Courtenay Teska
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Fighting For A Cup Of Rice In Paradise

A Self-Sustaining Project to Help Peasant Families in West Java, Indonesia Start Businesses

A villager carries rice up a steep mountain pass to feed his family

The rice paddies are brilliant green, and the breeze off the side of the volcano smells of spices and flowers, but people are talking of hunger:

"It is terrible, terrible. Maybe we will have just enough money to eat rice with salt," says Ibu Ida, shaking her head. The other sun-browned women in their conical straw hats nod.

An old woman walking barefoot down the dirt path that winds between fields: "I don't know whether we can eat tomorrow. I don't have a single rupiah; all I have is this," thrusting out her half-empty pot of plain cooked rice.

Adds the mother of two children, "Last year it was a dream to eat meat and fish. Now it is an even bigger dream to eat rice."

The drought of 1997 and the Asian economic collapse of '98 through `01 have brought Javanese peasants to the brink of starvation. People are eating endangered species and giving up their children for adoption to keep them alive.

The 18 members of Rotary Club Cirebon have devised the Cirebon Regency Business Development Revolving Loan Fund to help families in a peasant town to start their own businesses. With a loan of supplies and one-on-one training in entrepreneurship, Rotary members have started 56 families in duck egg farming. As the loans are repaid, more families will be helped to start new businesses.

To raise money for this project in the US I have done theatrical presentations about Indonesia and sold hand-painted batiks and other artifacts. So far I've raised $40,000 which includes a $10,000 matching grant from Rotary International.

In the summer of 2000 I shared the joy of the families in Astanajapura as their ducks moved into the bamboo pens the families had helped construct.

Courtenay Teska

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