Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

1 / 4
Relawan Merahb Putih handed over their assistance to officials in the Duma village of North Maluku regency during a campaign to spread awareness of the pandemic. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
2 / 4
Microbiologist and volunteer adviser Jubhar Mangimbulude explains about the coronavirus to villagers during the awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
3 / 4
Microbiologist and volunteer adviser Jubhar Mangimbulude explains about the coronavirus to villagers during the awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
4 / 4
Microbiologist and volunteer adviser Jubhar Mangimbulude explains about the coronavirus to villagers during the awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
Short Url
Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.


Spain’s former king leaving country amid financial scandal

Updated 44 min 37 sec ago

Spain’s former king leaving country amid financial scandal

  • The 82-year-old former king is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975
  • Marred by scandals in the later years of his reign, Juan Carlos in 2014 abdicated in favor of his son Felipe VI

MADRID: Spain’s former monarch, King Juan Carlos I, says he is leaving Spain to live in another country amid a financial scandal.
The royal family’s website on Monday published a letter from Juan Carlos to his son, King Felipe VI, saying “I am informing you of my considered decision to move, during this period, out of Spain.”
Spain’s prime minister recently said he found the developments about Juan Carlos — including investigations in Spain and Switzerland — “disturbing.”
The 82-year-old former king is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
But marred by scandals in the later years of his reign, Juan Carlos in 2014 abdicated in favor of his son Felipe VI, losing the inviolability protection Spain’s Constitution grants to the head of state.
The royal house has denied that Felipe had any knowledge of his father’s alleged financial irregularities.