Jakarta (ANTARA) - Fifi Sumanti, a 31-year-old midwife from Komodo Island, East Nusa Tenggara, wells up as she recounts her struggles in raising awareness about children's nutritional needs among parents in the region.

According to her, people residing on Komodo Island are not economically disadvantaged. However, there are several myths and erroneous beliefs that the midwives and health cadres on the island are fighting to dispel to improve children's nutrition.

Sumanti said that education regarding nutrition fulfillment must be encouraged to free children on Komodo Island from stunting.

"Komodo Island is a well-known tourist village. The people should have better knowledge. I could not ignore it because they are my family," she added.

She is not alone in the fight. Accompanied by another midwife, Faiza, she goes from house to house, knocking on door to door, to gain more acceptance from the community. On Komodo Island, she does not only act as a midwife, but also as a doctor and family counselor, and she even cooks for the supplementary feeding program.

The love of these midwives for Komodo Island is immense. Even though Sumanti and Faiza pursued their education outside the island, both decided to return home and dedicated themselves to families who needed a helping hand in the health sector.

When traveling around Komodo Island, she patiently knocks on doors and is greeted warmly by mothers who address her as Mama Sami. NTT people call a mother by her child's name once they feel better acquainted. This proves that mothers on Komodo Island have accepted Sumanti as their own family and sister.

Fighting limitations, dispelling myths

Sumanti and Faiza said that it is love and care that have strengthened their intention to remain as midwives on Komodo Island. They added that their income is sufficient to meet their daily needs.

However, they still face some challenges, including in terms of the transportation costs for traveling to Labuan Bajo to pick up medicines and vaccines.

"We use a boat to go to Labuan Bajo and we have to spend a night there and must pay more for lodging and food," Faiza said.

The same thing happens when they have to refer a patient and need to stay overnight in Labuan Bajo. Since it has been designated as a super-premium tourism destination, living costs in Labuan Bajo have become too expensive for midwives to bear.

For every trip to Labuan Bajo, they get Rp200 thousand – Rp300 thousand for transportation. However, this amount is far from enough to cover accommodation costs, which they have to foot on their own.

The Village Fund cannot be used anymore because it is already being used to cater to the needs of mothers, infants, toddlers, and pregnant women.

The midwives said that sincerity and integrity are two things that they always uphold when serving the Komodo Island people.

At the community health center (puskesmas), which covers an area of less than 200 square meters, Sumanti and Faiza take care of pregnant women who used to trust traditional birth attendants more than midwives.

But after years of struggle to build awareness, the people of Komodo Island are no longer giving birth with the help of a traditional birth attendant.

"Some of them experienced seizures or being poisoned. But they believed they were possessed by a demon. I told them it was caused by high blood pressure or poison in their body, but they did not believe it. They decided to go back home and later came again with the same symptoms. Then they agreed to be taken to the Labuan Bajo puskesmas," Sumanti recalled.

The midwives' dedicated efforts to spread awareness to prevent preeclampsia in pregnant women eventually led to all mothers on Komodo Island agreeing to give birth at the puskesmas, and not at their homes.

Sumanti and Faiza expressed the hope that all facilities, such as access to clean water and vegetable need fulfillment, would be sufficient to support the community’s nutritional needs.

However, they said the biggest challenge they are currently facing is educating the people regarding the importance of adequate nutrition for their families, considering that the people of Komodo Island still choose the easy way out to feed their children by giving them instant noodles or snacks that are high in added spices.

"It depends on the mothers' will to change their behavior. I really have to work even harder with Faiza," Sumanti said.

Importance of supporting women

Sumanti and Faiza are just two of the many women midwives in the outermost areas who are continuing to struggle in the face of limitations, both geographic and economic, by forgoing their own needs for the sake of social service.

Even though they are assisted by cadres, the midwives' work is becoming more difficult with administrative burdens that must be met every day to support data collection. With the budget for cadre incentives a mere Rp400 thousand per year, there is a real possibility of cadres not being ready on call when needed, even in emergencies, when their roles become crucial.

Men’s involvement is also needed to help these women. Head of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN), Hasto Wardoyo, is promoting the Foster Stunting Children program (BAAS) to increase fathers' awareness about children's nutrition.

However, this role cannot stop at providing food assistance alone. Building awareness on nutrition fulfillment in the family is a lifelong responsibility for both parents, not just the mother.

If these women on the frontline can feel safe when working for the community, it is certain that in the future, especially in welcoming Golden Indonesia 2045, the country will be free from stunting.

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Translator: Lintang Budiyanti P, Resinta S
Editor: Azis Kurmala
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