[Unpad Media Channel] It is located only 13 kilometers away from the eastern borders of Bandung, the capital of West Java, but the village of Sukamulya in Rancaekek, Bandung, is still far from prosperous. Poverty, stunting, and illiteracy can still be found in the region.
This concern motivated an Unpad professor of community nursing, Laili Rahayuwati, M.Kes., M.Sc., Dr.PH., to run a community project in Sukamulya. Realizing the village is not far from Unpad’s campus, Laili considered it a must for academics to contribute in solving the issue.
Supported by the 2022 Matching Fund-Kedaireka program, Laili initiated the community project titled Desa Sehat Plus in Sukamulya. The program run did not only focus on health, but also the improvement of food security by optimizing unused land as herb and vegetable gardens for use by the people.
Before the Project
The condition of the village of Sukamulya first came to Laili’s knowledge through an observation done in 2020. Working alongside the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN), Laili found that Sukamulya still suffered from high numbers of stunting. People’s awareness of healthy eating habits and parenting styles was also still low and at risk of affecting the productivity of future generations if not increased.
“I remember there was a statement from a village official saying the awareness on stunting was not there, considering personal hygiene was not even practiced,” recalled Laili.
Economically, most people in Sukamulya still struggled in providing for themselves. The average people worked either as farmhands or factory workers. They struggled to feed themselves on a daily basis, so adequate education was not on the table. It was not uncommon for many school-age children to be illiterate.
Environmentally, river pollution adorned the village region. Laili also noticed much land was not being utilized.
After witnessing the condition of the village, Laili carried out implementation research focused on empowering the people there. She focused on how to increase people’s awareness on maintaining their health, using a participatory action research approach.
“So whatever their needs are, we can empower and educate them, including their children,” said Laili.
Developing the Desa Sehat Plus concept, Laili did not educate the people on stunting prevention directly. Rather, she led by example in demonstrating how to improve overall health. In other words, Laili ran the program bottom-up.
“Theoretically, only around 10% of stunting is caused by genetics, with inadequate healthcare facilities contributing around 30%. The rest is caused by social behavior and the surrounding environment. That is why our approach was putting the community first, if we aimed for a top-down approach, it might not affect the people. With education made widespread, we could go ‘hey, we can do it more practically this way’,” she explained.
Noticing the unused plots of land, Laili also tried to optimize their usage. After getting the go-ahead from the village authorities, she began work on three empty plots of land.
Unfortunately, her plans did not go smoothly. The opening of the unused land led to conflicts regarding land ownership. Some even asked Laili to provide compensation because they believe she had used the land without permission.
“I remember a few people were asking for accountability on my part, even though the land was not taken care of. They ask for refunds and everything. Being a woman, I was confident when I said ‘I don’t have any agenda besides helping the people’,” recalled Laili.
Although a number of the townsfolk were supportive of Laili’s efforts, she searched for another location, one which was safe from conflict. Gradually, she utilized the land by building hydroponic gardens and fish ponds, improving the public facilities, and building a drilled well as a source of clean water for the ponds.
The building of the drilled well was prompted by the state of the water in Sukamulya, especially in the river, already being polluted by industrial waste. All of the construction was funded by the Matching Fund-Kedaireka grant.
Laili was also the first to buy fish for the people to cultivate. She also invited colleagues from other faculties, such as Faperta, Fapet, FPIK, Fikom, and FEB to contribute by giving talks to the townsfolk.
Laili explained that these efforts were done to develop a healthy village. The people of Sukamulya were taught to understand the huge potential inherent in their surroundings, such as the many plots of land to be utilized in fulfilling their need for food.
“If they cultivated, they won’t have to spend much on buying food. They won’t have to always buy food to get their protein,” said Laili.
Slowly but surely, the people of Sukamulya could enjoy the fruits of their labor. The cultivated fish could be harvested by the townsfolk. They even started cultivation on a new batch of fish.
“In terms of setting a foundation, things have largely improved. It’s just that I would like for them to be an agriculturally developed village. They are still not one, because of financial issues,” said Laili.
The next program to be carried out is handling the village waste independently. The piles of trash in Sukamulya have obstructed even the main roads, to the point where they can not be traversed. The difficulty of access causes waste collectors to rarely operate in the area.
Laili admitted that the development of Desa Sehat Plus can not be concluded in a short amount of time. There needs to be a long process to change the mindset and behavior of the people to live healthier. For that, Laili is willing to return to Sukamulya.
“Grant or no grant, I will still go there. With the people aware of food security, it could increase the nutrition intake by families and townsfolk. It would automatically reduce the risk of the child stunting while in the womb, and give birth to a healthy and smart younger generation,” she concluded. (arm/ICP)*