Be grateful for every penny: Marlina’s story

Indonesia’s first locally funded social protection programme for children is helping families in Sabang meet their health and nutritional needs during the pandemic

Pinka Satria Aqsa
Marlina and her children
21 December 2020

Marlina was once the breadwinner for her family. A mother of three, she worked a series of odd jobs to make ends meet, such as baking cakes and doing laundry for her relatives in Sabang, Aceh. 

But everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Social restrictions put in place to control the virus have made it almost impossible for her to find work. Her husband, a fisherman, suffered serious injuries in a traffic accident and was unable to leave their home for a month. The uncertainty of their situation weighs heavily on her mind and often keeps her awake at night.  

“Not only was my husband unable to go out to sea, but I am getting less cake orders than before,” Marlina said. “COVID-19 has made our situation even worse. My family and I have to be more patient and grateful now.” 

Around the world, the pandemic is causing widespread income insecurity for families. Although Indonesia has made significant progress in reducing extreme poverty, only 52 million are considered to be economically secure, with an estimated 60 per cent of the total workforce engaged in informal economic activities. Many have seen their livelihoods decline and are not covered by social protection programmes, which mostly target the extreme poor. 

Children walk on the beach in Sabang
Children walk on the beach in Sabang. Many families in the city have been hit hard by the pandemic.

While Marlina looks for ways to earn money, she takes comfort in knowing that her children will not go hungry. Since last year, she has received assistance to cover her children’s essential needs through GEUNASEH, a local child grant scheme managed by the Government of Sabang. 

Launched in 2019, the GEUNASEH programme provides every family with children under the age of six with an unconditional cash transfer of 150 thousand rupiah ($10) each month to pay for food, transport to access health services and other essential needs for children. Beneficiaries also receive counselling on infant and young child feeding, parenting advice and growth monitoring services at the posyandu (community health post). 

While GEUNASEH aims to provide every child in Sabang with the support they need for a healthy start in life, it is targeted to reach the most vulnerable children who suffer from persistent food insecurity and malnutrition. Currently, it covers around 5,000 children across the city, making it one of the first locally funded social protection plans for children in Indonesia.  

UNICEF, which advocated for the programme to help alleviate child poverty and malnutrition among the city’s growing child population, has supported the Government by providing technical support, policy and programme guidelines, behaviour change communication, and a management information system of beneficiaries. 

Marlina is one of many mothers who have directly benefitted from this support. Despite the loss of steady income since March, she is grateful that she can buy her children nutritious food. 

“In the past, I never thought that I could regularly provide healthy food like eggs, fish and vegetables for my children because I didn't have enough money,” she said. “But now I can buy complementary foods for them because of GEUNASEH. Alhamdulillah, my children are healthy.” 

Marlina holds her newborn baby
Marlina holds her newborn baby at home.

The Head of the Sabang City Development Planning Board, Faisal Azwar, explained that while GEUNASEH was started to support infants and young children, it has now become a universal social protection programme for households impacted by the pandemic. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the GEUNASEH fund has had a very positive impact on the lives of children and their families in Sabang,” said Faisal. “Many families have been financially affected, and the GEUNASEH programme has been very effective in helping them meet their children’s nutritional and health needs.” 

With the adverse impacts of the pandemic likely to continue into 2021, the Government of Sabang has committed to extending the programme through to next year. GEUNASEH also complements the city’s educational scholarship programme for students between the ages of 7-18, meaning children of all ages in Sabang are now covered by social protection programmes.  

Aside from improving nutrition outcomes, there is evidence that the rates of birth registration and attendance in posyandu (community health posts) have gradually increased as well, showing how social protection supports families during the pandemic and beyond.