Ai's Spirit to be Free from Shackles of Poverty
The night is already late, but Ai Romlah's eyes are reluctantly shutted. Her sight is toward her four sleeping children huddled in a cloak on an old mat. In a confined building, there is no room for them to lay down.
Ai Romlah, the resident of Bojongsoang Village, is heartbroken because her children sleep with empty stomach. It has been two days since the family sniff the fragrance of cooked rice.
It seemed like shortcomings are not leaving them and always on their breath. "O God, what sin have I committed? If this is your karma for my sin and error, then forgive your slave, "Ai said, lamenting.
Two Days of Not Eating is Normal
In the long nights, Ai goes on praying, asking for a drop of Allah's love and mercy. "O God, I am sure you are the Most Merciful and Loving. Your promise is haq. If the wherewithal is still stuck in the sky, then lower it. If it's still behind a hill, then move it closer. If it is still waiting for tomorrow, then hurry up," she said.
It is unknown how many hours Ai eyes were frozen. Faintly, she heard the crowing of a chicken and the creaking of a sparrow. Ai woke up from a long daydream. The day was moving in the morning. Along with the sound of the tarkim (salawat: salutation upon the prophet of Islam) from the adjoining musholla, Ai is ready to welcome the day.
This morning a number of neighbors asked Ai for washing and ironing clothes. This is her job, helping her husband who is a parking attendant. Beautiful shadows flashed. The stove behind the house, God willing, is burning again. God hears her prayer.
Ai receives Rp 15,000 for each washing service and ironing in each house. Ai went from house to house from morning to night. "If I'm lucky, I can make between Rp 100,000 and 200,000 per day. Not bad because I can increase the uncertain income from my husband," said the mother of four children.
The tip of her lips raised briefly before leveling off in a moment. The washing-iron fee is only paid after the work is done. This means that children are forced to go to school on an empty stomach.
"They often go to school without pocket money and food supplies. They haven't even eaten yet. Later they come home carrying plastic waste to sell. The money is for food," Ai said, when talking with the writer.
Without money, the eldest must walk as far as about 7 km to school. He returned the same way, only this time carrying the plastic garbage he had seen on the road. Ai was very grateful, this poor situation, did not make her children spoiled. Instead, they grow into strong individuals who are dedicated to their parents.
"They accept and never protest. We are all aware, only education will change our destiny," she said. Therefore, the unyielding spirit is generated by the mother, spreads and is firmly planted in the hearts of children and families.
PKH Changes the Direction of Life
Ai was fortunate to be in the midst of a community that cared for others. They did not hesitate to help some of the difficulties experienced by Ai and her family. One instance is when the community worked together to renovate Ai's about-to-collapse house.
In 2008, it becomes an important turning point in Ai's and family's life journey. Good news comes from the neighbors. They who empathize with the fate of her family, provide important information. "The neighbors suggested that I should join the PKH program," Ai said.
Her education, which was only at elementary school level, made Ai not know what PKH was meant about. Later, she learned that PKH stands for the Family Hope Program. Neighbors, friends, and officers at the village office, explained PKH at length to Ai.
Ai does not understand the whole concept of the PKH program. What she gets in brief is that the poor people like her is those who can get assistance from this program. By becoming a Beneficiary Family (KPM), Ai will receive non-cash money of Rp1,890,000 per year that can be disbursed four times.
"I receive Rp 500,000 every three months. And the last three months Rp390,000. Thank God. I am very grateful. I am greatly helped by PKH," she said with sparkling eyes. After completing various administrative requirements, then officially in 2008, Ai was listed in PKH membership with a companion named Feny Mirdaliani.
As a form of gratitude and responsibility, Ai obeys all requirements for KPM PKH. "I use the assistance for children's school needs. Buy uniforms, books, stationery, and so on," she said.
Ai shook her head firmly when the writer asked whether the PKH social assistance that she received not being used to buy cigarettes for her husband. "No sir. Everything is for children's school tuition," she said. This statement was justified by Feny who accompanied her during the interview.
"PKH is very beneficial for school tuition. Thank you to Mr. Social Minister and President Jokowi," she said, steadily. Ai is the type of woman who is not easily satisfied as she is hardworking and determined to change her fate. PKH social assstance which she received does not make her lazy to find another source of income.
Ai is challenged. This is the momentum to find a breakthrough. After working as a washing clothes laborer, Ai began selling lotek (a boiled fresh vegetables doused in peanut sauce) on the terrace of her tiny house. Lotek is one of Bandung's special foods, similar to gado-gado.
Unexpectedly, Ai's hand has a golden touch. Lotek seasoning which she cooked, was able to vibrate the nerves of the customers' tongue. Slowly but surely, the stall is getting crowded, from the nearby neighbors, distant neighbors, official government officers, banks, police stations, and shop-houses around the stalls order in large quantities.
The path to rise has been laid. Ai's enthusiasm grew more intense. Her husband now also has a new activity. Early in the morning he helps Ai by buying lotek ingredients in the market, while in the afternoon he still works as a parking attendant.
Later, the types of merchandise in Ai's stall becomes more diverse. Besides lotek, she also serves the meatball and ready-to-drink beverages such as small sachet coffee and the similar stuff. To manage her small business, now Ai is assisted by two workers.
Successful in Selling Lotek, Joining to Manage KUBE
A bright future in this home business has double meaning to Ai. First, she was convinced that the lotek business had strengthened her family economy. Second, Ai is motivated to enhance her role in the broader business.
Therefore, a number of friends advised Ai to accept another assistance program called the Joint Business Group (KUBE) in 2016. KUBE is one of the government programs at the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia which aims to empower poor communities by providing venture capital through the Social Empowerment Direct Assistance (BLPS) program to manage Productive Economic Enterprises (UEP).
Together with a number of friends, Ai is now also busy processing culinary business, such as fish meatballs and cakes, by the help of KUBE. "This business is developing well," said Feny, which later justified by Ai Romlah.
That's the character of Ai who is not willing to give up on fate. Thanks to her hard work, now the standard of living for Ai and the family is more prosperous. "I want to change fate. I also want the people who are on the same boat with me, become advance as well. For this reason, I declare that I have stopped participating in PKH, so that the assistance can be given to those who need it," she said.
As a companion, Feny considered, Ai Romlah was a rather rare KPM. "Mrs. Ai has an extraordinary independent spirit. She is a hard worker and her passion for progress and change of fate is very strong, "she said.
In addition, Ai is also a KPM who complies with all the provisions in PKH as conditional assistance. "Mrs. Ai actively participates in various activities carried out," Feny said. In mid-July 2018, Minister of Social Affairs Idrus Marham gave a certificate to Ai and a number of KPM who had graduated.