Charity Based At Muslim School Keeps Care Local In Rural Indonesia

By Cassidy Fahey, TMP Guest Contributor

Akbar was just three years old when doctors discovered a problem with his heart.

They found a hole, which was stunting his growth and development. Akbar needed medical care, but his parents couldn’t afford a doctor.

Akbar's family is from Jombang, Indonesia, a rural and isolated town surrounded by sugarcane and rice fields. All Akbar’s parents could do for him was provide simple, home remedies. 

Help came for this family came from within their small town via Lembaga Sosial Pesantren Tebuireng (Tebuireng School Social Institution, or LSPT). The institution was acting on its directive to serve the local community, whether helping the poor, struggling businessmen, orphans, or the elderly.

In Akbar’s case, LSPT paid for an ambulance to take him the three hours each way from Jombang to Surabaya, the nearest big city. LSPT did this for a year, ensuring Akbar could see a doctor and receive any medical treatments.  

While many charity workers go into this work with the desire to help people, what makes the LSPT different is commitment to its local community.

But Akbar would need more than just transportation. The medical care could only provide short-term relief. There was a treatment available that would fix the heart problem entirely, but the family’s insurance couldn’t pay for it.

Again LSPT stepped in, searching for one month to find a cardiologist who could do the surgery pro bono. Once they found a willing physician, Akbar had the surgery the following month. Now, he is growing up a happy, healthy boy thanks to this charity that helps its own community.  

This desire to help neighbors and give back to the community is the underlying motivation for everyone who works at the LSPT. The charity is connected to a private, Muslim boarding school (Pesantren Tebuireng) in Jombang. While the village is traditional and conservative, the people give generously to those in need. The charity is operated by Muslims, but it offers aid to any person of any religion. Currently, LSPT funds and directs nine programs for Jombang with an annual budget of 3 billion rupiah (US$225,411).  

Faridah Wahid, wife of Pesantren’s president, supervises and oversees LSPT’s projects. Wahid says she does this work because, “I want to give something back."

Wahid started in nonprofit work in the 1980s when she helped NGOs manage family planning programs. She educated women about birth control, which at the time was controversial because the Nahdlatul Ulama (the largest Islamic organization based in Indonesia) had not yet established a policy for using contraception. Yet Mrs. Wahid believed women should have a say in family size. So she continued her work. Today she manages LSPT’s projects that help orphans, children of single parents, the elderly, the poor, and struggling entrepreneurs. 

While many charity or nonprofit workers go into this work with the desire to help people, what makes the LSPT different is commitment to its local community.

“Compared to other big, charitable institutions, I think LSPT is nothing,” said Mr. As’ad, former director of LSPT. “It is just a small institution that can only help people in our own community. Our budget is not big enough to solve all of the problems in Jombang, but at least we can help solve some of them.”  

LSPT will provide aid to other cities in Indonesia that suffer from natural calamities such as volcano eruptions, but their primary focus is Jombang. The charity has created a neighbor-helping-neighbor model that has forged a strong, united community, in keeping with the values of self-reliance and independence that have marked Indonesia's villages for generations. 

“In the past, the government didn’t have a reach to little communities like Jombang,” explained Rainer Heufers, Executive Director of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies at Atlas Network.

“They had no strength to reach everyone and for the longest time they weren’t that interested because we were a dictatorship until 1998. The government was busy with other things.”

Instead, each village had to take care of itself, which it did through “gotong royong,” a system where village members would build a well, a school, or a church together.

As Indonesia has modernized, “gotong royong” has been replaced. The local government is picking up in its outreach to villages and the national government wants to create federal programs such as universal healthcare. However, the government still doesn’t have the capacity to fulfill these desires, so charities have been filling in the gaps.

"We are having a new and upcoming philanthropic scene in Indonesia," said Mr. Heufers. "It is a monetary system where people donate to charities, who then solve the community problems."

“This continual effort to help the community is religiously motivated," Heufers added.

In Indonesia, about 87% of the population identifies as Muslim. Every Muslim is obligated to give away 2.5% of their income to charity annually, as stated in the Quran.

Mr. Salahuddin Wahid, president of Pesantren Tebuireng, said, “We’re doing what the Prophet Muhammad said: 'The best people are the people who are very useful to others, whether that is helping or supporting them.'”

What better way to teach how to be a good neighbor than by being one? This school doesn’t just teach about charity.
It actually does it.

The current director of LSPT, Teuku Azwani, said something similar: “Our faith says every Muslim is to be a good person and be a benefit to others."

LSPT may be small, but every month it gives 1,000 to 5,000 rupiah to about 1,000 poor people, based on the donations for that month. It assists some 250 elderly with housing and healthcare costs. Approximately 250 orphans receive financial assistance to attend school until they graduate. LSPT also provides scholarships to fatherless children to attend school, including universities.

Every Monday, Pesantren’s on-site hospital allows anyone in Jombang to come to the facility for free check-ups and health services. Also, every month, five mosques are chosen to receive 5 million rupiah to help with maintenance. LSPT also financially supports teachers who are sent to rural schools to strengthen the educational programs. Right now about 20 small businesses receive micro-loans for their ventures, sustaining them until the business runs without outside help. Finally, money is given towards emergency or crisis situations that take place in remote parts of Indonesia. 

These are a lot of programs for just one community, but LSPT asserts how important it is for neighbors to help neighbors.

Abdur Rozaq, the executor of the programs, told TMP that LSPT offers "a chance for Pesantren to give back to its community. The federal government doesn’t know much about the local community because it doesn’t know the local situations.”

Mr. Salahuddin Wahid said that the government has very little money. So it’s up to charities to help the poor, orphaned, and elderly. Although, Mr. Rozaq believes there is a place for the government in charity, and he thinks government should work together with charity institutions. By doing so, the government could become more educated about the needs of the community, and it could then help charities deliver aid more efficiently and effectively.  

Unlike Indonesia, the United States federal and state governments spend over $1 trillion dollars for 80-plus welfare programs, and this does not include Medicare or Medicaid. While these programs benefit some, they are notoriously inefficient, and they have led to cynical attitudes that poverty is inevitable and unfixable.

LSPT's model is an alternative to large federal programs through the principle of subsidiarity. Under this approach, the national government would limit its role in welfare. Instead, this task would be turned over to local authorities or organizations to provide aid. The giver and receiver would have close contact with each other, allowing the local organization to easily confirm if aid is effective or whether the recipient no longer needs assistance.

LSPT continually checks in on its recipients to see if the money is being used appropriately. This also allows LSPT to form personal relationships with its recipients. Both parties can see how neighbor is helping neighbor, and this cycle will get passed on to the next neighbor. The community is building itself up with very little external help.

Some might question whether a private school like Pesantren Teburieng has any business doing charity, but this school is leading by example. The school is concerned with building its students' character, and school leaders hope that students will give generously on their own outside of school.

What better way to teach how to be a good neighbor than by being one? This school doesn't just teach about charity. It actually does it.

Zaza, a girl from Jombang and recent graduate of Pesantren Teburieng, wants to become an accountant one day. Though she has lots to learn, LSPT has put her to work on its finances, where she is developing her professional skills.

Dressed in a long-sleeve, grey shirt with a full-length, black skirt, and purple and cream hydrangea-printed jilbab (Indonesian word for the Arabic word “hijab), she looks young enough to be in high school, but on this day she is managing the budget for LSPT.

“I am passionate about managing money, and I want to help people,” Zaza said. Her face lit up as she talked about her work, even when she admitted how complicated the budget can be since LSPT funds so many programs.

Zaza found a way to help her community while also doing what she loves. It is this mentality that brings others like her together to help their neighbors in this small, rural town of Jombang.

Cassidy Fahey is a 2017 graduate of The King’s College in Manhattan, where she majored in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. In May, she participated in a Media Project venture to Jombang, Indonesia.