Restoring Faith: Women Entrepreneurs in Post-tsunami Aceh

Salmawati, Abon Ikan Home Industry
Written by 
Maida Irawani

I had no idea about Seasoned fish meat floss (“abon ikan) until my husband shared the recipe to me after he participated on a Seasoned fish meat floss training organized by Banda Aceh Mayor Office in 1998. I was so curious about it as I never knew how it looks like and the taste. At first, I tried to cook it and the taste was strange, too sweet and not delicious. I was sure that Acehnese would not like it.

I did not give up and keep trying for many times, as I really wanted to earn additional income to support my family. My daughter initiated to sell my abon ikan in her school and many students bought it. However I received complaints from students’ parent, as they did not know what the product was, no product label and they did not familiar with abon. Later I had to organize P-IRT permit (food industry household permit) and we decided to put our son’s name on our product name “ Abon Tuna Saputra”.

The product was accepted in the market and our life change afterwards. I received many orders for my product and became well known after being promoted on TV and also my factory was visited by the previous Indonesian president, Megawati.  I was invited to be Abon trainer and my business kept growing and successful. I had 18 workers who worked with me to produce tuna abon industry and later our business was expanded. Tragically, tsunami 2004 killed three of my children and destroyed house and all business that we had established.

Life was so hopeless and painful, everything that we loved was taken away by the tsunami. I rejected to displace to another area and we set up a tent on our previous house site with the expectation that we could find our children while hoping that they would come back to us. In fact, I realized that they would never come back. My husband kept supporting and encouraging that this the test and trail from Allah and sadness should not be last forever.

Photo Courtesy: Joanne Petrina

We started to rebuild our lives by taking care of my only son and our relatives who lost their mothers on tsunami. We started working for cash for work to clean this village, we took loan from the bank and bought refrigerator to start ice business and then we established breakfast business as I saw a lot of construction workers found it difficult to have some morning foods in this area.

In 2006, many donors and NGOs came to see me to give support to re-establish my abon business but I rejected it, as I had no motivation anymore and I have enjoyed selling the morning food. Only when a man from LIPI who came with Community empowerment Agency (BPM) asked me questions that really touch my heart. “ Who made your abon industry successful before tsunami? I replied “ my daughter.” And then he continued “ where is she now?. ” She was died on the tsunami, I said. “ Don’t you feel sad not to continue what your daughter has started? Do you want to throw away everything that your daughter and your family have established? He asked me. His words went straight to my heart and made me realized that I should not give up with the condition that I faced.

I accepted the support and In the same year, 2006, I received equipment to reestablish my abon business and also participated in many trainings. I also won several awards in provincial, national and International level for fish product competitions and in 2009, I visited Malaysia and Japan for comparative studies.

I learn a lot from Japanese on how to be discipline and clean. I adopt the knowledge and apply it in my industry. Just currently, I was appointed to be a manager in this government fish processing industry and while I am still running my abon home industry during weekend. I have 12 workers and I can make 20 million rupiah each month from this business and my product is distributed not only in Banda Aceh but also Medan and Jakarta.

Through this small abon industry, I can create more job opportunity for the local people in the surrounding areas and keep empowering them to develop their own home industries. 

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