Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Landslides Couldn’t Stop Him From Helping His Country. His Warnings Saved Lives.

“Life isn’t determined by how long we live, but how useful we are to other people.”

Indonesia's National Board for Disaster Management spokesperson Sutopo Purwo NugrohoTatan Syuflana/AP

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Can you imagine if one of the most trusted people in the United States was the spokesperson for FEMA?

In Indonesia, with 2,300 natural disasters a year, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, head of public relations for the National Board for Disaster Management, became a star by tirelessly informing the public with accurate, timely accounts of unfolding disasters. As his body weakened with stage 4 lung cancer, he typed news releases from his hospital bed on the latest earthquake, tsunami, flood, or landslide. His warnings saved lives. 

Guardian reporter Kate Lamb said that Sutopo, known widely and affectionately as Pak Topo, was energized by helping others. Upon his death at age 49, announced Sunday, he was hailed throughout the nation of 270 million people, including by President Joko Widodo, for his commitment to the facts and for his passionate public service.

When Lamb visited the ailing Pak Topo in November, his office was filled with letters, packages, and medicine from well-wishers from across Indonesia. He said he would serve the people until the end.

Life isn’t determined by how long we live, but how useful we are to other people,” he told Lamb. “Every job, if intended with heart, will have good results.”

Here are more Recharge stories to get you through the week:

  • A matter of integrity. A Florida library tried to hold an LGBTQ prom, but a conservative blogger riled up his 700,000 social followers so much that the library feared for the kids’ security and canceled the event. A neighboring church stepped in, and more than 100 teens had their dance without incident, as scheduled. “It was the right thing to do,” says Grace Repass, past president of the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church in Jacksonville. “We see our church as a safe place for people who are figuring out who they are…So, it’s a matter of integrity—to act in alignment with who we say we are.” (Washington Post)
  • The birthday gift. Last week, we wrote about Little Free Pantries, the outdoor boxes where neighbors can put in canned goods for others. In Boise, Idaho, 3-year-old Miles Herndon and his family decided that, in lieu of birthday presents, contributions to a Little Food Pantry would be appreciated. Miles even got his dentist to donate toothbrushes. “We don’t need that much stuff,” says Miles’ mom, Macy Miller. Her son wanted, she says, “to find ways to direct the kindness to where it was more needed.” (KTVB)
  • First scoop. A Massachusetts teenager found out his high school was going to use prison labor to reupholster the furniture in its auditorium. After the teen published his story in his school newspaper, showing that workers were paid less than a dollar an hour, the school district agreed not to use prison labor again. (The Marshall Project)
  • Quote of the week. “It takes courage not to be discouraged,” says Ben Ferencz, a pioneering attorney who prosecuted Nazi killers more than seven decades ago at Nuremberg and has been fighting for justice ever since. At 99, Ferencz swims, works out in the gym, and does pushups daily, praising the progress in women’s and LGBTQ rights in recent decades. “You know what keeps me going?” he asked CBS’s Lesley Stahl. “I know I’m right.” (60 Minutes)

I’ll leave you with this image of a black bear cub with the cub’s momma at Glacier National Park, via the Interior Department’s Twitter account. Have a great week ahead!

More MotherJones reporting on Recharge

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