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Fine, friendly Faroe

Indonesia, December 7, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Irma Sitompul/Mercy Corps  </span>
    All six representatives from the winning health facilities, Indonesian government health officials and Mr. Jørgen Niclasen, Faroe Islands' Minister of Public Affairs, proudly showing certificates of accomplishment. Photo: Irma Sitompul/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Farahdiba Tenrilemba Jafar/Mercy Corps  </span>
    An old town in Faroe Islands. They still maintain the traditional culture, growing grass on the rooftops. Photo: Farahdiba Tenrilemba Jafar/Mercy Corps

I was there — at a breastfeeding workshop last Wednesday — sitting in the back row, observing the six people on stage as they presented each and every step they had taken to be champions. These six people are representatives of health clinics in North Jakarta who, earlier this year, won a competition about breastfeeding awareness and practices. In this workshop, each representative gave presentations on how they achieved success in the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding at their health facilities.

Their auras were pouring out into the whole room. Their eyes were glowing. Their words were full of spirit. And as they spoke, driven by their hearts — let me tell you, they were amazing!

It all started when the Faroe Islands Government implemented a project called Setuju Oentoek Sepuluh (SOS) — which, translated from Bahasa Indonesia means "Agree for the Ten," referring to the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. With help from Mercy Corps' Healthy Start Program and the North Jakarta Health Office, the SOS Project was implemented in 67 health facilities, hospitals, puskesmas (government health centers that include midwives), maternity clinics and midwifery stations. These health facilities joined the SOS competition to promote the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in the pilot area, North Jakarta.

Out of these 67 entrants, six health facilities were chosen as the most compliant after six months of assessments. These six delegations got the chance to receive an exposure study trip to health facilities and training institutions in the Faroe Islands —a reward that they'd never imagined! I was fortunate enough to accompany them.

Faroe Islands, an island country with a population of not more than 50,000 people, was just outstanding. The 7,400-mile flight from Jakarta really paid off, with beautiful panoramas of green hills, hundreds of waterfalls and the ocean laid in front of us. The enthusiasm grew bigger when we finally met the warm, friendly people of Faroe. Ávirkan nummar eitt! (This is Faroese for "Impression Number One.")

Our team, which consisted of six representatives from the leading health facilities, four government leaders and four Mercy Corps Healthy Start staff, were all covered with winter coats. It was 4 degrees Celsius and not even winter. For those of us from Indonesia, that was the most freezing experience of a lifetime, yet exciting!

“I am glad I have prepared two coats and two pairs of boots to protect me from the cold!” whispered my colleague Yogiana, from Puskesmas Tugu Utara District, on the day we landed.

But cold did not stop the spirit even a bit. It was like we were entering an amusement park, wanting to try all the rides. We visited government hospitals, clinics, community centers and even houses where Faroese mommies had just delivered babies.

We listened.

Asked.

And learned.

“All the health systems here are integrated. Here, all health services are free,” Barbara á Tjaldrafløtti, our host, mentioned.

The Faroe Islands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jørgen Niclasen, was the one who greeted us on our first night in Faroe. It was such a pleasure and an honored moment. Ávirkan nummar tvey! ("Impression Number Two")

“I am fully aware that being here must be cold for all of you, do not blame on the weather, but blame on the clothes,” he smiled. He made us smile. That really broke the ice for the 14 awkward, don’t-know-how-to-act Indonesians who were visiting Faroe Islands for the first time!

While eating the very special dishes of Faroe, delicious lamb chops and fine fish, I saw how two different worlds melted together because of our similarities. Both Faroe Islands and Indonesia are formed of islands, which makes the character very similar: friendly, family-oriented and religious. I found Faroe Islands simply unique. Unique because they keep their tradition and mix it with modernity. Unique because it’s nearly impossible for trees to grow and unique because they grow grass on the rooftops instead. Ávirkan nummar trý! ("Impression Number Three")

The experience will always stick in our minds and hearts. The experience where togetherness is important, where love has to be shared, where appreciation is held high, where responsibility is highly respected, where efforts are highly valued.

“I’ve seen with my own eyes how they appreciate their beautiful nature as they worship their God. I’ve learned how they revere life as their basic ground of living,” said Nyoman Suartanu, one of team members from the North Jakarta Government, over and over again as he was really emotionally moved.

And so — as witnessed by us — there were six agents of change, standing at the podium, their commitments was being transferred. The three memorable days they spent visiting Føroya were being disseminated to other health facilities, government and key community members that are willing to change. These champions were communicating change to give preventative services to their communities, change to be supportive for breastfeeding and change to be compliant with the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.