Wasito, Raden

A respected social innovator and population leader in the 70s who served as the head of the Family Planning Board of East Java based in Surabaya
HIGHLIGHTS
CITATION
RESPONSE
  • Dr. WASITO, recalled from retirement to manage family planning in East Java, won acceptance of his thesis that this must be a “people’s movement”, and concentrated upon winning understanding and cooperation from local leaders: and their staffs, military officers and religious elders.
  • His population program targeted the rural and extremely poor women. He incorporated his family planning communication messages in the community’s traditions and practices.
  • He mobilized villagers through lurahs or headmen, irrigation officers, tricycle drivers and women’s clubs, the family planning representative was a local person and usually a woman. All was matched with scrupulous record keeping; village clinics display maps which households utilize what contraceptives.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes his discovering a path in the Javanese villagers’ mind that led to one of the most dramatic and successful family planning programs in the free world.

Population growth and the resulting pressure upon available food, resources and land has become one of the world’s primary contemporary concerns. In Asia, which holds over one-half of the human race, the resulting problems are particularly acute. As the death rate, especially among infants, has declined with improved health and medical care, the population promises even more rapid growth. Whether the present world population of roughly 4.2 billion will double or nearly triple before it levels off will affect the lives of all.

Approximately 1,000 kilometers in length, the island of Java long has held one of the world’s densest rural populations. In this verdant, volcanic landscape each of the 8,600,000 hectares of cultivated land must support 10 persons. The pressure of people has produced poverty and social tensions and prompted political upheavals as jobs and food have become scarce. Desperate economic circumstances have eroded the unique Javanese culture. Smaller, yet similarly burdened, Bali is likewise threatened.

Dr. WASITO has a natural affinity for Javanese villagers. Born 70 years ago into the family of a District Officer near Yogyakarta, he grew up in this heartland of Javanese civilization. Leaving to study medicine and serve for 13 years in Central Sumatra, he returned home when the opportunity offered, to work with the late Dr. Kodijat on the massive campaign in the 1950s to eradicate yaws. He learned early to shun people “who are clever without real knowledge.” The experience led to work in India and Nepal with the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) to eradicate smallpox and other epidemic diseases.

The dilemma faced by Indonesia—the world’s fifth most populous nation with nearly 136 million inhabitants—was whether effective limitation of population must wait upon general economic development or could be accomplished directly. Although birth control had become major government objective, the test would come in the villages.

Dr. WASITO, recalled from retirement to manage family planning in East Java, won acceptance of his thesis that this must be a “people’s movement.” Initially Dr. WASITO and his associates concentrated upon winning understanding and cooperation from local leaders: and their staffs, military officers and religious elders. Mobilizing villagers through lurahs or headmen, irrigation officers, tricycle drivers and women’s clubs, the family planning representative was a local person and usually a woman. The wayang or classical Javanese puppet shadow play was enlisted and female gamelan orchestras were organized as part of what has become a new liberation of women. All was matched with scrupulous record keeping; village clinics display maps which households utilize what contraceptives.

Already the results belie those who said it could not be done in poor, largely illiterate rural societies. In Hindu Bali in just over seven years the birth rate has dropped from 44 per 1,000 persons annually to less than 20 per 1,000. In Muslim East Java the results have been almost as dramatic and the energetic National Family Planning Coordinating Board now is similarly active in Central and West Java. For Indonesia it means the goal of enough food and a decent life for its citizens has moved several generations closer, as the anticipated population by the end of this century has been scaled down from 300 to 190 million. Dr. WASITO’s insistence that you must really “love the villagers to win their cooperation,” has been proven beyond dispute.

In electing Dr. RADEN WASITO to receive the 1979 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his discovering “a path in the Javanese villagers’ mind” that led to one of the most dramatic and successful family planning programs in the free world.

When the news came through to Indonesia that I was selected as an Awardee for Government Service for the year 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, there came a stream of cables and flowers from well-wishers assuring me of their pride that an Indonesian had been selected. This illustrates how highly this Award is valued by my fellow countrymen. This is why I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Board of Trustees.

From this forum I would also like to pay homage to your national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal of this great republic, and the late President Ramon Magsaysay in whose memory this Foundation was created.

As for the honor bestowed on me, I feel that I have done nothing in particular, other than doing my duty and country as a servant to my government and country.

Faced by the urgent problem of bringing family planning to the millions in East Java in the shortest time possible, I came to the conclusion that I needed thousands and thousands of communicators, informers, and educators. This could only be achieved by mobilizing every potential source who could communicate, inform and educate the people. The best communicators, informers and educators are the members of the village community themselves, whom the people readily believe. These people have the same cultural background, speak the same tongue, have the same traditions and the same way of thinking. After a brief training they are able to convey the message. The group of people fit for this work are the village chief and his assistants, religious leaders and their followers and other influential people in the community.

Everybody wishes to be happy and prosperous in this world and in the world hereafter. The village chief and his assistants are guiding the people to worldly prosperity, while the religious leaders are guiding them to happiness and heaven. That is the reason why the people believe them. If we get the support of these persons for the family planning cause, we have very powerful propagators for the idea. For my part I only reminded the people of our existing tradition: jer basuki mawa bea (no happiness without sacrifice) and gotong royong gugur gunung (work for mutual interest without expecting any remuneration).

A Javanese character trait is that when politely requested to help, it is difficult to refuse if there is any possibility of assisting. So, when we requested the village leaders to cooperate, the request was granted, and we got a powerful army of communicators, informers and educators. This led to acceptance of the family planning idea in East Java. Spread of information must go hand in hand with ample contraceptive services. It is due to the hard work and dedication of the government officers, doctors and midwives, voluntary workers of organizations, the armed forces and other layers of the Indonesian community that we succeeded. It is their confidence in the benefits of family planning that made our achievement possible.

On this, for me, happy occasion, I would like to salute the memory of my teacher, the late Dr. Soetomo, who taught me patriotism and the memory of the late Dr. Kodijat, Dr. Sjaiful Anwar and Dr. Soetopo, all of whom introduced me into the arts of public health. I would also like to remember my teachers in the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Soewardjono Soerjaningrat who gave me the opportunity to practice my ideas m East Java. And I would like to thank my wife and children, who have always stood beside and behind me, never demanding any luxuries during the difficult times of the struggle for independence, nor now during the period of Indonesian development.