Wed, 04 Jun 2003

Susy Katipana lifts NTT's poor

P.J. Leo, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, Nusa Tenggara Timur

Susy MD Katipana did not get the honorific title Pendekar Dari Timur (The Heroine from the East) for nothing. Through her Yayasan Womintra (Women in Transition Foundation), she literally brings light to many villages in East Nusa Tenggara.

"NTT's geography and topography and the people's low purchasing power have put electricity out of reach for most villagers. Womintra finds a solution to bring electricity to villages by using solar power," she said.

Once electricity enters a village, life begins to change and villagers have greater opportunities to improve their standards of living, she contended.

Born in Kupang 50 years ago, Susy has dedicated most of her adult life for the betterment of villagers' living standards. Her particular attention is on women and children and in 2000 Kartini women's magazine gave her the title Pendekar Dari Timur in recognition of her work.

In 2000 she received the ASEAN Best Executive Award for her role in development programs. During an assignment with The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Susy was awarded the Presidential Citation from UNICEF-New York for her outstanding contribution and dedication to women and children in Indonesia.

But it is through Yayasan Womintra that Susy is best known by the people in NTT. The Kupang-based foundation focuses on empowering village communities in cooperation with international and local social institutions, the NTT administration and the Office of the State Minister for the Acceleration of Development in Eastern Indonesia.

Susy and her staff at Womintra focus on efforts to improve the living standards of village communities. In NTT, village life means poverty, a condition wherein children lead a hardscrabble existence. In the province, children help with various chores, such as fetching water or collecting firewood. It takes great effort to lift the villagers out of such a situation.

Susy's concern for and involvement in empowering villagers were a legacy of her parents' social activities. Raised in a family who are devoted to the welfare of others, Susy began her social activities as a teacher at Nusa Cendana University in Kupang in 1978.

The fourth of 13 siblings, Susy always told her students that being a teacher or educator was not restricted to the classroom.

"A teacher or educator can be anywhere," said Susy, who aspired to be a teacher even as a child.

A graduate of the Bandung Teachers Training Institute (IKIP), Susy loves rural life so much she often takes her urban students to villages, for which she often hears people sneer, "What kind of scholar takes university students to villages."

Susy spent five years dedicating her life to the teaching profession before she focused on her social activities.

Susy's interest in the lives of rural people became even stronger upon her return from studying in Calcutta, India, in 1985, when she was working for CARE International. During her spare time she volunteered for three months at Mother Teresa's, churches and convalescent homes where she helped feed disabled children and dying people.

"It was an amazing experience for me to be able to meet Mother Teresa and to see how she organized work to help the castaway, the dying and disabled," she recalled. "I never dreamed of seeing Mother Teresa. I first knew about Mother Teresa when I was in Java through books, TV and radio. NTT then did not have access to that kind of information."

Her parents were her role model.

"I watched how my mother, an active social worker at church, found joy through her work by providing books on health and explaining the meaning of healthy living to the population. This she did for 20 years until her eyes betrayed her. And my father, too, who devoted his life for those people who were sidelined. Father always told us to serve others no matter where we are," said Susy.

Inspired by her parents' special devotion to the socially disabled, Susy, who majored in infant and maternal health, then set up in 1978, the Yayasan Jacob (Jacob Foundation). The foundation helped rehabilitate and provide facilities for disabled children in the province as well as assistance in finding schools that could accommodate their physical and mental needs.

"There is a general lack of awareness of the importance of hygiene and routine health checkups. Pregnant mothers and infants do not have routine health checkups and all these have resulted in the high birth rate of disabled children. This in turn hampers efforts to create a productive and high quality future generation," she said.

Her social activities then took her to various international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including with CARE International, CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit) and UNICEF.

She was UNICEF's chief representative for NTT and East Timor until the latter voted for independence in 1999.

It was while she was working for UNICEF that Susy met her future husband, Clauss Dauselt, a German who was stationed in Kupang for a German-Indonesia bilateral program.

"We met often to discuss various programs and often Clauss would accompany me on my field work. I grew fond of him and felt we had a lot of things in common," she said with a smile.

In 1997, she changed Yayasan Jacob into Yayasan Womintra (Women in Transition Foundation). Womintra's activities extend beyond NTT and reach many other parts of eastern Indonesia.

Susy changed Yayasan Jacob into Womintra because she saw a lot of violence, not just physical, but also psychological violence against women. Besides, there were many government programs aimed at helping women, but they mostly focused on the physical aspects. For example, NTT has a high maternal and infant mortality rates, second in Indonesia after neighboring West Nusa Tenggara, but government programs do not address the problem.

"Yayasan Womintra tries to involve women in every aspect of development," said the mother of one child. "Despite greater women's involvement, men remain dominant in every area of development due to the traditional approach. In NTT, women remain in second position when it comes to decision-making."

"There have been demands for women to occupy positions in the executive body, but as soon as they get there, they don't get enough support," said Susy, a recipient of the Women International Award 2000 for Community Development Program Design.

"Take President Megawati Soekarnoputri. We all know her opponents accepted her as president only when the state was in a critical situation. Ever since, they have not given her fair credit for her work," she added.