Ida Putri

Bigger than the machine

Ida Putri's journey into activism and creating opportunities for others
Digital illustration of large brown hands holding a sewing machine. The hands are scratched and surrounded by thorny roots.
Bigger than the machine, by Kinanty Andini

Apa Kabar Debriefers,

My name is Ida Putri, and I am sending you this story from a small city named Boyolali in Central Java, Indonesia. This beautiful city lies near to an active volcano and is my hometown.

I discovered discrimination when I started looking for my first job. But now I work with a small group of colleagues to get employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, a major industry in our city.

This article is the story of how I went from struggling to find work to trying to make sure others don’t have the same challenges. It’s about how I became an activist, and the movement that I’m proud to be part of.

Welcome back to illustrator Kinanty Andini, who is also from Indonesia. Kinanty designed the Debrief logo last year and this is her first newsletter illustration.

Disability Debrief is supported on a pay-as-you can basis. Ida wrote this article in her fellowship with CBM Global Inclusion Advisory Group and International Disability Alliance.

Raising my voice in a good manner

I am a woman with short stature. Because of an accident my body stopped growing when I was 5 years old.

I had a supporting family and neighbourhood. When I played with my childhood friends we made adjustments in the game or I had some role in the team to let me play together. I went to school without any rejection, and the school made some adjustments to let me participate well. I got a chance to do higher education in Chemistry in 1998.

In the culture where I grew up, I was always told to stay calm, quiet and only raise my voice in good manner. Politeness is considered a community value and family has a strong value of respect for others. When I was verbally bullied I wasn’t allowed to fight back. I have to fight them by showing my ability. My father told me that if people are saying bad things about me it’s just because they don’t know me, and I should forgive them.

I didn’t understand that this is the unfair treatment other people with disability usually face.

Discovering Discrimination

When I started looking for my first job I discovered discrimination. I wanted to work for a big industry, but I always get rejected after interview. Even though I graduated from one of most reputable university in the country, I couldn’t find a job.

One day I and my cousin went to a nearest police office to process a document needed for a job application. One of the officers was dismissive of me “Gimana bisa kerja? Gedean mesin daripada orangnya.” How will they work? The machine is bigger than the person.

Even though I know the statement was totally wrong, I didn't know what to say. Being silent for years made my mouth keep silent.

When we were leaving, we saw he had finished his afternoon prayer. My cousin said to him “you just did the prayer, so you are religious person?” The officer smiled and nodded, until my cousin said “How can they be a religious person and say something bad about God’s creature?”.  

I realized how brave my cousin was. I wished I could be as brave as her, and fight for my own dignity.

My first job

I wasn’t able to get a job for three years. And then a family friend connected me to a local NGO (non-governmental organization) working on women’s rights. They gave me an opportunity when others didn’t, and that’s the root of where I am now.

I started my first job as an administrative staff. Working on human rights gave me a chance to meet people who could show me how they related to my life. I had opportunities to go to trainings and see how discrimination affects minority groups. I learned that mistreated and negative attitude happens to people with disabilities, including myself.  

But I wasn’t fully able to contribute in the organization. They had a program on disability but they didn’t want to involve me as it involved walking to different areas. They didn’t think that I was able to do it. They thought I would be a burden.

Equal opportunities like others

In 2010 I had a chance to travel to Oregon, USA for a leadership training. It was my first international travel and my first travel alone.

I feel like I had a better life in the USA. I was able to access public transportation, I could push my wheelchair along the sidewalk easily. I never could have imagined this before doing it, but I could go kayaking.

Beside learning the new knowledge in gender, disability and leadership, I also had chance to interact with people. I saw how people with disabilities had equal opportunities like others. They were able to live independently because the support they needed was fulfilled.

I want me and other people with disabilities in my country to also have a chance to enjoy our lives like that. I wanted to erase those bad treatments so that no one else will experience the same situation as we face today. I wanted to do something to make people understand how to treat people with disabilities fairly, equal to any other people, no matter what.

The least I could do

I wrote an article about my experience in the USA. It was selected in a writing competition and that gave me the chance to join the media as a contributing writer. The work provided me a lot of chances to know more people with disabilities, and Organisations of People with Disabilities (OPDs).

As a journalist I had chance to meet people with various types of disabilities and  background. I like to develop a good networking to promote our movement. 

One day I meet a girl with cerebral palsy who had a physical disability and difficulties to communicate. Her family was good but they are poor and she has three younger siblings. The father left them, so the mother has to struggle alone to get family income and raise the children.

Day-to-day she mostly lay on bed and was dependent on her family. The family lay her in a wooden bed to make it easier for them to clean the bed after she poop or pee. The bed was near to goat’s cage. The goat can easily escape from the cage and might kick her.

I was shocked this can still happen. And it showed me how complicated things can be. The real situation was different from any document I’d ever read, or any trainings I attend. The family loved her but had their own limitation. There wasn’t some easy solution or someone easy to blame.

It made me feel so sad. I had a mix of many bad feelings, including guilt about having felt life was ok before. I really wanted to help her, but didn’t know how. The least I could do is write her story and let local government know about her, so she can be involved in government social protection programs.

The situation opened my eyes that the condition of people with disabilities is far from equal. Until now I can see the picture of her in my mind.

“No need for them to go out”

As well as being a journalist, I also started working with OPDs. The employment sector takes my interest particularly. In 2020 I founded Kresna Patra together with Sri Setyaningsih. Sri is a woman who survived polio. Our similar challenges in accessing employment led us to care about the situation for other people with disabilities. We are now working to promote employment, in particular in the garment industry.

Our project trains people with disability in sewing and then looks for work opportunities either in the garments industry or by making a small business. Sri worked in garments years back and experienced how hard it is to work there as a person with disability.

When we raised the idea in 2019, it was immediately supported by business sectors and local government. The Covid-19 pandemic slowed us down, but we did the first training in 2021.

Sri lives in a rural area. Riding her motorized tricycle, she drives around to search for people with disabilities who are staying at home. For many their parents don't allow them to go outside, and when we suggest that they might be part of a training program, the parents often respond “what for? They are useless, they don't have ability, there is no need for them to go out”.

Sri tells the parents that they will not live forever. One day their son or daughter will be left alone in the world without sufficient skills. Sri says that if they give her the chance she will make the “useless” person into someone empowered.

So in the initial phase, we not only train people with disabilities to sew, but also daily activities and life skills. For some we even teach the alphabet and calculation. Sri and her team use buttons to teach them addition, like three plus five.

Accessible perspectives

As well as convincing people with disabilities and their families, we also need to convince the local government and business sector. They are the one who provide necessary support. We cannot work alone.

Actually, we are lucky to have government regulation that support us in promoting inclusive employment. Private companies are meant to employ people with disabilities in 1% of their workforce.  But it’s not wise to just go and ask them to fulfil the regulation.

The business sector is not very confident in discussing inclusive employment. They realize they are not meeting the quota for employing people with disabilities. To engage with them we often have discuss how to find best the solution considering the existing situation. It might be a way that not all activist with disabilities agree with, but I often remind them that it is ok with inaccessible infrastructure, as long as the people have accessible perspective.

How far we came

Our work might have started in a small village with a small community, but it is getting bigger and bigger. When I have the chance to talk with my colleagues who started the program with me, we wonder how we got this far. It’s much bigger than we ever expected.

So far, we have trained 450 people, mostly people with disabilities. 57 people with disabilities got work in garment factories. Others who don’t meet the industry standard or who want to work at home start small businesses. And the interesting part is, some members of Kresna Patra find love. In February 2024, a couple who met while doing the sewing training got married.

The work that started in Boyolali is now something we can share at international level.  Last October, I had chance to present our work to the headquarter officer of an international garment business. They were impressed and plan for further activities. And early this December, I had a chance to present this work in an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) consultation meeting.

When I get the chance to meet people with disabilities who work in government or the business sector, I congratulate myself on being involved in a movement to develop a better world. I might only play a small part in that, but I took tangible actions to make things happen.

And if I got the chance to meet the police officer who insulted me 18 years ago, I would tell him about the impact of my work as part of that movement to change the world. “Ya iyalah gedean saya ketimbang mesinnya!”. Of course I am bigger than the machine.

Salam hormat,

Ida Putri

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I’d like to thank Peter for encouraging me to write my story, as well as his insightful mentorship during the writing process. I also thank to Briana, Tarryn and facilitators in ACE fellowship for giving me opportunity to know Disability Debrief. Lastly, cheers for all Kresna Patra members!

Thanks to Kinanty Andini for the illustration.

The Advisory Capacity and Exchange (ACE) Southeast Asia Fellowship is a one year programme aiming to increase the knowledge and skills of the disability movement to engage in disability inclusive advisory work, implemented by CBM Global Inclusion Advisory Group and the International Disability Alliance.

And thanks to the readers and organisations whose support makes the Debrief possible.