One can’t choose to be born to Chinese, Javanese, Batak or any other parents. But God will always give us the choice to be men of virtue regardless of our ethnic origins in the sense of benefiting others and being willing to share with and help people in need,” said Sumartono Hadinoto.
He meant every word he said.
The man, born Khoe Liong Haow but called Martono, is a successful businessman now active in 19 social organizations engaged in helping people in distress. “I’m busy but I just go with the flow. Meeting people of various backgrounds is interesting. I’m doing all this with delight,” he added.
With the organizations he works with, Martono is usually present at relief efforts such as helping victims of floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, overcoming blood shortages at the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), or seeking food aid and school fees for poor families.
“Helping others makes me feel useful,” he said.
Martono’s interest in social work came after his own spate of hard times before finally entering the world of emergency assistance. When he was in junior high, his father, Winarso Hadinoto, passed away. The loss drove him to despair: his dream of foreign study was gone and his family’s livelihood collapsed. “I felt hopeless, with no prospect of furthering my studies,” he recalled.
Martono and his older brother helped their mother, Kusmartati, sell batik after school at the Pasar Klewer traditional market and peddled the cloth around the city. “Once we had no buyers for three successive days, forcing us to get food from our neighbors,” said the man born in Solo — better known as Solo — on March 21, 1956.
After continuous losses, the batik business closed down. Instead, Martono worked as a shop assistant in order to be able to finish high school. After changing jobs several times, in 1986 a friend planning to move abroad offered him a new aluminum business.
“I accepted the offer though I had no knowledge of aluminum at the time. I feel grateful that the business has survived up to now.My bitter experiences in the past prompted me to want to share with and help others,” said Sumartono in his home and office in Bengkel Candi.
Martono first experience with an emergency was when he witnessed a traffic accident with an entire family in critical need of blood.
With several friends he sought blood from the PMI office. “Because the PMI was running out of its blood supply, I contacted my schoolmates to donate. Fortunately I got the blood required and was pleased to see the family saved,” he said. Since then, he has been an active blood donor.
He later joined a number of emergency response organizations like the Indonesian Amateur Radio Organization (Orari), the Solo Emergency Response Unit (SERU), the Search and Rescue (SAR) Unit of Sebelas Maret University, the Medical Action Team and the Surakarta Community Association (PMS).
In 2010, Martono established Solo Bersama Selamanya (SBS), an association providing assistance for victims of the Merapi eruption. Along with the Solo PMI, SBS helped victims during the eruption and also managed post-disaster operations.
“We continue to care for the victims because their post-disaster psychological condition has to be sustainably handled,” said the country music enthusiast.
He has also made a breakthrough for the Solo PMI by promoting the Medical Action Team’s task of maintaining the city’s blood supply. Today, with this team’s help, the local PMI has no less than 1,000 bags of blood every day. Martono is also initiating a free ambulance service through the Medical Action Team. “We want to facilitate the transportation of patients to the nearest hospital … for those who can’t afford to pay,” said the father of Wiranti Widyastuti Hadinoto.
Apart from directly handling accidents and disasters, Martono is also always ready to provide information on developments and ways of coping with disasters. Journalists frequently use him as a reference.
“God will always give us the choice to be men of virtue, regardless of our ethnic origins, in the sense of benefiting others and being willing to share with and help people in need.”
Martono is nicknamed “the man in emergencies” for being so incredibly busy dealing with critical conditions. Unsurprisingly, local reporters joke that if no SMS’s come from Martono, Solo is safe from floods despite day-long downpours.
But, virtuous deeds aren’t always praised; Martono is often regarded with cynicism, particularly because he is Chinese and an entrepreneur. “The stereotype of the Chinese being oriented to business and profit-loss calculations remains. In fact, it depends on individual attitudes and can’t be generalized,” he said.
When the May 1998 riots broke out, his home and business were looted and burned. Martono and his family took refuge at a neighboring home.
He said he holds no grudge, as the incident was political rather than social in nature. “Many neighbors helped us, proving that it wasn’t due to social envy and ethnic hatred,” he noted.
Martono kept all his employees and asked them to help rebuild his ruined business. “They worked with me from nothing. None of them were dismissed. I invited them to work together and restore the business,” he said. Now, 14 years after the riots, his business has regained its vigor, yet he has left the management of the thriving company to his wife, with Martono choosing to focus on his social efforts.
“Social organizations only demand our sincerity and commitment to helping people in need, without pursuing ambitions, because we wish to share,” said Martono, who is also an executive at the Interfaith and Intergroup Peace Forum.