Every year, more than 200,000 Indonesian children lose their innocence prematurely because they end up on the streets, where many of them grow up to become criminals, victims of human trafficking or die before their time. Halfway houses where they can seek refuge are very limited, as are state institutions that should be providing care for these children. Not surprisingly, the numbers of street kids have increased from year to year. They can be found in almost all big cities. In Kuta in Bali, Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara province and Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, some people have volunteered to provide street children with basic survival skills and education. To commemorate International Day for Street Children on January 31, Tempo English presents some of their stories.
Learning in Pasar Kasih
An NGO in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, founded a Transit Home for street children, trying to motivate them to go back to farming.
The Transit Home run by the Komunitas Akar Rumput or Grass Root Community is not easy to find in Kupang, capital city of East Nusa Tenggara province. The old building stands between rows of kiosks of staple supplies and vegetable lofts under blue tarpaulin. Situated some 50 meters from the gate of the Pasar Kasih traditional market in Kupang, it appears like a small shop. The difference is that in front of it is a worn out small board with the letters "KoAR" written on it, an abbreviation of Komunitas Akar Rumput (Grass Roots Community).
Inside is a fairly wide living room 4x6 meters with a white painted wall and a cement floor. Although without tables and chairs, the facilities are quite complete. Posters of alphabets, numbers and fruits fill up one side of the walls. Picture books are piled up in a wooden shelf one meter high. There are also a language laboratory, sports arena and writing tools. When the Transit Home was established in 2010, there were 434 street children, most of whom worked in the market.
One of them, 13-year-old Timatius Liunome, is a regular occupant. Thanks to his lessons at the home for three months, he decided to go back to Ayetupas village, 200 kilometers from Kupang. "I want to become a teacher," he said. In his village he was admitted into the third grade. While attending classes, he cultivates land to help his parents plant corn and cassava in a 2,500-square meter wide garden. During the dry season, he plants vegetables along the river bank.
Timatius was reluctant to leave Kupang, where he worked as a plastic bag vendor and a luggage porter at Pasar Kasih. In one day, he could get Rp50,000 to Rp100,000. In the village, however, he found it difficult to earn money. "Being a farmer is tougher than working in the market," said Timatius. For one month he refused to do any farming. But he finally realized he would not progress if he stayed working in the market. "If I did not go to school, I will stay forever in the market. I will not also be strong," he reasoned.
Charles Letuna, 14, a fellow adventurer from Ayetupas, had a similar experience. Like Timatius, Charles also worked as a plastic bag vendor and a luggage porter. He came to Kupang because he was unable to go to school in his village. He had no money to enroll in the elementary school and to buy uniforms. His mother was ailing and his father owned just 2,500 square meters of land. The harvest was not enough for his family's daily consumption.
To ease his family burden, he followed his friend to Kupang. He hesitated a bit when he was urged to go back to his village. But he finally agreed after he became aware that this was the best way to build a better future. "I want to own my own business to help my parents," said Charles.
Now, in order to get additional income he grows mustard greens and kangkung (water spinach) after school hours. He learned his farming skills from the KoAR Transit Home. "We were taught how to plant in a narrow piece of land," Charles recalled.
Jan Windy, KoAR coordinator told Tempo that the idea for setting up the Transit Home came when they saw many school-aged children from the countryside move to Kupang .
"Their rights to education and playing were threatened. They were vulnerable to various social problems," he said.
The children often have few choices in their lives. In the village, they are often restricted in what they can do. The distances from their homes to the schools are far, and they have no access to public services. Often they become victims of human trafficking. Seduced by easy money, they are easily recruited by middlemen who promise them jobs in town. Since they usually fail to do well in elementary school, their skills are very limited. They finally end up being vendors of newspapers, crops and plastic bags as well as off-street trader, garbage collector and porter carrying items from the market.
According to Timutius, the children work as plastic bag vendors at first because they just need Rp5,000 as initial capital. The money is usually borrowed from a relative or a friend. While selling plastic bags, they can work as porters.
"When we have enough money, we buy vegetables, like peppers and tomatoes, to be resold in the market," said Timatius.
KoAR established the Transit Home in the center of Pasar Kasih, to be near the children's work location. Some of their meager funds are obtained from donors and contributions from KoAR's members. The Transit Home holds writing, reading and computing classes throughout the day, from morning until evening. The class period may last for one or two hours depending on the agreement.
Before the teacher begins, he or she asks the children what they need. The teacher tries as much as possible to provide teaching materials that are relevant to their daily lives. For instance, if they are plastic bag vendors, they are taught to write the word kresek (plastic bag). Then they are taught how to count and compute and how to write down the currency value of the items they sell.
Johana Manubey, one of the teachers, explained that teaching computation to the children was very easy because they are used to keeping banknotes at hand. But to teach writing and reading poses a greater challenge.
"Although they once went to school in their villages, they have forgotten all the letters of the alphabet," said Johana, who also teaches at the Kupang State High School.
To motivate their reading interest, KoAR provides magazines that are donated through the "10,000 books Action" group. This year, KoAR members are aware that it is not enough just to teach writing and computing. In order to reduce urban migration and disguised unemployment, children must be urged to go back to their villages and work to develop them. So KoAr also tries to encourage the children to develop an interest in farming.
In front of Transit Home, the management holds classes on planting using pots and polybags. Not only are street children involved, KoAR's volunteers who are residents of Kupang are also invited to participate in the planting. They are even asked to plant in their respective homes.
"We want the children to see that this is a cool thing, that even townspeople are involved in farming," said Jan.
The children also learn verticulture technique at KoAR, that is, planting in vertically arranged pots. This method is suitable for small pieces of land in their villages. Products that can be planted are vegetables such as mustard greens, eggplant, spinach, bitter melon, pepper and pumpkin.
In the beginning it was difficult to stimulate the children's spirit. Farming and gardening were considered unprofitable and not prestigious. Finally the management designed an effective trick. Approaching harvest time the KoAR invited relatives to come and admire the children's products, "So that they can have the feeling of being appreciated," said Jan.
When they go back to their villages, the children are constantly monitored and, if possible, are directly assisted on the spot. For example, children in Noelbaki village, Central Kupang subdistrict, are taught to type on the computer and to be Internet-literate because their school does not have sufficient facilities. To ease the burden of the children who return home like Charles and Timatius their tuitions are discounted and they are given a scholarship of Rp50,000. "Unfortunately, our resources are not stable, so the aid is not enough," said Jan.
Even so, the KoAR teaches carry on. The idea of teaching how to plant in small areas has been welcomed. In five years, KoAR plans to expand its program to teach children in low-income households in town. They are determined to build one more Transit Home in Sikumana, Kupang. "We are confident that with this method in the future, the problem of child workers can be resolved," said Jan, full of optimism.
No. 22/13, January 22, 2013