Reflection workshop by village heads and village disability committees on the inclusive village program or RINDI in Kulon Progo district. Photo: Anita Reza Zein

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia — A grassroots program that started in a few villages in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta district is now growing and gaining government attention. But with the expansion come new challenges.

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In 2014, a local organization thought of the possibility of inclusive villages, where people with disabilities would be accepted by the community and able to participate in government decision-making processes.

To that end, Sasana Inklusi & Gerakan Advokasi Difabel, or SIGAB, piloted a program called “RINDI,” short for Rintisan Desa Inklusi, in six villages in the Kulon Progo district of Yogyakarta.

“At that time, we thought that if every village becomes inclusive, then the district, the city will be more inclusive. And if all cities become inclusive, then the province becomes inclusive. And then if all provinces become inclusive, then Indonesia will be more inclusive,” Suharto Alfathi, SIGAB’s executive director, told Devex.

But moving from idea to implementation has not been easy. SIGAB faced multiple challenges, from changing community perceptions to convincing governments to also consider the needs of people with disabilities.

Indicators of inclusiveness

When SIGAB started, it developed several indicators for the initiative. One of the requirements was that every village needed to have comprehensive and updated data and information on people with disabilities living there. Another indicator for success was the presence of a forum in the village in which people with disabilities and their representatives could participate and voice their views, including during village development planning.

But implementation presented its challenges. These included battling perceptions about disability, sometimes from the families of people with disabilities themselves. Many families are ashamed of having family members with disabilities, and don't register them as citizens, Alfathi explained. A number of people with disabilities aren’t able to attend school or access benefits afforded them because they are bereft of any form of identification.

There is also no clear definition of what classifies as a disability, nor accurate data that specifies how many people live with disabilities across the country, leading to underestimation. United Nations data estimates people with disability cover 15 percent of Indonesian society, but government data shows this is just less than 5 percent, Alfathi said.

Convincing village governments to allocate a budget for the needs of people with disabilities was not easy either.

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“Usually, they say ... ‘we don't have enough budget and people with disabilities are just a small part of the community.’ But we try to explain to them that people with disabilities are part of the community, and they have problems like anyone that needs to be solved,” Alfathi said.

The role of village disability committees

RINDI was launched six months after the passage of the Village Law in Indonesia. Under the law, villages are given more autonomy and are able to receive funds from the government budget, allowing them to identify and finance their own development needs and priorities.

The process requires each village to come up with a plan and corresponding budget in consultation with the community or its representatives. But Alfathi said people with disabilities are often unable to participate in these types of meetings, leaving their needs excluded from development priorities.

“They couldn't participate in decision-making, so people with disabilities become poorer, and become more excluded from society,” he said.

Suharto Alfathi, executive director at Sasana Inklusi & Gerakan Advokasi Difabel.

The creation of village disability committees, or “kelompok difabel desa,” composed of people with disabilities — a subindicator of the initiative — aimed to solve this problem. One of the main roles of the committees is to help raise awareness about the needs of people with disabilities with village leadership.

This is already happening, to some extent, in Ngestiharjo, one of the villages taking part in the program. The committee meets on the first Friday of each month with the village officials and other community leaders. They work with the community clinic to ensure regular check-ups of people with disability. The committee also has several plans to further promote inclusion of people with disabilities in the village, including involving them in village ceremonies and cultural events.

Giripeni, another village in Kulon Progo district located just north of Ngestiharjo, is hoping to follow in its footsteps. The village has already created its own disability committee, and plans are in place to collect detailed information on the number and types of disabilities affecting people in the village to help better advocate for their needs.

Agus, village secretary in Ngestiharjo, admitted his perception of disability has largely changed since SIGAB introduced the initiative. But he said the challenge is not only with the government, but among people with disabilities too, who can have difficulty in expressing and identifying what they need from government.

A program officer at Program Peduli, an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded program supporting civil society organizations in Indonesia to advocate and promote social inclusion of marginalized groups such as, but not limited to, people with disabilities, and managed by the Asia Foundation, shared the same issue.

“It’s really difficult for [people with disabilities] to identify their needs. They always come up with livelihoods, like making snacks or handicraft. But they also need to be equipped with knowledge, like market information, branding,” Ade Siti Barokah told Devex.

Opportunities and challenges to scale

After piloting in six villages in Kulon Progo district, SIGAB is introducing the program to 12 other villages, nine in Kulon Progo district and three in Sleman district.

But soon, they will have to look for new sources of funding for the initiative. DFAT’s Program Peduli, which has supported SIGAB in developing the inclusive village program since its inception, is ending this year.

But the Asia Foundation and DFAT are confident that the milestones their civil society partners have achieved to date will help them in continuing their initiatives and scale.

“Asia Foundation has been very invested in providing technical assistance and technical support for strengthening of CSOs. And I think in the last part of the program, they sort of allowed the partners to build a coalition with other organizations to leverage their relationship with national level or local level governments to advance the agenda,” said Andini Mulyawati, senior program manager for poverty and social development at DFAT Indonesia.

SIGAB, for example, is already providing input to the government regarding its experience managing RINDI, and the organization is considering how to better disseminate knowledge about the program and disability inclusion in general.

The same program is also being implemented by another organization in 45 villages in one district in Sukoharjo, in Central Java. Asia Foundation is also working with the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration on a manual on inclusive villages.

If it becomes a national regulation, then the inclusive village initiative could be implemented across the country.

But winning over cross-government support is important, and key to that is evidence that a program such as RINDI is having an impact on the lives of people with disability.

“At the district level social office, there remain big challenges on how to influence other offices, other sectors to think about the disability program. This is one of the challenges at the Kulon Progo level on making the inclusive village bigger ... because the [district head] said, ‘I need to learn, I need to see the evidence that if I provide this program, then there will be changes in the disability community,’” said Natalia Warat, deputy team leader of Program Peduli.

For more coverage on creating a disability-inclusive world, visit the Development Enabled series here.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.