Text and photo by Nadine Freischlad
Valencia Randa discovered that she can make the world a little bit better – with the power of her social media network. It started out with a personal blog. Now, she runs Indonesia’s largest blood donation network and a foundation that gives sick children a home.
The house, painted a bright tangerine, stands out in a quiet residential part of Jakarta. It’s equally colourful inside. One wall is covered with the picture of a giant banyan tree, and a handful of photos of children are pinned to its branches. All those children are – or were – inhabitants of House Hope.
Whether they are past or present inhabitants, the children that come into Valencia’s foundation Rumah Harapan or House Hope have something in common: they are sick and need long term hospital treatment such as chemotherapy, hemodialysis, or regular blood transfusions, but their families are not able to afford it.
When a child gets struck by a serious disease, families often leave everything behind to take care of their child. They arrive at Jakarta’s hospitals from the provinces with little cash, and can’t afford housing. They end up sleeping at the hospital, crowding corridors and waiting rooms. They have nowhere to go, but can’t leave their child’s side.
Valencia is familiar with many such cases. She’s a regular visitor of Jakarta’s public hospitals because of her two other initiatives: Three little Angels and Blood4Life.
Valencia uses the power of her social media network to coordinate and gather support for social causes. Her network is strong, because she started blogging many years ago where competition was not as intense.
When she first started blogging, she had no specific intention in mind. She was good at capturing the joys and frustrations of everyday life on her blog, and found loyal readers. Over the years, the number of followers on her Twitter account climbed to more than 60,000.
In 2009, Valencia’s mother fell ill, and she found herself spending a lot of time at the hospital. Valencia’s mother desperately needed blood transfusions, and it could sometimes take up to three days to find a donor.
Valencia learned a lot about the blood donation system at that time. There is a chronic undersupply and people with rare blood types sometimes do not find a matching donor on time. The situation is worst during the fasting month of Ramadhan, when blood donations drop to a yearly low.
This is when she started using her social media network to campaign for blood donation and to find voluntary blood donors. She also called on fellow bloggers to spread the word.
“I was in a mailing list for bloggers, consisting of 44 people. I talked about this idea there. And the bloggers, who had no previous experience with blood donation got involved.”
They called the campaign called Blood4Life, and it continued to grow. Hospitals soon knew about Valencia and recommended patients to turn to her for help in finding donors.
But Valencia didn’t stop there. As her involvement got deeper, she realised that many patients at the hospital needed more than blood.
She once again used the power of her network to create Three little Angels, a group of volunteers who visit hospitals to cheer up children, support parents and help raise funds for complicated surgeries where they can.
“There are millions of people who wish they could do good, but they don’t know how. At the hospital, they cry for help but don’t know who to turn to,” says Valencia. A lot can be achieved simply by connecting the right people.
The next logical step was to establish a temporary home for families who can’t afford to pay for accommodation near the hospital, and Valencia used her relentless optimism to achieve that goal.
Rumah Harapan is now about one year old. The house offers simple mattresses on the floor to sleep, sometimes 10 to a room. But it’s clean, meals are free, there are some books and toys for the children, and sometimes even tutoring session.
Volunteers come to help cook, play with the young children, or tutor the older ones. Most volunteers are students, freelance workers or housewives, who are flexible with their work hours. But Valencia insists that the volunteers also need time to think about their own future. She sometime arranges workshops for them, for example on time management and personal finance.
To keep the house running, Valencia tirelessly knocks on doors. She has found donors, mostly from companies who send food, or support renovations around the house. One company pays for the house’s rent.
“I approached everyone I have ever worked with before,” she says. In the beginning it was hard. But if we ask for very specific things, things like paint for the walls, or soap, it’s easier to get them.”
It’s heartbreaking to hear about the dramas that unfold regularly at House Hope. Not long ago, one of the young patients passed away, after going through weeks of gruelling chemotherapy.
Some children make it through the treatment and may have won a handful of carefree months or years, others aren’t so lucky. Still, on the photos pinned to the branches of the giant painted tree, they somehow manage to smile.
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