SEANNET Surabaya in CNA’s INSIGHT: Poverty in Asia

by Eka Nurul Farida (ekanurulfarida@gmail.com)

Facilitating the production of CNA’s INSIGHT: Poverty in Asia, to explore social-economic struggles against COVID-19 from the perspective of Surabaya’s ordinary citizens.

At the end of August 2020, a production team from CNA (Channel NewsAsia)’s INSIGHT program came to Surabaya to cover two households for the Indonesia edition of Poverty in Asia. The coverage focused on exploring the stories from the voiceless citizens of Surabaya who have and are still fighting social, economic, and health impacts of COVID-19.

After initial discussions with team members from SEANNET Surabaya, the production team decided to follow the stories of two persons. The first was Pak Sugiyanto, also known as Pak Gi, in Kertajaya, Surabaya, an area that is also known as Kampung Reog. Pak Gi is a Reog artist and a dance troupe leader who reflected on the pandemic that had robbed his livelihood as a local artist. In the interview, he conveyed his disappointment of the government’s neglect of local artists during the pandemic.

Photo 1. Pak Gi with the CNA team at his residence in Kampung Reog (Kertajaya), Surabaya
(Source: Eka Nurul Farida, 2020)

Pak Gi is not alone. The Reog (troupe dance) group that he maintained, Singo Mangku Joyo, is home of 47 other Reog dancers in Surabaya. All of their livelihoods are severely affected by the pandemic. Having no income during the pandemic, which has been going on for five months without any end in sight, their struggle was real. Pak Gi revealed that he still didn’t know how to overcome the situation, “didn’t dare to think about what to eat tomorrow” and how to fulfill his daily expenses. From day to day, he attempted to do other kinds of work, but he encountered failures in doing alternative jobs such as selling rice packets and selling Reog ornaments.

Photo 2. A screenshot of Pak Gi’s interview (Source: CNA, 2020)

The second case was Bu Lilik, who has resided in Kampung Peneleh since her marriage to Pak Abdul Munief in 2009. The pandemic has totally changed her family’s entire life and they had to adapt and adopt a new way of life. Their two children, Fathir and Nizar, have been schooling from home since March 2020, which added more “homework” for parents. Neither Bu Lilik nor Pak Munief had overcome their difficulties to be ‘teachers’ at home. Both felt reminded of their own lack of capacity as educators as the main problem, for which no solution has been found until now.

Photo 3. The CNA production team covering Bu Lilik’s family in Kampung Peneleh, Surabaya
(Source: Muhamad Rohman Obet, 2020)

While Bu Lilik lost her job, Pak Munief had to endure pay cut because of economic slowdown, which had seriously impacted their household economy. They then decided to produce cireng (fried snacks made from tapioca flour, garlic, salt, and other spices) for sale from home, marketed through social media, as digital-local enterprise increasingly became a popular option for people who lost their job during the pandemic. In the beginning, they received good responses, but demand has slowly drop as time went by. Bu Lilik thought the drop in sales might have been a reflection of hardships that everyone was going through.

This pandemic reveals social inequalities in the city, which had previously been obscured by fragmentations of urban spaces and communities. Social disparities become clearer and ever. While many accuse the pandemic as a source of suffering and social disaster, this pandemic is also a period of time when our humanity and sanity are communally tested at its best.

Amidst the chaos in combating the pandemic, many spaces are kept out of sight, like many neighborhoods behinds the city’s skyscrapers. Pak Gi and Bu Lilik represent efforts of ordinary citizens to survive in the urban arena during the crisis. These local stories were kept inside the narrow alleys, distant from political and bureaucratic stages. The INSIGHT program provided a stage with spotlights on how the ordinary citizens feed their family from day to day, to hold on in the moment of crisis, to stay sane when the elites, whose responsibilities were supposed to prioritize them, pay more attention to the “economy” that doesn’t reach the citizens in the narrow alleys of the city.

Photo 4. Following CNA team in covering Pak Munief’s mobility across the city to deliver cireng on his motorcycle
(Source: Eka Nurul Farida, 2020)
Photo 5. A screenshot of Bu Lilik’s interview (Source: CNA, 2020)

Urban realities grow from local uniqueness, which cannot be measured simply by numbers, nor can it be glorified by competitions among the elites. The intertwined stories from INSIGHT: Poverty in Asia (Indonesia) trigger our senses of solidarity and resilience. Although I have known the stories of Bu Lilik’s family and Pak Gi previously, facilitating their interviews and seeing how their stories intertwine on screen has broadened my view of how people are (barely) surviving striving through this difficult time. COVID-19 has brought many ordinary people to face a new set of challenges that require them to deploy survival measures into their new everyday lives. Through the INSIGHT production, we captured how COVID-19 has united the ordinary people under shared circumstances: poverty.

This collaboration experience with CNA’s INSIGHT production team is also a reminder of the importance of grounded research and placing communities at the heart of research. The identification of both resource persons in Surabaya was catalysed by SEANNET research team’s familiarity of the communities in the city. Furthermore, the experience also highlights the importance of engaged research. Being objective in research as an intellectual endeavor can go along well with the notion of care for those who are undergoing hardship, particularly when these hardships are caused by structural problems in society.

Watch CNA’s INSIGHT: Poverty in Asia (48:57) here:

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HirsHt-PLCA

On CNA website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/video-on-demand/insight-fy2021/poverty-in-asia-indonesia-13119816

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