Small business helps recovery on Nias

By Dian Kartikasari
Yumirna Zega prepares food in her thriving restaurant, which was equipped with the help of a loan from Oxfam. She is one of thousands of people assisted by Oxfam on the island of Nias, which was struck by an earthquake three months after the tsunami.

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"As the business grows, I am able to return the plastic cups and plates I borrowed from my relatives and buy my own kitchen tools."

Mrs. Yumirna Zega stands in the kitchen of her restaurant, which has grown from humble beginnings as a coffee shop and noodle stall three years ago to a thriving establishment in Tetehosi village on Nias Island, thanks to a livelihoods loan from Oxfam.

In 2006, she received a 3.2m rupiah ($320) loan from Oxfam, which she used to buy a gas cooker, plates and a refrigerator.

"With the refrigerator I could store food, and the gas cooker made it possible for me to cook like in my own kitchen back home," said the mother of six. "The restaurant has now expanded in size, and is serving a wider variety of food and beverages."

Life was not always so positive: Yumirna, now 36, was forced from her home in Bozihona village with the seven other members of her family after the earthquake that devastated the Indonesian island of Nias in March 2005. She and her family walked over 12km to an open field the night when the earthquake struck. There, she lived in a tent for three months.

Oxfam, already heavily engaged in the response to the tsunami that struck Aceh three months previously, was the first international agency to provide emergency relief in Nias after the earthquake. Its work to restore clean water and improve livelihoods on the island has since become an important element of its tsunami response.

Despite living in a tent and relying on emergency assistance, Yumirna was desperate to send her son to high school, and she looked for ways to earn money.

It was at this point that she borrowed cups, bowls, and plastic chairs from her relatives so that she could open her coffee shop and noodle stall, which was frequented by aid workers involved in the post-earthquake relief effort. Among her customers were Oxfam staff looking for a meal.

As well as the capital she received from Oxfam to get her business off the ground, Yumirna also received training in 2007 in business skills. It was the first time she had learned about accounting and bookkeeping.

"Now I know if there is an increase in monthly income or not, how much my daily expenditure and net income are," she explains. "This way I can plan ahead when I buy the groceries or if I have to save a little the next month."

Through its programs, Oxfam seeks to empower the women of Nias by giving them skills and knowledge to help them become more aware of their rights and more confident. It has also been trying to increase women's incomes through micro-enterprise projects such as the one Yumirna is involved in. It is hoped that boosting household incomes will help to push forward economic development on Nias, one of the poorer areas of Indonesia.

Another sign of changing attitudes came recently when Yumirna's eldest daughter received a scholarship to attend university, a big step in Nias society, where women are often treated as inferior to men.

Before opening the restaurant business, Yumirna earned up to 100.000 rupiahs ($9) per day. Now, the business is generating a gross income of 400.000 ($36) a day.

She notes that there have been other benefits. "The children eat more nutritious food now: meat, fish, vegetables like long beans, things that we never ate before. A few years ago, our diet was limited to fish and rice," says Yumirna.

Before she received the business training from Oxfam, Yumirna and her husband had no savings, preferring to buy gold jewelry, which they regarded as an asset with good resale value.

Yumirna's husband, Yasmin Harefah, aged 50, attended an Oxfam agriculture training course in February 2008, and they have invested their profits in a cocoa plantation, but the restaurant remains the main source of revenue. And it is a real family business: "We are now delivering catering and accepting orders by phone. Our regular customers include government officials and organizations." She smiles as she shows off the mobile phone.

"When many orders are coming in, the children help out as well. So I do the cooking, accounting, and grocery shopping; my husband does the catering deliveries, while my older children help out by washing the dishes."