|Sebastianus (Sbas) Jelalu has been working as a volunteer for a village health post, or posyandu, in a remote village in NTT since 1997. In the past two years, he has been trained with support through AIPMNH on providing counseling and basic health services to pregnant women, mothers and their babies and children|
“I am driven to save the lives of mothers and babies,” said Mr. Sebastianus (Sbas) Jelalu. “What I have experienced in my village inspires me to volunteer.”
Sbas is one of thousands of volunteers in villages throughout Indonesia working to ensure that women and children in rural areas have access to basic health services. Recruited by the local government, these volunteers, or kader, help to keep monthly village health posts up and running.
In Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces – with one of the highest rates of maternal and neonatal mortality – these village health posts called posyandu are critical points of service for women for whom simply getting to a health clinic can prove incredibly challenging.
“Some women have to walk many kilometers on rough roads or even take a boat from another island just to get a check up, “Sbas explained. “Imagine how it is in an emergency situation out here.”
Sbas is no stranger to hardship. He is the youngest of 11 children, but three of his siblings died - all under the age of 5. And Sbas is convinced that with better health services, they would have survived. With four children of his own now, he feels compelled to help mothers in his community take care of themselves and their children.
Even now, Sbas’ village of Ling, located in the mountainous district of Manggarai on the island of Flores, has no electricity. To get there, one must drive two hours from Manggarai’s capital of Ruteng, and then walk one more hour. This degree of remoteness is not atypical of NTT’s villages.
For these reasons, the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Maternal and Neonatal Health (AIPMNH) supports the revitalization of posyandu and the training of kader in 14 districts of NTT.
At the posyandu, pregnant women, mothers, and their babies and children come for vaccinations, vitamin supplements and counseling on family planning and antenatal and postnatal care.
Kader, who may receive a few dollars per month at most for their services, are the backbone of the posyandu. And living in areas where traditional beliefs may negatively impact women’s and infants’ health, it is vital that their knowledge and skills are up-to-date.
Since the beginning of 2010, AIPMNH has supported the training of more than 1,700 male kader and 4,000 female kader in 14 districts of NTT.
Sbas, who has been a kader since 1997, has been trained specifically on educating women on maternal and neonatal health (MNH), including counseling on nutrition and danger signs during pregnancy, identifying critical signs in newborns, and managing the various functions at the posyandu. Sbas noted that since AIPMNH began working there, the local government has made a point to emphasize the role of kader to help reduce maternal and infant mortalities.
But what about Sbas’ gender? Does being a man affect his work as a kader supporting women and children in a heavily patriarchal society?
“I don’t think so,“ Sbas said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time now, so the women in the community trust me.”
Indeed, Sbas has a gentle, caring manner. But as a male kader, Sbas represents a shift in mindset. Male kaders show that pregnancy and birth is not just “women’s business” and that men can take an active role in the health of their wives and children.
“Being a kader has been a very meaningful experience for me,” Sbas explained. “I’m always trying to improve my skills. And as long as I’m living, I will help others