Netty Muharni was among the 10 per cent of her seaside village in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to survive the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but tragically, her two young children were lost in the disaster.
In total, an estimated 230,000 people were killed or went missing in the tsunami, and another half-a-million lost their homes to the sea. Three-quarters of these were from Indonesia’s Aceh province, of which Banda Aceh is the capital.
In the post-disaster chaos of uncoordinated relief efforts in the province, Muharni became determined to learn how communities like hers could be better protected in the future.
“After the massive destruction of my city, and as a survivor who experienced first-hand the difficulties on the ground, I was eager to understand good planning practices,” she says.
At her sister’s suggestion, Muharni applied for – and won – an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Master of Urban and Regional Planning at Curtin University.
“My study at Curtin enhanced my knowledge and understanding about planning and development practices,” she reflects. “I have found it to be very useful in my work.”
Muharni has worked for the government since before the tsunami, holding positions in the industrial and trade offices. She chose to work in government as she felt it was the best place for her to contribute to her country and her people.
“At the beginning of my career, we delivered a training program in fish processing that had 20 participants,” she says. “Years later, one of the participants was given the opportunity to run a fish processing business and was able to employ some poor people in the neighbourhood. It’s a moment that continues to inspire me.”
As Head of the Promotion Division at the Aceh Investment Coordinating Board, Muharni has been using her planning and development skills to make an extraordinary contribution to rebuilding livelihoods and international trade in Aceh.
“It is important that we promote our investment potentials to attract more investment to Aceh,” says Murhani. “One of our aims is to get private funding flow to Aceh, to provide more job opportunities and to accelerate economics growth in the province.”
“And for me, personally, my new knowledge and skills in planning have made it easier for me to understand development from regional perspectives, making me more confident in discussing investment plans. Convincing people is an art and I love doing it.”
In 2015, Muharni’s hard work was recognised by the Indonsian Government with her appointment as Assistant Deputy Minister for Regional and Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation in the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs. Her new position will mean a move to the central government offices in Jakarta, enabling her influence regional change at a broader level.
Multiple roles, one goal
Though working in government provides the opportunity to contribute to policy formally, Muharni also recognises the importance of informal change in improving quality of life immediately for villagers.
To effect this change, she volunteers for the Aceh Craft Council, which helps thousands of people improve their craft production and marketing. Craft products are a common form of income for many villagers, particularly women, and helping to improve business practices is a simple and direct way to improve economic wellbeing.
But regardless of her achievements at a local or government level, Muhari’s proudest role will always be as mother.
It is only now, in the wake of the tsnumani and the loss of her children, that Muharni has finally made peace with herself. And it is helped by her appreciation of the fundamental importance of her work. She puts it simply: “My goal for the future is to see new companies starting their operation in Aceh, so I can see the people’s happy faces in their new employment.”
Netty Muharni is one of Curtin’s distinguished alumni, in recognition of her devotion to helping communities make tomorrow better.
Name: Netty Muharni