to me saying that he could probably assist and encourage others to do the same,” Qunut told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

The community has regularly received lettuce, eggplant and pepper seeds after communicating its plans to the province’s food agency and has also been breeding catfish.

The residents also initiated a drawing and colouring program to keep their children entertained during the pandemic.

"Kids put their drawing and colouring papers in front of their houses and judges [selected from among the adults in the neighbourhood] tour the neighbourhood," Qunut said. “We also prepared snack hampers and asked parents to give them to their children.”

RW 5 is only one example of how neighbours are helping each other using the Jogo Tonggo approach in Central Java, which has fluctuated between the fifth and fourth hardest-hit province.

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“We encourage communities to embody their local values. They do not have to be alike and share the same [program] name in each area, but one might inspire another,” Governor Ganjar Pranowo said in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Ganjar said his administration did not have sufficient funds and resources to impose PSBB measures for a long period of time, and hence had decided to empower communities at the grassroots level to adapt to the current situation.

"Let’s put our trust in society. There is potential social power that has yet to be utilized there," Ganjar said, adding that the enforcement of strict measures by authorities would instead create unnecessary fear among the residents.

Doubts over the efficacy of the Jogo Tonggo program, however, remain as the number of Covid-19 cases in Central Java continues to rise, reaching 3,482 cases with 150 deaths as of Saturday, the fourth highest tally in the country.

Ganjar said only 30 per cent of the province’s 7,809 villages were actively reporting their Jogo Tonggo activities.

“We actually have so many shortcomings. This [Jogo Tonggo program] is only reaching about 30 per cent [of communities]. But, I'd say even a single inspiration [from the movement] would be very meaningful,” he said, adding that he would continue promoting videos of Jogo Tonggo activities via his social media accounts “to inspire" others.

The province saw three areas with relatively high rates of new cases compared to other regions of Central Java, namely Semarang city, Magelang regency and Temanggung regency, according to Ganjar.

“In these areas, local administrations have intensified contact tracing, rapid [antibody] testing and swab [polymerase chain reaction] testing,” he said.

Central Java had also recorded a higher death rate among confirmed cases and patients under surveillance (PDPs), at 7.87 per cent and 13.66 per cent, respectively, as of Saturday, compared to East Java and Jakarta – the two provinces with the most cases.

But Ganjar said Central Java has sufficient hospital capacity, adding that many of the deaths occurred in patients with comorbidities.

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He said his administration was now working to cut the time it took to receive test results, from 10 days to two days, to allow hospitals to better manage their patients and prioritize treatment for Covid-19 patients.

“Those most vulnerable will get priority, which we hope will lower the fatality rate,” Ganjar said.

Epidemiologist Riris Andono Ahmad from Gadjah Mada University said the effectiveness of Covid-19 social interventions did not largely depend on the nature of the approaches – whether they be voluntary like Jogo Tonggo or more mandatory like the PSBB.

He said the results would vary between regions depending on the characteristics of the society, meaning efforts in certain provinces might yield different outcomes than if the same measures were implemented in Central Java, and vice versa.

"What is important is whether it can motivate people to maintain distance between each other,” he said. “As long as the efforts are adjusted to local contexts, they could be effective. But society is a very dynamic system and sometimes things work but, at different times, they don’t. A periodic evaluation is highly needed."

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