20 years Journey of FMCH Indonesia, Efforts to Accomplish Integrative Health

Written by Helga Dyah, Program Manager and Brigita Rumung, Media & Communications Officer

The Founders’ Story 

Health is a precious thing which we should all treasure. It does not matter how much money you have in your bank, ill-health can affect anyone. We have seen it clearly during the current COVID pandemic–anyone, no matter how wealthy or important they were, could have become infected by this virus. Being healthy is the most important thing nowadays. The Foundation for Mother and Child Health Indonesia (FMCH) was registered as a charity in 2001, however, it started its very first program in 1998. Its priority then, as now, is to improve the health of mothers and their children. However, when it was first set up, FMCH Indonesia was founded from the simple act of caring. 

This caring feeling came from Barbara Jayson. She is a British citizen who lived in Indonesia from 1997 for over 8 years. Before moving to Indonesia, she lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Barbara, her husband and their 4 children moved to Jakarta at around the same time that Indonesia’s social-political situation became very unstable. Even though she lived in Jakarta during a difficult time, it didn’t make her stay at home and surrender, but it motivated her to do something. 

As a mother and nurse, Barbara was very interested in the field of maternal and child health. Although the social situation in Jakarta was deteriorating, she built many relationships with Indonesians and expatriates working in the field of health and had many friends who were doctors, nurses, midwives, and Posyandu cadres. One day, in 1998, one of Barbara’s friends, a local doctor working in South Jakarta, invited her to come to her clinic. The clinic was located in Kemang, South Jakarta. When she arrived, she was saddened to see some malnourished babies. 

“Can you imagine that? Seeing malnourished babies in a relatively well-off part of the city?’ said Barbara. She began thinking; if we can find malnourished babies in this part of the city, how many malnourished babies would there be in poorer, urban, and rural areas? That moment became her eureka moment! Without further ado, she started a group that raised funds to provide food for babies. She wanted to make a serious impact, so she invited some of her colleagues to join her. 

Thank goodness! Her colleagues accept without hesitation. One of her colleagues who fully supported her was Rosemarie Penrhyn-Jones. Rosie, who had also worked as a British nurse, joined Barbara and other colleagues, in the middle of this very unstable time in Indonesia, and they built the Foundation for Mother and Child Health Indonesia. The first programs provided were a feeding program for babies and some health promotion for mothers. The local community’s enthusiasm exceeded all expectations. Barbara was thrilled, but on the other hand, she was concerned. As a new organization, funding was an issue. Plus, Indonesia was in a crisis. 

FMCH Indonesia was launched on June 26, 2001, by CEO Standard Chatered Bank,
Mr. Ferguson

But Thank God again! The universe showed an epic sign. Barbara was able to meet with a director of Standard Chartered Bank, London. Long story short, they asked Barbara to send a proposal and, they accepted it. The bank funded the major operational and activity needs for 3 years. There were other obstacles to overcome. As a “non-Indonesian” foundation, FMCH Indonesia faced administrative problems. Barbara didn’t stop. She figured out many ways to solve it. 

One day, in 2000, Rosie introduced Barbara to Ira Lembong. Ira had recently moved back to Indonesia after living in Australia. Ira shared the same concerns as Barbara and was saddened at seeing the living conditions of children in Jakarta. They met and realized they had a similar vision. Because of Ira, FMCH Indonesia was able to solve the administrative issues. 

On February 21st, 2001, FMCH Indonesia became officially registered in Indonesia with a local name: Yayasan Balita Sehat, Indonesia. Over the years, many people joined the Foundation. Programs expanded as the need became apparent. The trustees decided to start an early childhood education program (PAUD). “I Thank God continuously because I met two great women: Barbara and Rosie. We are on the same page. So, we can achieve this,” Ira told us.

The simple act of caring was the reason FMCH Indonesia was set up in the first place, and, with compassion, dedication, and professionalism, has been central to our foundation for the past 20 years. FMCH has held onto the same vision from the first day it was started: to improve the health of mothers and children in Indonesia. 

Into Integrated Health

From day one, FMCH Indonesia has ‘tackled malnutrition, every day!’. This sentence is our mantra and it is like a guiding light. FMCH Indonesia realizes, the cause of children’s malnutrition is not just related to lack of food or poor nutritional intake but is also related to parents’ awareness, parenting issues, family economy, and environmental conditions. Thus, FMCH Indonesia keeps coming up with innovative solutions to tackle this multi-faceted problem. One such range of programs is aimed at preventative measures. 

For example, promoting health education and improving the livelihood of mothers, early childhood education, and health education for children and teenagers. We have found that upgrading parents’, particularly women’s, soft skills, contribute to the improved economic status of families. FMCH has developed programs for three geographical target areas in Indonesia: Jakarta, West Java, and Nusa Tenggara Timur. Our 20-year journey has been challenging. FMCH Indonesia has faced numerous obstacles along the way, but with great efforts from all the FMCH Indonesia team, the journey has been made smoother.

Chairwoman of FMCH Indonesia, Syifa Andina

Since 2015, under the leadership of our Chairwoman, Syifa Andina, FMCH Indonesia has been shaping its vision to become a leader in the integrated field of physical and mental health in women and children. “Talking about health itself, we cannot separate the physical and mental. They are one unit. We just cannot focus on the outer side. The inside is more than important,” said Syifa Andina. To accomplish this integrative health, FMCH Indonesia never stops trying to create innovative solutions.

In the education sector, FMCH provides early education for young children, which is integrated with the national curriculum. This national manual focuses on the importance of the physical and mental health of parents and children, especially emotional intelligence (EQ). FMCH Indonesia provides pre-school education programs using this national manual and also develops its teaching materials; promotes health literacy through the provision of mobile libraries, and puppet shows; trains caders to take accurate weight and height measurement for monitoring purposes; monitors children’s nutritional status; provides medical and dental check-ups; and provides parenting programs. We are developing training modules for both physical and mental health through our signature programs: Health Education Session and Happy Pregnancy Classes. 

Happy Pregnancy Class during Pandemic COVID-19

“Children need to be intellectually stimulated to help with their development and for them to reach their potential. Family, especially parents, have the biggest role in this. Parents should know that the emotional wellbeing of their children can be affected, amongst other things, by parental emotional wellbeing and the home environment,” explained Helga Dyah, Program Manager of FMCH Indonesia

Good mental health is very important for pregnant and new mothers. “Good mental health is as important as good physical health. If we are mentally unwell, it may physically affect us. If a pregnant mother suffers from a mental illness it may harm both herself and her baby,” Helga Dyah added. 

FMCH has also contributed to a campaign highlighting the importance of good mental and physical health and is aimed at children, teenagers, and parents. We created media, printed and digital versions of a booklet titled ‘Aku Bisa Hadap Ini’. The booklet contains a story to increase people’s enthusiasm. FMCH distributed the printed version to more than 6000 people in the three geographical areas in which we work and uploaded the digital version onto our social media. 

“The 20-year journey FMCH has been on, is a long and interesting one,” said Barbara Jayson, our Founder, “and it has been an amazing personal journey for me as well,” she continued. 

Year by year FMCH Indonesia bravely continues to show the world its potential. Sitting alongside its sister organizations, FMCH India and FMCH UK, its journey will continue, aided by good leadership, national and international collaboration and generous funding. FMCH will, of course, encounter obstacles along the way. But one thing is certain, the FMCH team will walk hand in hand, to become the leading advocate for integrated maternal and child health in Indonesia. Happy Birthday, FMCH Indonesia. Let’s grow and flourish together!