A Letter from Yogyakarta – Finding ways to support older adults under the ‘new normal’ in Yogyakarta
By Hezti Insriani and Nathan Porath
In Indonesia a new acronym is on people’s lips, AKB (pronounced AA Ka Be!). The acronym standing for Adaptasi Kebiasaan Baru, translates into English as ‘adaption to the new ‘as usual’ / adaptation to the new routine’. The acronym expresses that a new form of normal behaviour is necessary during this pandemic period. It was introduced after it was felt that the expression ‘New Normal’ was too vague, and what was needed was a more specific term in the Indonesian language that people could relate to properly. Adaptation is never a simple process of following rules. People always find enterprising ways to maintain ‘business as usual’ and pursue what is important for them under the new and limiting conditions.
Indonesia is a nation which has become very conscious of its ‘older citizenry’, and many of its leaders and commentators have become concerned with the future of the over sixty-year olds. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indonesian government set up several regulations of how to stem the spread of the disease. People are now globally familiar with these regulations, such as practicing social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, staying at home and limiting one’s travels. Whereas older adults have been advised that they are a high-risk group and should be particularly cautious, younger people are also cautioned to be considerate towards older people’s health risks during the pandemic.
Many older adults have become accustomed to the AKB period by confining themselves to their homes out of fear of contracting the disease. People now have access to information disseminated by government and non-government organisations through various media outlets. Many videos about Covid-19 and older adults have been made and broadcast on television and uploaded on internet, many in the form of short and easy to follow animated films. So there has been accessible communication about the pandemic to large parts of Indonesia. For many older adults, losing a friend or hearing that an old school mate died after contracting the virus has been a push to access such material to fully understand the pandemic and AKB and take precautions and curb one’s movements and contacts.
There are others, though, who still need to work in the markets for a living, even after at least one market in Yogyakarta was identified as a cluster-source for the spread of the disease in the city. Older market vendors now cover their faces with masks as do most customers. Yet the masks affect verbal communication and some older vendors say that they cannot hear their customers talking to them with their mouths covered. This sometimes leads to misunderstanding, or a breach of social distancing or even the customer walking away without making a purchase. Many privately-owned grocery stores can’t afford the hand sanitizers which are on display in government institutions, hospitals, banks and department stores. These owners make their own sanitizing corner by placing a bottle of hand soap on or near a bucket with water just at the entrance of their shop with a sign asking customers to wash their hands before entering. Even with these precautions many older adults still feel anxious about walking around in public places and so stay at home. Social distancing has also led to general anxiety about the mental effects that fear of the pandemic and social distancing can have on people, and particularly on the mental health of older adults. Those people most vulnerable are those who live alone and might not have access to the internet or mobile phones.
An older woman selling spices in a Yogyakarta market (photo: courtesy of Hezti Insriani)
A bottle of soap on a bucket with a tap filled with water (Yogyakarta 2020)
(photo: courtesy of Hezti Insriani)
Visiting health clinics is another place that raises anxiety in older adults who are undergoing treatment. For health problems older adults in Yogyakarta can still visit the primary health care services (puskesmas) in their neighbourhood. But there is still fear of contagion, as in early August it was revealed that 10 health care workers in one village were diagnosed positive for Covid-19 and this clinic was closed. Patients were referred to other clinics further away which has led to some stress among patients.
Various NGOs which provide formal care to older adults have had to reorganise or reschedule their activities. Yet the pandemic has not stopped these organisations from extending care to their clients, even if through more limited means. NGOs working with older adults have been searching for new ways of keeping contact with their clients. The NGO ‘Indonesia Ramah Lansia’ (Age-friendly Indonesia,IRL), which is active in Yogyakarta, organised a meeting which brought together thirty people who were updated about events and were giving masks to take back with them to their hamlets. This very active NGO has established a school for older adults in one village where there is a low infection rate. The school teaches people about health issues relating to older adults. Since the beginning of August this year it has been holding classes as a trial run. The NGO intends to hold classes twice a month under strict social distancing rules. People must wear masks and have their temperatures checked before entering the open-spaced hall and sit at a distance from each other. Such courses allow older people to leave the house and safely meet other people. The NGO has also come together with other organisations to produce an online course which is now attended by 60 people. The course teaches about health and therapy matters. Participants in the course can engage their teachers and give feedback after listening to the lecturer.
A class for older adults in Yogyakarta, organised by IRL
https://www.krjogja.com/pendidikan/berita/dosen-unriyo-bentuk-sekolah-lansia-dengan-konsep-sedekah-sampah/ accessed 11th August 2020.
Another NGO which provides public services to older adults also found its own way in continuing its support to older adults within its village jurisdiction. This NGO has developed a food delivery service for older adults. Its personnel, who adhere to social distancing rules, also make weekly visits to older people’s homes and provide them with psychological support.
Since the start of the pandemic in Indonesia, mosques and churches had to overcome initial confusion and commotion, then reorganise their services to comply with the health protocol. Worshipers in mosques keep apart from each other and must sanitize their hands before entering. Churches, by contrast, took their services online. Recently, though, several churches have started to re-conduct their Sunday services in the church. They require from attendees to wear masks and follow social distancing rules. But other social activities, particularly those held for older adults, such as exercise and gymnastics, have been put on hold. Instead members of the congregation socialise by communicating through online forums.
Such organisations seem to have overcome their initial trepidations and are now more confident in finding ways to reach out to their clients and providing them with a modified version of their usual services. All these organisations have tried to find ways to maintain their activities during this unfortunate AKB period in Indonesia.