We look at them through our windshield as they sing songs and clap their hands or strum their hand-made guitars. Sometime they ask for, even force us to give them money. Then we give them our coins–sometimes because we pity them, other times because we do not want them to scratch our cars. Most of us do not have any concern on their future…
“MONETARY donation for street children is ineffective!” This statement does not come from an official Social Welfare Office, it comes from Ali Kohar (affectionately called Aang), street children activist in Duren Sawit, East Jakarta. We may disagree with him, he has his rationale for his conclusion from years of working with street children.
Many of us are oblivious to the daily life of street children. “They are victims of exploitation,” said manager of Rumah Sahabat Anak (RSA) Puspita. Ironically, they are exploited by the people closest to them such as their own parents, uncles, aunts, family members or neighbors. They are forced to earn money on the streets to be pass on to their exploiters.
“They make more money then office employees,” said the man who once work as UNICEF researcher on child sexual workers. In a couple of hours, street children are able to bring home Rp 50-100 thousands. Some of the money are passed on to their exploiters, some they use for their own purposes–which often disappear in a matter of hours.
“The money are often spent non-productively,” Aang explained. It is true that some of the street children bring the money home so their family can buy useful things. But some of the money is also used to play station arcades, to buy cigarettes and even drugs.
Street children are perfect candidates for victims of drug syndicate: they have money, they are uneducated and nobody monitors them. At first, they are given free drugs. After they are hooked, they would do anything to get high. They lead harsh life on the streets–much harsher to what we imagine behind the windshield.
These children are exploited by their own family and drug dealers. Aang explained that they are also exploited by Civil Police Service Unit (Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja/Satpol PP) as they charge money in exchange for their freedom. “So these children are exploited by many different parties simultaneously,” Aang said.
Give them education
Street children and poverty are two sides of the coin–and those two are complex. Many street children come from homeless families who lives for years in the cities. In 2007, Jakarta Provincial Government issued a Regional Regulation prohibiting monetary donation for street children. Still the problem persists.
So far people do not concern about street children. Orphans however are another stories. Foster homes focusing on orphans mushroom. On the other hands, street children–many still have their parents–are out of the picture, as they are under the responsibility of their parents. Aang argues that the life faced by street children are much harsher that the one faced by orphans. “Their families and the environment where they live in take away the concept of parenthood so they are forced to live in parent-less childhood,” Aang explained.
If we cannot give them money, what shall we do? “Do not give us money, give us opportunity!” This is the slogan campaigned by RSA Puspita. Money traps them in the street.
Aang estimates that in Jakarta, there are around 10 thousand street children. Coins exchange on their hands reach hundred of millions–even billion–a day. Most of the money are spent on non-productive, even dangerous, items. “1f ‘we give them money, it means we invest money so they can remain uneducated,” Aang said.
Aang suggests that the donation be made to organizations which aim to empower street children. For example, if we give around Rp 20.000 of coins to street children in a month, we can start donating the money each month to those organizations. Information regarding those organizations is available on the internet or in institutions such as Office of Social Welfare Our donation matters to their education.
Any kind of education for street children should be supported. We can follow the path taken by Aang, his wife and their friends who set up RSA Puspita. Aang argues that providing shelters for street children to support their education is doable and it can be set up independently without formal assistance from the Office of Social Welfare.
Since early 90’s, when Aang and his wife still lived in Kediri, Hast Java, they have dedicated their life for street children in the city. Here they lived in a 3-room rented house. One room was for Aang and his wife. Another was used by street children to sleep. The last one was used for a fabric printing (sablon) business he ran along with the children.
In 1996, when he returned to his hometown Jakarta, he continued his activities as street children activist. Here, this man, who come from well-off Betawi traditional family, works with street children living in Jakarta train stations such as Kota, Pasar Senen, Kampung Melayu and others. Along with his friends, Aang sometime play the role as guarantors when these children are involved in legal problems with Civil Police Service Unit (Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja/Satpol PP) officer.
ID cards of Aang and his friends are often kept by Civil Police Service Unit or the police so they can be contacted whenever street children are involved in fights, thefts or any other criminal activities. If the children have to spend their time in jails for committing crimes such as drug dealing, Aang and his friends take turns in visiting the kids in detention centers. Aang fully understands how difficult life is for street children – who are often raped, sodomized, victims of unwanted pregnancy, involved in drug dealing, street fight and theft and put to jails.
Training toward independence
After working as UNICEF researcher for a couple of months, in 1999 Aang was approached by an individual to seriously work with street children. With fund from this sponsor, Aang rented a simple house in Jln. legal Amba No. 7, Duren Sawit, Hast Jakarta not far from his house in Cakung, Hast Jakarta. He named this house Rumah Sahabat Anak Puspita — a shelter for street children. In the afternoon, the kids work as street musicians, at night they sleep in the house. Aang’s wife takes care of the kids and cooks for them everyday.
In the fourth year, they succeded in purchasing a 90-million house with donation from Swiss Embassy, which was transformed into a shelter and also a learning facility for dozens of children living under RSA Puspita. Aang developed the education materials for the children with non-conventional education methods suitable for street children who live their erratic life with no discipline and rules.
As time goes by, the number of donors increase — including expatriates living in Indonesia. Slowly RSA Puspita is able to put the street children back to elementary and junior high schools. No longer living on the street, they lead a regular life now, just like any other children.
Supported with dozens of volunteers, RSA Puspita provides various after-school activities including religious activities, lessons on English, math, computer, music, martial arts, internship and entrepreneurship.
With the help the volunteers, children run various businesses of fabric printing, motor wash, repair shop, arts and crafts, bakery, soya milk production and so on. Aang jokingly said that educational activities in RSA Puspita are on a par with extracurricular activities in elite schools. These entrepreneurship training aims to equip the children
so they will not return to the street. “This is part of learning to be independent,” said father of two children.
Today in the tenth anniversary, RSA Puspita takes care around 70 children, from pre-schools, elementary schools, junior high schools to high schools. The first batch of children are now in high schools. Many of them are already in college. Education fees are covered by donor parents.
Due to limited space, only some of the kids live in RSA Puspita. Others still live with their parents and come to the facilities to take part of the activities. “The average montly cost is about Rp 15 to 25 million” Sahroji, Aangs friend, explained. He works as secretary of RSA Puspita. In new school term or holidays, cost usually doubles.
RSA Puspita operational cost is fully covered by donors. Unlike any street children shelters, it is independent from assistance from Office of Social Welfare or any government agencies. Aang and his wife, called Ummi by RSA Puspita children, dedicate their time fully for the kids. Nobody gets any salary, they volunteer because they want to help. “The ultimate goal is to serve others,” Aang quoted.
Dapatkan buku karya pemilik blog ini, BUKU OBAT SEHARI-HARI,
terbitan Elex Media Komputindo, di Gramedia dan toko-toko buku.