Humanitarian Vetiver Project, East Sumba, Indonesia

Lined up for free treatment

I am a young Christian missionary doctor on the Island of Sumba in Eastern Indonesia. My work entails providing health and welfare to the indigenous village people who live in remote areas of East Sumba. Most are either Christian or Marupa; they are extremely poor and many have no support income, yet they do have arable land and land similar to the rolling hills of the prairies. Roads are treacherous because of steep embankments. This is the driest part of Indonesia where savanna grasslands predominate. Sumba has many horses and goats, some cattle but little else other than fruit. The stock need better nutrition — like the Sumbanese people they are very thin and suffer malnutrition.

There are many who take on the mantle of serving nature where neglect is undermined by our daily pursuit of serving ourselves at the expense of all things around us. There is an urgent call to grow vetiver for the sake of the poor and isolated village people who rely on nothing other than seasonal changes and the help from people they can trust.

May I relate the story of a doctor working among the poor and underprivileged on the Island of Sumba, Indonesia? Her story is symbolic of the inadequacies of the Indonesian health system and she works under great pressure to improve the lot of the poor and disadvantaged. She is a diminutive Christian missionary doctor, only thirty four years of age, running the major hospital RSK Lindimara (it recently celebrated a century of operation) in Waingapu, in East Sumba.

Dr Rani holding a clinic under a tree

Set up during colonial times by the Dutch, present day Sumba sees a Christian majority of 60%; most of whom are Protestant. With a medical staff ratio of 1:2 to 125 or so patients, RSK Lindimara is not a government hospital and gets limited support from the Christian community. Many of the staff are engaged in domestic duties and catering for hungry appetites of patients and undernourished children who come often to see a parent on whom they are dependent.

Dr Rani — her real name and title is Dr Alhairani Manu Mesa — is well known among her people because she detaches herself from race and religion whilst performing her duties. Rani works tirelessly for the sick and handicapped. Besides this she does community counseling over the local radio station. People needing aid come to her because they know she cares. Village children need educational books so she has started a small library to assist their education, but she needs assistance to extend her program through other villages. They are crying out for education. She will be the first to dig into her purse if there is a book that a child needs.

Through Facebook, she and a friend from Canada combined efforts and resources to support an orphanage of disabled children near Waingapu. Some are in need of surgery for facial impairment and others with deformities. They feed and clothe over 30 children, many of whom require plastic surgery. In recent times she took two to Bali for assessment and correction, mostly at her own expense. Doctors in remote areas, such as the outlying provinces earn as little as US$200/month — even less than most policemen. On the graph of importance they are on a lesser scale of priority and importance to the community. But one expects this in Indonesia where corruption is rife with local government officials and politicians.Rani graduated from Udayana University in Bali and is fully qualified.

On weekends, Rani, with volunteer staff from her hospital, ventures out and treats village people; most of whom seldom see or get a visit from a doctor. Setting off at 4am she will drive three or four hours over treacherous terrain, where you and I would close our eyes and shudder, crossing ravines and trekking up hills where vehicles cannot go to check the health of the village people, all for free, medications included. Some days she will see 500-600 people, prescribe their medications and then drive (late at night) back home to rest. Rest may amount to one or two hours before she goes to the hospital.

When she is away from the hospital for the day, important matters are put on hold and she may have to go to the hospital before going home. Her days are occupied with administration and doing the rounds of the wards, seeing patients and caring for their needs, as best she can. She has one other rostered doctor. Her role includes that of an anesthetist; coroner on government cases and other duties. On Tuesday evenings she does a clinic for poor people as a free service. This goes on virtually for seven days a week.

Rani is born into a Christian family; her father is a semi-retired pastor, still outreaching to others in the town of Lewa, halfway to Waikabubak in West Sumba. Her mother is a Dayak from Kalimantan. With her husband they raised a son and daughter. Rani is married to the grandson of Marie Antoinette de Beer from South Africa. Her husband migrated to Australia with his mother Magdalena (known as Madge Gracie) and now lives in retirement on an old-aged pension in Indonesia; supportive of his wife’s cause among her people.

Two hectares of land which Dr Rani would like to start a vetiver project on

Rani has leased two hectares of land, for 40 years at Tarimbang on the south coast where she hopes to build a clinic as tuberculosis and malaria still threaten the lives of village people. This leads us to the reason Rani is looking to a sponsor (or sponsors) with expertise in growing vetiver on a large scale. On this land she wishes to build a nursery and start a vetiver program for East Sumba. She offers a sponsor the right to live on-site for the period of the lease. Tarimbang is very beautiful and offers a holiday in paradise. To the south lies the Java trench, along which whales and game-fish such as marlin and tuna travel. Sumba is on Australia’s doorstep and shares characteristics in common with Northern Australia; unlike the rest of tropical Indonesia.

Rani needs to find sponsors to start a vetiver project and to build a medical centre. She is more than willing to let a sponsor manage the project and be accountable to their own shareholders as she would prefer direct involvement in preference to government involvement.

Vetiver offers wonderful possibilities to restructure the lives of the village people, especially for: prevention of soil erosion on embankments and wash-aways, thatching for traditional houses and feed for grazing stock. It offers someone the opportunity to distill vetiver oil for the trade. Calculation for a preliminary budget will be less than $450,000 or part thereof to build a nursery plus sponsor’s rondavel residence and clinic. A figure of $80,000 would be adequate for a nursery plus horticultural tractor. There are rice ‘paddies’ that may benefit from borders of vetiver. The villagers need to be taught the use of vetiver in handcrafts.

Rondavel — cost about $50,000

Waingapu is just one hour’s flying time from Bali. Lion Air has a sophisticated service flying regularly from Bali to Waingapu, thence 2.5 hours by car travelling thru’ savanna country with many undulating hills to Tarimbang on the Indian Ocean. There are many kilometers along the way that would benefit from vetiver hedges to prevent embankment erosion.

Rolling hills with most vegetation in the valley

If you would like to find out more, with a view to supporting this project, please contact:

Dr Rani M. Mesa
Lindimara Hospital

Email: alhairani (at)

Over the horizon is northwest Australia