Thursday, January 20, 2022

REST IN PEACE NAMBORU RENTA


By Lily Hikam
I count myself extremely lucky to be blessed with not just one or two, but three mothers. My biological mother or Mami, my mother-in-law Ibu, and my Namboru Renta.
Namboru Renta came into my life when I was just one scared, confused 15 year old in a new country with almost no one to turn to. Her brother, Uda Toman (Toman Hutabarat), who is a friend of my father, had called her up and said a friend of his had a daughter who would like to go to school in America. And just from one phone call and a brief visit to her house in New York, she took me in and raised me for the next two years until I graduated high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and continued raising me until I got my BSc (Pennsylvania State University, PSU), MS, and Ph.D. (both at the University of California at Irvine, UCI).
Namboru is not just a 'foster' mother to me. She’s my role model. I remembered one afternoon in my 11th grade sitting at her office doing Calculus homework while waiting for Namboru to finish with work so we could go home together. Then Namboru told me some good news about a drug she was developing with her team had a breakthrough, in which that drug helped a hemophilia patient not to have to worry so much about internal bleeding and that the patient can now live a relatively normal life. I remembered how happy she was that her work helped people live a better life, and I remembered how at that moment I wanted to be just like her: I want to dedicate myself to biomedical research so I can help cure and treat diseases to make the world just a bit better to live in, and have fun doing it.
One of Namboru Renta’s greatest virtue is her supportiveness. She was the first person who encouraged me to pursue biological science as a field of study and the person who got me my first internship gig where I discover my life-long love affair with molecular biology and stem cells. She was also the first person who met my then-boyfriend & current husband Zakiy and saw how good he could be for me and was very supportive of our relationship from the beginning.
Namboru Renta lived her life to the fullest. She loved life, she loved a good joke (even though at times it might be morbid or raunchy) and good food and drinks. The way she showed her love and affection is by treating us to good food, so much so that she refined our palate and elevated our taste. When we, her children, went to live on our own and tried to buy the same brand or type of food she used to buy us at home, we would be shocked by the price and in awe at how much she would be willing to spend on us to make us happy.
Namboru always said she wanted to be like her Papi, Ompung Doly. Stories of his kindheartedness and patience were something that she always shared with us. One story that always stuck with me was the story of how Ompung used to always have hungry students at home, and feeding them, much to the annoyance of Ompung Boru. Ompung Doly’s generosity was so huge and touched so many lives that when he passed away it took almost one week of people paying their respects at the funeral home before the family could fly him back to Medan for the funeral. If it wasn’t a pandemic, I have no doubt that there will be as many people paying their respects to Namboru.
The last words Namboru ever said to me was “Don’t cry”. But I’m sorry, Namboru, that’s one order I can’t obey for now, because now I have to live in a world that doesn’t have you in it, and my world is less bright now because I have lost you. I can never hear your voice saying “Halo, Inang!” nor can I ever hear your laughter ever again or sing Batak songs loudly and off-key. But I will try to be less sad as time goes by because it’s what you would have wanted. You would have wanted us to remember the good times and celebrate your life. You’re probably happier now because you get to be with Spike, Fluffy, Jaime, Parish, Chloe, and Krissy again. I know how much you’ve missed them and how you’ve longed to see them again.
Goodbye and Rest in Peace, Namboru.😪💐❤️
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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

IN MEMORIAM: DR. RENTA MAGDALENA HUTABARAT (1956-2022)


Kabar duka itu datang sekitar jam 20-00 WIB, atau jam 8.00 waktu Boston, Massachusetts, AS, melalui telepon. Kami kehilangan salah seorang teman dekat, mentor, dan role model yang sangat berjasa dalam kehidupan keluarga kami: Dr. Renta M. Hutabarat dalam usia 65. Kak Renta, demikian saya dan isteri memanggil beliau, dan Namboru atau 'Bou Renta, begitu puteri saya memanggil beliau, telah tiada setelah sakit yg tak lama di RS Bingham Young, Boston, AS.


Kami saling kenal melalui Bang Toman Hutabarat, kakak dari mendiang, ketika sedang mencari sekolah utk Lily, puteri semata wayang kami selepas SMP. Bang Toman menyarankan agar saya mengontak adiknya, Dr. Renta Hutabarat, yg tinggal di AS. Lily akhirnya sekolah SMAnya di Boston dan tinggal dg keluarga kak Renta. Beliau seorang perempuan yg benar-benar sesuai sebagai role model puteri kami yg sedang tumbuh: Saintis, independen, manajer perusahaan yang kompeten, dan pelindung keluarga besar. Beliau dengan adik bungsunya, kak Heidi Hutabarat, tinggal serumah bersama naka-anak angkatnya, mbak Indah Hutabarat dan mas Bimo.


Kami yg berbeda latarbelakang etnis dan agama, tetapi sesama Indonesia menjadi seperti saudara-saudari. Lily menganggap Namborunya sudah seperti ibunda, dan rumah di Boston sebagai rumahnya yg kedua. Bahkan setelah melanjutkan ke S1 di Penn State dan S2-S3 di UC Irvine, Lily selalu "mudik" ke Boston selama libur Natal dan Tahun Baru. Kahilangan ini bagi keluarga kami, khususnya bagi Lily adalah sebuah kehilangan yg luarbiasa. Kak Renta telah berjasa menjadi obor penerang dan pengawas bagi Lily dalam menapaki kehidupan di masa remaja yang sampai menjadi perempuan dewasa yg mandiri.

Selamat jalan Kak, bersitirahatlah dengan tenang. RIP. Amen.🌺
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Saturday, January 8, 2022

HAUL KE 12 ALMAGHFURLAH GUS DUR: KEMBALI KE KHITTAH



Alhamdulillah, kendati rada telat, kami sekeluarga masih tetap bisa melaksanakan acara tahunan Memperingati Haul Almaghfurlah KH Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), pada 5 Januari 2022, di kediaman kami, Pamulang. Peringatan Haul tahun ini sengaja acaranya diberi judul "Kembali ke Khittah", karena seperti 12 tahun lalu, pada 2010, dilaksanakan secara sangat sederhana: Yasinan dan Tahlilan di rumah bersama para tetangga, khususnya para anggota Kafilah Yasin Jl. Lamtoro. Hanya sekitar 50 orang saja yg kami undang, agar mematuhi ProKes, dalam kondisi Pandemi yg masih belum usai ini. Yang penting niat yg ikhlash dan bisa istiqomah dalam memperingati dan mengenang jasa Guru Bangsa kita. pembacaan. Acara diawali dengan sekapur sirih dr kami, dilanjutkan dengan Surah Yasin dan disambung dg Tahlilan bersama.
Lahul Fatihah...🤲
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Tuesday, January 4, 2022

WILL WE WITNESS FURTHER ANGUISH OF THE INDONESIAN SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY?


By Lily Hikam *)
It is sad (but maybe true) to say that the Indonesian scientific community is starting this new year of 2022 with a whimper, not a bang.

As many are aware by now, the merging of the Ministry of Research and Technology (MoRT) into the Ministry of Research & Technology, Culture and Higher Education has resulted in a tsunami of closures and mergers of institutions under the auspices of the MoRT. The household name of LIPI seemingly changed overnight to the newer BRIN (Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional or the Board of National Research and Innovation). Additionally, in the name of efficiency and budget streamlining, ALL research institutes previously under the MoRT are abolished and turned into “Research Units” under BRIN. This means that BATAN, LAPAN, LIPI, BPPT, and various research institutions have to significantly shrink down their workforce to accommodate for this ambitious merging of multiple research institutes.

On the surface. the mass-firing of qualified people and scientists as a result of uncompromising and frankly short-sighted bureaucratic policies is just a small consequence of this. Aside from the abrupt and significant job loss due to this re-structurization, there is also another consequence that is less acknowledged, namely the very real possibility of a mass migration of talented and highly qualified scientists who could be great assets to the country, especially in the midst of a pandemic. This phenomenon, widely known as a Brain Drain, has been a looming threat for Indonesia for decades. But now it has been exacerbated by the further limitation of who can and who can’t be called a scientist and do research. This could only hamper the efforts to advance research and development in Indonesia and it is no secret that we are in need of some significant boost in that department.

In the beginning, we were told that the consolidation of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Research and Technology along with the creation of BRIN was to eliminate the bureaucratic red-tape many felt has hampered the advancement of research and development in Indonesia. Yet, I find it ironic that now BRIN is experiencing difficulty in hiring and retaining highly skilled workers, not because there are no skilled lab workers but because according to their own policies these people do not qualify to be employed by BRIN in a civil servant research scientist capacity, as seen in the example most cited lately in the mass firing of researchers and staff from the Eijkman Institute of Molecular Biology Research (EIMBR).

Is it because these people have no qualifications?

That couldn’t be further from the truth, because these people all graduated from colleges and universities with a bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and received some of the best scientific training ones could hope to get in this country. Their only crime, it seems, is that they don’t have those three letters behind their name that seemed to count so much for so little in this country: P. H. D. (Ph.D.)

BRIN only seems to want to retain people with PhDs. The existing civil servant research scientists who were hired before this policy was implemented (which is the majority of them) are all pushed into getting one under the threat of not getting promoted. As someone with a Ph.D., I could attest to the struggle and the hard work one had to put in to obtain this degree. Getting a Ph.D. is a commitment, perhaps on the same level as marriage, because you are dedicating your life and what remained of it to the discovery and the advancement of your specific field. You are expected to contribute to the knowledge advancement of your field in order to get this degree. Getting a Ph.D. is not something you can spontaneously want to do because your boss said so, or because the title would look cool on a business card. You have to want to pursue it yourself for this degree to mean something, and not just as a means to advance your career. Also getting a Ph.D. is expensive as heck, and unless you’re a member of the Bakrie family or the like, chances are you would need the scholarship to pay for completing your study.

Unfortunately, Indonesians with a Ph.D. are still rare for reasons I have outlined previously. The latest tally put the percentage of people with PhDs in Indonesia as a proportion of the population at 0.14%. So, I would like to pose this question: How can one have such hubris to only want to hire PhDs in a research institution that requires more than just PhDs to make things work?

The fact of the matter is this issue is bigger than what it seems on the surface. the mass-firing of qualified people and scientists as a result of uncompromising and frankly short-sighted bureaucratic policies is just a small consequence of this. Aside from the abrupt and significant job loss due to this re-structurization, there is also another consequence that is less acknowledged, namely the very real possibility of a mass migration of talented and highly qualified scientists who could be great assets to the country, especially in the midst of a pandemic. This phenomenon, widely known as a Brain Drain, has been a looming threat for Indonesia for decades. But now it has been exacerbated by the further limitation of who can and who can’t be called a scientist and do research. This could only hamper the efforts to advance research and development in Indonesia and it is no secret that we are in need of some significant boost in that department.

This has been a great blow against the scientific community, but I’m positive that we can bounce back through it. Already I’m seeing many encouraging & supportive words, not just from fellow scientists, but also laypeople who understand the urgency and the need for a proper scientific research institute unencumbered by bureaucracy and above politics. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. Great discoveries and advancements cannot be made by one person alone, but by a community of people, all working towards the same goal. Only when we work together can we achieve something great. And for those of us left behind to pick up the pieces, the rest of us stand in solidarity with you.

Happy New Year 2022, anyways!

*) Ph.D. in Biomedical Science, UC Irvine, USA
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Sunday, December 19, 2021

PODCAST "PADASUKA TV": MUKTAMAR NU KE 34 (2)


Segmen ke dua podcast video yg diambil di rumah saya, Pamulang, oleh podcaster Mas Yusuf Mars dari "Padasuka TV." Dalam episode ini fokusnya adalah alternatif calon Ketum PBNU baik Tanfidz maupun Syuriah. Apakah alternatif ini bisa melampaui "continuity & change" (Keberlanjutan & perubahan) atau tidak. Silakan disimak dan dikomentari. Trims (MASH)

Simak tautan video YouTube ini: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgZw0894U20&t=8s)
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