She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “The spirit and determination of the people we are working with really keep us going. Their wisdom in living truly gives us a good lesson in life”.
Henny Yudea – Indonesia
She works for Health Study Institute (Lessan).
Henny Yudea (born 1968) is a health rights activist. Her main interest is developing traditional medicines, which she believes is an answer to the health problems of poor people. Herbal medicines can be made from ingredients which are mostly cheap and easily accessible to many. She works with hundreds of farmers, including women, encouraging them to plant herbs, and educates them in ways to develop medicines and secure a better future that stems from better health. Henny Yudea recalls: “I started my work in the late 1980s when villages surrounding Yogyakarta were going through hard times and the economic situation wasn’t good. The government was so repressive that people couldn’t express their opinions and views as citizens.” As a young activist, she wanted to help people cope with their situation and live better.
In 1990, she joined Lessan, or the Health Study Institute, as a field worker. She worked alongside the people to educate them on health problems and ways to solve them. “At that time, when a man was sick, he had to go find some cure. When he came back healthy, he no longer had anything left.” This is ironic, she says, given that the country’s Constitution guarantees the welfare of the people. But the reality is that to be sick is an expensive affair, assuming hospitals and medical services are within reach. The problem is when people who are sick are poor and are living in remote villages, as in many villages in Indonesia.
This condition prompted Henny and her friends to look for ways to provide cheap health services. “We witnessed unfair conditions, but we also saw a local capacity which was still untapped. Traditional medicines became our preference, because ingredients were easily available and curing people with them carry small side effects. All these medicines have been used for a long time by our ancestors.” So Henny and her colleagues began their research into traditional cures. Working with villagers who live far from cities and modern health care, they collected prescriptions that they printed in booklets and distributed to their program beneficiaries. They also set up health posts where people receive treatment as well as information on how to heal themselves.
“We believe Indonesia is richly endowed with natural resources and traditional wisdom. We must be able to learn all that and use them for the welfare of the people and the preservation of the environment,” Henny says. But she realizes that it is no easy task to reconstruct many of the nation’s traditional medicinal recipes. “I am afraid many traditional medicines will be lost,” she says. She points to another grim fact which is more structural in nature, such as how big medical companies overseas can potentially prevent local people like her from developing further traditional medicines because big corporations have patented them.
Henny and her friends have worked in the area of traditional medicine for 15 years, conducting research and development on herbal medicines, giving training to people and opening health posts where people learn to heal themselves using ingredients available in their surroundings. Their services range from mixing medicines for adults to developing potions for children. Henny also helps women farmers organize themselves. They are aware that their work should not only focus on helping poor people organize themselves, or pushing the government to build health infrastructure in villages, but also on pressing for the development of pro-poor policies on public health. According to Henny, good health is vital for poor farmers who rely on their bodily strength to earn a living. She says she admires many aged farmers who still possess physical strength. Her greatest joy in seeing people healed with medicines she and her friends made.
Henny and her friends realize that the issues they are working on need extra support from other members of the civil society. Lessan networks with the NGO Forum of Yogyakarta, which organizes common advocacies in Yogyakarta; the Yogyakarta Health Alliance, a network of health observers; and Walhi, the national forum of environmental NGOs. Lessan is also a part of regional Working Group for Biodiversity for ASEAN, and has a 15-year partnership with Terre des Hommes Germany and Eine Welt Laden Germany.“Although the situation is better now (compared to the early 1990s), there still are the suspicions against NGOs. We are often accused of selling people’s poverty,” Henny says, adding, “but the spirit and determination of the people we are working with really keep us going. Their wisdom in living truly gives us a good lesson of life.”
Aside from learning from the people, Henny says she also learns a lot from friends working on the field. Honesty and supportive behaviour help activists survive the often harsh working environment. She and her friends have learned what social solidarity and taking the side of the poor mean.
On women issues, Henny says the conditions in Java are much better then in the outer islands. Since the government decided to decentralize, however, many conflicts that used to be only in the center have entered the local level. This has raised concern in Lessan. “There are many conflicts in our society these days. Women often become the victims. But these conflicts are not people’s conflicts, but the conflicts of the elite. Elite interests often hurt poor people’s interests, including their health.” she says. Henny says more women should enter politics and play their political roles more actively. “Women’s issues are very delicate, more women must be involved in governance. Otherwise, men will remain dominant, rendering many issues related to women’s welfare unattended,” she says. “I really hope Indonesia can be a peaceful nation with its diversity and with a space for women to actively play a part in it.” (Read all on 1000peacewomen).