Swara Porong Radio becomes voice of mudflow victims

Swara Porong's crew also provide advice to its listeners, such as fighting for their rights

The Jakarta Post
Friday, June 20, 2008

By Indra Harsaputra

Sidoarjo --- The Sidoarjo mudflow victims have been living in Pasar Baru Porong refugee camps for more than two years. They have already started up their own website and now also have a community radio station up and running.

With a grant from Radio New Agency 68H Utan Kayu, Jakarta, Swara Porong (Voice of Porong) has been broadcasting in recent months on 107.8 FM, and can be heard within a radius of three kilometers from Pasar Baru Porong.

"Good afternoon, listeners. Hopefully, everyone is still enthusiastic in fighting the government and Lapindo Brantas Inc. to determine our fate," said the 18-year-old announcer, Sudarmani, who is one of the mudflow victims from Renokengongo village.

"If you wish to share your complaints or request a song, please send an SMS or call 085-851-040-218," she tells listeners.

Sudarmani is not a professional radio announcer. She used to work in a wig factory in Sidoarjo where she earned Rp 500,000 a month. She could not continue her studies at senior high school for financial reasons.

In mid-2007, Sudarmani was fired from her job without being given any clear reason. The factory where she worked was 15 kilometers away from the mudflow source. It was not one of the 13 factories submerged in the mud.

Before her village was engulfed with mud, Sudarmini's parents worked as farm laborers and earned a small income. In her village, her family was considered poor. At present, her parents do not have regular jobs; they remain at a refugee camp in Pasar Baru Porong together with some 600 other families.

For economic reasons, many of Sudarmani's peers have resorted to commercial sex work in Pasuruan, East Java, to make a living.

To prevent more young girls from turning to commercial sex work, Sudarmani and other local girls from the refugee camps at Pasar Baru Porong have received assistance from a number of non-government organizations, and also from Paring Waluyo, a victim working as a volunteer. The girls have been placed in a youth shelter in the refugee camp.

It is in this youth shelter that these young mudflow victims were provided with additional skills and knowledge, including radio broadcasting training.

In late December last year, Sudarmani joined another mudflow victim, Lilik Kamina, and a volunteer teacher at the refugee camp kindergarten to take part in a three-day radio broadcasting and journalism training program at Radio News Agency 68H.

Sudarmani and Lilik were trained by the other youths at the station and Adi Saputra, a radio and broadcasting technician.

Adi, who works in an automotive workshop, is self-taught, so he sometimes has trouble with the equipment. Sudarmani and Lilik have experienced small electric shocks while broadcasting.

"I often get electric shocks in my mouth when I talk into the microphone. But I'm happy to be a radio announcer. I want to be like my idol, Indy Barens," Sudarmani said.

Indy Barens is a radio broadcaster at Hard Rock FM, Jakarta, and with Indra Bekti, she is now the presenter of Ceriwis talk show on Trans TV.

Sudarmani and the Swara Porong crew are unpaid. Instead they receive free snacks and light drinks from the refugee camp's small businesses that advertise through the station.

Lilik said she preferred to use direct comments from interviews on her show.

She once reported the refugees drilling a well when they had a shortage of clean water for cooking and drinking. As she did not have equipment to record the victims' comments, Lilik took notes ran 1 kilometer back to the station to read them out on the radio.

The government and Lapindo Brantas Inc. provided clean water to the refugees for a period of three months this year, but have since stopped. A number of individuals and social institutions have donated money to the refugees to obtain clean water supplies -- but the money has run dry.

Aside from serving as a voice for mudflow victims and their activities in the refugee camps, Swara Porong also provides advice to the refugees.

Several days ago, Lilik said, refugee Sudarto disclosed his wish on air to make up with his wife. He said they had slept in separate beds for several months and were facing financial problems as they had lost both their jobs and property in the mudflow disaster.

Many housewives, Lilik said, had complained that they would not have the money to send their children to school in July, when the new school term starts. Lapindo stopped providing assistance to them on May 1.

"I always advise them to be patient in fighting for their rights with the government and with Lapindo Brantas. It is not easy for us refugees to get our compensation in small installments. We have lost everything," Lilik said.

Paring Waluyo said although the radio station only reached a small number of listeners, the crew was suffering intimidation.

"We have been terrorized, directly threatened and indirectly intimidated. The fact that Lapindo has stopped providing food rations to the refugees just shows how cruel they are," he said.

Lapindo Brantas' Solusi magazine claimed the company, owned by the Bakrie family, had helped the mudflow victims in a number of ways. The government also argues on its websites it had done a lot to solve the problems arising from the mudflow.

"Politicians, government officials and political parties have simply come and gone while in fact many mudflow victims are still suffering," Paring said.

That's why, he said, the mudflow victims voiced their sentiments and demands through Swara Porong and their website, www.korbanlumpurlapindo.info.