Project Daya champions a healthy lifestyle for Batam slumdwellers
As part of WISE’s Inspiring The Future programme in Singapore, WISE mentored team members from Project Daya and provided training on programme planning. In this article, Jennifer Freedman features the work Project Daya carries out to serve underprivileged communities in Indonesia.
Despite the dangers of smoking, many people still turn to tobacco to cope with the stresses of modern-day life. But fewer people are now lighting up in the slums of Batam, a small Indonesian island in the South China Sea, thanks to Project Daya.
Project Daya has done more than just educate the inhabitants of Batam’s slum communities about why they should kick the habit. The project teaches villagers about the importance of a balanced diet, proper childhood nutrition, ways to avoid chronic disease and how to prevent mosquito breeding.‘
Our goal is to increase capacity in villagers to better their lives, mainly through health education and promotion,’ explains Dawn Looi, external liaison for the project in 2017-2018. ‘We believe this is a sustainable and economically efficient way of improving healthcare in villages that lack health literacy and access.’
Project Daya – NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine’s first overseas community involvement project, or OCIP – aims to improve the lives of slum communities in Batam in a way that is self-sustainable and focused on empowering villagers. The project involves 13 first- and second-year students who travel to Batam from nearby Singapore once a quarter for four to seven days to meet with villagers. Some 500 people from two villages have benefited from Project Daya since it began five years ago.
‘From the efforts and blessing of these “children” of Singapore, we get to know the symptoms of diseases’ such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, says Yustita, a villager from Project Daya’s outreach point. ‘They teach us how to avoid and prevent diseases as well’ and how to change eating habits and lifestyles to improve personal health.
Project Daya hopes to expand to another village in the new academic year, according to Tan En Jie, external liaison for the project in 2018-2019. ‘The majority of our beneficiaries are rural-urban immigrants,’ he says. ‘Having moved from rural areas of Indonesia to Batam in search of work, they land themselves in slum villages. Many of them do not have proper identification documents, which deprives them of governmental healthcare assistance and other privileges they should have as Indonesian citizens.’
Living conditions in slums, of course, are hardly ideal. While slumdwellers have access to basic amenities such as food, water and electricity, they lack services that protect their health, such as proper sanitation and waste disposal. Financial constraints mean the residents struggle to eat a balanced diet and to seek proper medical aid – all of which contributes to considerable disease risks.
‘If we want to check our blood pressure, we don’t have to travel very far and we won’t waste our time,’ said one project beneficiary named Fitriyanti. ‘We also get to learn more about diseases. It has been very helpful for me and I am very happy about this programme.
‘Smoking is very common in the slums, so Project Daya designed a programme to help smokers – mostly men who work in labour-intensive blue-collar jobs and who turn to cigarettes to destress – break the habit. ‘We have successfully reached out to many men who have now at least progressed from pre-contemplation to contemplation in the cycle of change,’ En Jie says.
Project Daya works with Penduli Bangsa, an Indonesian non-governmental organisation, and the local village clinic, which has backing of the country’s healthcare ministry. The clinic’s volunteers conduct health checkups and arrange teaching sessions on health-related topics and ‘we foresee great potential out of this group of ladies’, Dawn says.
Building bridges and trust
But not all the education happens in a classroom. Project Daya’s members also go door to door to meet villagers, as the more relaxed atmosphere provides a safe place for honest conversations. This helps foster personal relationships. They also organise health-related activities for children at the village kindergarten and work to build ties with village chiefs and health authorities.’
Coupled with the fact that our trips are frequent at every quarter of the year, Project Daya members are able to build some really meaningful relationships,’ Dawn says. ‘We can touch base regularly and engage in personal conversations each time.’
Project Daya is hardly the first initiative to try to improve the lives of people who live in Indonesian slums. What sets the project apart from other OCIPs in the LKC medical school is its emphasis on empowerment and self-sustainability through health education.
‘It is a preventative medicine approach which encapsulates a sustainable avenue of health stemming from a healthy lifestyle,’’ En Jie explains. ‘This transcends symptomatic treatment for acute conditions that may very well continually resurface if deep-rooted medical needs fail to be met.’
The members of Project Daya don’t just talk about medical conditions; they examine the social and lifestyle factors that contribute to these conditions. This gives them a clearer picture of what it is to live in the shoes of their beneficiaries.
‘Owing to this meaningful nature of this course, Project Daya is the longest standing overseas community involvement project in LKC School of Medicine, and we hope to continue championing a healthy lifestyle for our beneficiaries in Batam,’ En Jie says.
✍️ Jennifer Freedman is a journalist who was mobilised through UNV’s Online Volunteering Service.