Women's Empowerment at Heart of RAPP Community Development Programs

Yani Oktavia, a batik artisan, shows Rumah Batik Andalan designs. (JG Photo/Adinda Putri)

By : Muhamad Al Azhari & Adinda Putri | on 8:55 PM December 22, 2017
Category : Special Reports

Jakarta. For Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, one of the largest pulp and paper producers in the world, business is not only about making products used by millions of people every day.

Nearby its 1,750-hectare manufacturing complex in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau, which produces office paper sold in more than 70 countries, a humble local batik house seeks to empower local women by making traditional fabrics decorated with wax-resist dyeing.

Through Rumah Batik Andalan, RAPP, a subsidiary of Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings, started its engagement with the local community. The ultimate goal is to improve the skills of women living near the company's operations areas by making them able to improve their household incomes.

From a dozen of batik cloths a month, the production house now makes more than 130 pieces, and allows its members to pay bank loans for property or to go for the umrah pilgrimage.

Yani Oktavia, 22, is a batik maker at the house. She said the beginning was not easy, and only 50 women were selected for initial training.

Before she joined Andalan Batik, Yani was only helping her mother with house chores. (JG Photo/Adinda Putri) Before she joined Andalan Batik, Yani was only helping her mother with house chores. (JG Photo/Adinda Putri)

The training by RAPP's community development division, although tough, changed the fortune of the girl whose family circumstances allowed her to only finish junior high school.

"It is not bad. I can earn between Rp 2 million ($150) and Rp 3 million," she said.

Slowly but surely, Rumah Batik Andalan managed to grow its business and is now already acknowledged by the industry. In 2015, it registered its unique bono pattern, and in 2016 the patterns of eucalyptus leaf, acacia leaf, lakum (a local fruit that looks like grapes) and timun suri (a local variety of cucumber).

Bono, which means "seven ghosts," is a spectacular natural phenomenon that occurs once a year — a large wave formed by sea tides appears on the Kampar River and, to surfers joy, remains there for hours.

Yani told the Jakarta Globe that she is proud to be working for Rumah Batik Andalan, and the job has already allowed her to travel to exhibitions in Jakarta and Central Java.

"I just recently came back from an exhibition in Jakarta," she said with a smile on her face.

Having graduated from the training program that started in 2013, Yani became a trainer herself.

Rumah Batik Andalan in Pangkalan Kerinci. (Photo courtesy of http://www.inside-rge.com) Rumah Batik Andalan in Pangkalan Kerinci. (Photo courtesy of http://www.inside-rge.com)

Learning from the success of the batik house, RAPP is now establishing a similar one in Kuantan Singingi subdistrict, Riau, near its concession area.

RAPP community development officer Sylsilia Trinova said the company has already trained 11 future batik makers.

"They are expected to develop their own batik motifs," she said.

With the success of Rumah Batik Andalan, RAPP attracted attention of the local government, which is ready to help expand the program through the Regional National Craft Council (Dekranasda).

"We hope this program can be a model one day and help introduce local batik to a bigger market," Sylsilia said.

While RAPP's corporate communications unit and Tanoto Foundation affiliated with the company are among the batik house's regular buyers, products from Rumah Batik Andalan are also sold at various national and international exhibitions.

The company wants to expand the house by making it design and sew batik wear, which will allow it to offer employment and to more women in the region.

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