Most people who don’t smoke have little idea how much a pack of cigarettes sells for. But for Sekar Sosronegoro, the founder of Sembako Ramadhan, which converts money saved by volunteers who abstain from smoking during the holy month of Ramadan into much-needed staples — rice, sugar, oil — for families across Indonesia, being able to rattle off the price of a pack of smokes is key to her campaign.
As Sekar explains on the campaign’s website, it really comes down to simple math. Cigarettes cost Rp 16,000 ($1.62) a pack and smokers typically go through three packs a week, which is Rp 48,000. During Ramadan, which starts on Tuesday, smokers take a break from cigarettes from sun up to sun down.
“The idea behind Sembako Ramadhan, is that you don’t have to create an additional budget to participate,” says Sekar, a freelance communications consultant, who came up with the idea in 2011 while creating and implementing price comparison mechanisms at a development agency. “If you have a Rp 50,000 budget for cigarettes, but you’re cutting back during Ramadan, you smoke less and save money. You have the money, so why not donate it to Sembako?”
In the last two years, Sembako Ramadhan has raised Rp 42 million in saved cigarette money, turning that cash into much-needed groceries for families during the month of Ramadan and the Idul Fitri holiday.
Celebrated writer and documentary filmmaker Daniel Ziv was impressed by Sembako Ramadhan’s canny ability to change a negative habit into a positive campaign during the holy month.
“I was impressed by Sembako Ramadhan the moment I first heard about it: a classic example of clever, innovative repurposing of resources from a negative habit to an important cause,” said Ziv.
“It reminds us how a little bit of money from us can make a huge difference to others; and demonstrates how a meaningless smoking habit can instantly be turned into a meaningful charity tradition. Indonesia needs more initiatives like this. Let’s turn a million cigarette packs into a million staple food packs for the less fortunate.”
Volunteers take the money once slated for cigarettes and directly donate it or work as agents collecting money from friends, family members and co-workers and buy staple food items to be donated to underprivileged families in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bandung and Surabaya. Supporters can also drop by Steak Hotel by Holy Cow in Radio Dalam, Sabang and Kemang to drop off their donations.
Because Sekar uses a “soft approach,” most smokers accept and embrace her campaign. DJ Indra7, a smoker, openly supports the campaign.
“There are many social activities run by good people around us, but what Sekar is doing with her Sembako Ramadhan has really opened my eyes especially because I am an active smoker.”
Volunteers are also encouraged to nominate areas and families in need of assistance via the organization’s eponymous Twitter account.
“The first year we started, most of the donations came directly from Twitter,” says Sekar. “It’s the best way to reach our target market, which is young executives between the ages of 20 and 35 years.”
With staggering statistics revealing that roughly seven out of every 10 Indonesian men smoke, initiatives like SR have the potential to raise millions of rupiah in offices and homes across Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the beauty of campaigns like Sekar’s is that it’s not pushy. No one is made to feel guilty because of their smoking habit; rather, they are given the chance to repurpose the money they are saving and help families in need.
Sembako’s search for volunteers starts online. People looking to help pitch in during the month of Ramadan can let Sekar and her team know by dropping them a line on Twitter or Facebook.
“There are three ways to volunteer,” Sekar explains. “You can either donate directly, act as an agent or volunteer. Agents collect money from smokers in the office as well as friends and family. Volunteers can help promote the campaign online, follow up with the media and survey sembako donation locations. Volunteers will also be needed to help buy and pack supplies to donate to families on the delivery day.”