Guest post by Jacqui Ooi, Senior Communications Officer, ChildFund Australia
Earlier this month, I met a really lovely guy in a really grim Jakarta slum. Ahmad is 20 years old and lives in one of Jakarta’s toughest neighbourhoods. Located near the airport with planes flying low and loud overhead, the area is a mess of garbage, cramped alleyways and broken, makeshift houses. The roads leading in are so narrow that two cars can barely pass.
Ahmad was a sponsored child until last year when he finished his schooling. Where he comes from, that in itself is a massive achievement. Most kids in Ahmad’s neighbourhood drop out of school at 16, if not before. While primary and junior high school in Indonesia are free, the fees for senior high school put it out of reach for many.
Friendly and easy-going, Ahmad is now working as an “office boy” – sweeping and mopping floors, making drinks and buying food for the employees. I have to admit, it doesn’t sound like much at first. Ahmad himself tells me: “It’s not my ideal job but I’ll take it.” Yet after discovering more about life for teens in the Jakarta slums I’ve realised that Ahmad is on a much better path than most.
While young people in Australia can generally take education and jobs for granted, it’s certainly not the case for their peers in Jakarta’s poor neighbourhoods. By the age of 16, many of the kids have dropped out of school and are working underage in factories. Others turn to drugs or prostitution.
Ahmad tells me: “It’s hard living in Jakarta. There are lots of issues like drugs and free sex (sex outside of marriage). For me, it’s a problem seeing kids in my neighbourhood who tend to just hang out, drinking.”
Being sponsored and involved with ChildFund kept Ahmad in school and out of trouble. “My sponsor helped me with my school fees,” he says. “At the start of each new school year, I also got books.”
Ahmad has also attended ChildFund-supported trainings about drug education, HIV prevention and public speaking. He says: “The training helped with my confidence. I know how to mix with the right people and pick good friends. I live in an area with drugs, so I make sure I hang out with good people.”
At the end of our conversation, Ahmad mentions he loves interacting with kids and I suggest maybe he could study to become a teacher. “Maybe,” he ponders, but I’m later told teachers don’t earn much. His “office boy” wage of $115 per month would be about the same.
For now Ahmad is content to be employed and paying off his moped, which he uses to weave his way to work in Jakarta’s infamous traffic.
“I am happy because I have friends and a supportive family,” he says. “But I hope one day that I will have a better job and continue my studies.”
by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Relative calm has been restored to the towns and villages surrounding Mount Merapi. Evacuees are leaving internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and returning home. In many cases, parents are leaving their children with families and friends in the camps so that they can begin cleaning their homes and clearing the debris.
I traveled to two of the villages about 4 kilometers (2 miles) south of the volcano. The roads were covered with an inch of gray powdery ash. In some spots, rain water has combined with the ash to solidify like concrete. Most village residents are farmers. They depend on the rice and vegetables that they grow. The hardened ash has caused many of the crops to die. For now these farmers are living on handouts delivered to the village by volunteers.
I spoke with a few villagers who have returned home. One young mother explained to me, “We don’t have seeds for next season…we’re worried about what we’ll do.” In this part of Indonesia, farmers plant regularly and are able to harvest every few months. They sell part of their harvest and consume the rest. Their subsistence is a delicate balance contingent on the cyclical harvests.
Despite the crop problem, residents are happy to be home. I spoke with a few young children about their experiences over the past few weeks. One 10-year-old girl named Wanyu explained the events immediately after the volcanic eruption. “I felt so scared… I cried. All the lights went out. We looked at the mountain and we saw red lights coming from the top.”
Wanyu fled with her parents to a shelter in the nearest town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. “I didn’t like the shelter because it was too hot.” But she explained that she did like meeting new children living at the shelter and learning new traditional games with them. Nonetheless, she’s glad to be back home and eager to return to her fourth-grade classroom. However, the school has not reopened. The students are helping some of the teachers who have returned to clean the school.
Wanyu’s mother is also happy to be home. However, she is noticeably anxious. “I’m worried about Merapi erupting again. I’m also worried about our future as all our vegetables have died.”
by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from the field
Natural disasters have become a part of life for Indonesians. Recurring earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions have caused hundreds of thousands of casualties and internally displaced people during the last five years. Despite this precarious situation, Indonesians are incredibly resilient and are quick to try to resume their lives shortly after a disaster.
On Oct. 26 an active volcano in Central Java erupted causing thick ash to fall within a 30- km (18-mile) radius, resulting in 280,000 residents evacuating to government-run shelters.
ChildFund mounted an immediate response to assist affected communities, some of which have sponsored children. Our initial response was to search for and help sponsored children and their families to relocate safely. As families began arriving in shelters, ChildFund staff provided basic needs. We also have established centers for children that provide them with caring support as well as learning and recreational activities.
I arrived on Nov. 19 to assist ChildFund Indonesia’s Emergency Response Team in strengthening their activities and preparing for medium- and longer-term program plans. Since arriving I’ve visited some of the sites where displaced families are living.
At one of the larger camps, thousands of people are occupying a stadium in Sleman District. Families are living on mats on the floor, surrounded by the few possessions that they’ve managed to bring with them. ChildFund has claimed some space in one of the first-floor hallways to set up a child-centered space with games and art supplies, providing youngsters a refuge from the crowded stadium.
“About 200 children come to the center each day to play, draw and learn to read,” ChildFund’s project assistant Yusnita Ike tells me. “These children stay at the center for most of the day and enjoy the space to play with others their age.”
Structured activities help restore a sense of normalcy for children, which, in turn, helps relieve the enormous stress that they’ve experienced. “Through teaching literacy skills,” Yusita says, “we’ve found that some children age 7 to 11 can’t read. After speaking with their parents we’ve found that they were not attending school. This may be the first opportunity for them to acquire literacy skills.”
I later speak with a few young children at the center. Nisa won a prize for a drawing contest held earlier that day. She is 8 years old and loves to dance and to learn English. Nisa enjoys coming to the center. However, she tells me, “I miss home because I miss my friends and going to school.”
Like many others, Nisa also dislikes the lack of privacy at the stadium. Families sleep in the open hallways side by side with many others. Women and girls in particular are bothered by the lack of privacy that makes going to the toilet or bathing problematic.
I also spoke with Frenqui, who is 10. Frenqui was a little disappointed that he didn’t win the drawing contest, but says he will continue to draw. He likes drawing mountains. When asked “why mountains?” he replies: “Because they are easy to draw.” He used to draw red fire on the top of the mountains. But now he draws with blue markers on the top “because the volcano has cooled down.” Frenqui saw the lava the night his family fled from their home. “It was very scary,” he says. His family ran with just their clothes.
Frenqui likes coming to the child-centered space to play games. He’s learning to read. Yet, he misses home. He tells me that it’s hot in the stadium and he misses his friends who have likely fled to other camps. He also misses going to school and taking baths.
ChildFund is preparing to help displaced families to return home safely and to resume their lives. To help ChildFund respond to the Mt. Merapi disaster, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Each of the 963 ChildFund-sponsored children in Magelang and Boyolali districts have been found staying in evacuation camps or with relatives. All are in good health, although some are complaining of eye irritation caused from ash and sand rain.
“We worked with our local partners and an experienced team of volunteers to locate the children,” says Kuntum, a ChildFund staff member. “We visited camps in Magelang and Boyolali to find them. We spoke to village leaders, family members and neighbors to find out if they knew where the children were staying. Phone connection has been limited in remote areas following the first eruption so we visited every camp on a daily basis.”
Approximately 280,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for temporary evacuation shelters, following Mount Merapi’s most violent eruption in 140 years. Conditions in most of the camps are cramped with poor sanitary conditions.
In emergency situations, children need a safe space in which to play and reestablish a sense of normalcy. ChildFund is opening child-centered spaces to provide educational and recreational activities for children.
“Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression,” says Susana, a ChildFund staff member in Indonesia. In our child-centered space in Gunungpring camp we are exhibiting children’s drawings. Children are happy about this, and we hope it helps restore their confidence.”
Tegar, 10 years old, says, “I drew a picture of a volcano because I still remember what happened. My house was destroyed. I am very afraid.”
Susana explains that the vast majority of children initially drew volcanoes, but in more recent days, they are drawing the crater, without the volcanic eruption. “Some of the girls are drawing flowers. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centered spaces help in this respect.”
In Deyangan camp, 9-year-old Arif says he likes the child-centered space. “For some time I can forget about what has happened. But when I go back to my parents sitting there in the camp, I only think about the eruption. I am scared at night.”
Although children may be living in evacuee camps, they still have a right to education, says Hurmiyati, a teacher in one of ChildFund’s child-centered spaces. “They will sit a national examination in May next year; they can’t fall behind.”
ChildFund is partnering with psychologists who, by interacting with children in the child-centered spaces, can better understand the trauma children are going through. Children have told ChildFund staff that they are afraid because they have had to leave their village and make new friends.
In Maguwo camp, the largest camp where more than 20,000 people have taken refuge, the popular child-centered space is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is well stocked with books and toys. Children come to spend some time to forget about their painful experience, under the supervision of trained volunteers.
ChildFund is providing age-appropriate activities for younger children, but there is a need for materials for older children. Sugeng, a volunteer, says, “There is nothing for teenagers to do in the camp. They are bored and don’t know how long they are going to be here.”
Sugeng is also concerned that the children have a balanced diet. Children eat rice or noodles every day. They need fruit and vegetables. So ChildFund staff and volunteers are involving children in the activity of making a fruit salad, and then partaking.
Overcrowding is a problem in the child-centered spaces. In Gunungpring, more than 100 children are attending activities during the course of the day, but the room is too small to accommodate everyone. More space is needed.
With your support, ChildFund will be able to open additional child-centered spaces for the children whose families have fled the volcano. Thank you for considering a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund to help improve conditions for children in Indonesia.
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Continued eruptions of the Mt. Merapi volcano in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, during the last two weeks has forced 280,000 people into temporary shelters at schools, village halls and makeshift camps. Indonesia’s president has declared the situation a national disaster.
Camps are overcrowded, with a reported combined capacity of only 40,000.
Yet in the districts of Magelang and Boyolali alone, where ChildFund is focusing its emergency response efforts, displaced persons total more than 150,000.
Children and parents have told ChildFund staff that sanitary conditions in the camps are poor. ChildFund is distributing some 1,250 hygiene kits (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and diapers) to evacuated families staying in shelters. We are also providing food for breastfeeding mothers as well as food, clothing, mattresses and blankets.
Three-year-old David, one of ChildFund’s sponsored children, is staying in Deyangan camp in the Magelang district with his family. His mother, Wanti, says that her family’s village is located only 5 km (3.1 miles) from the mountain’s peak. “We want to go home, but we don’t know when that will be. I don’t know what state our house will be in when we return. My husband sometimes ventures up Merapi’s slopes to check on our cattle and goats, but I tell him it’s probably best not to check on the house or he will cry.”
People living on Merapi’s slopes depend on cattle for their livelihoods. Thus, many evacuees, stressed over the safety of their livestock, are entering the restricted zone to check on their cattle, goats, ducks and chickens. In an effort to prevent residents from returning to their homes to feed livestock, volunteers and military personnel have evacuated animals within a 20 kilometer radius of Merapi’s peak.
“We want our normal life back,” Wanti says. “But I am worried about the future. Our paddy fields have been left unattended. Our crops are ruined.”
Children also are in shock and confused. The loss of educational materials and toys, separation from home and play areas and a general lack of security is traumatic. Schools in affected areas remain closed and a lack of activities for children in the camps is causing children to be restless, anxious and noncommunicative.
As parents worry about their livelihood and the potential loss of property and livestock, they are often unable to adequately provide the care and attention needed by children.
ChildFund is establishing child-centered spaces where children can engage in normalizing activities such as drawing, singing, dancing and storytelling to enable emotional expression.
“Child-centered spaces provide protection and psychosocial support for children who have been affected by emergencies. They also provide a safe, physical space for children to gather in an unstable environment,” says Sharon Thangadurai, ChildFund national director in Indonesia.
Yuni, 12, is staying at Deyangan camp in Magelang. “I have to help my mom with washing clothes and taking care of my younger brother,” she says. She is happy to have the opportunity to play with other children at the child-centered space. “I enjoy it here. It helps me to be strong because I want to be strong for my mom.”
Additional child-centered spaces are urgently needed. To help ChildFund respond to the Mt. Merapi disaster, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.
This year’s photographic theme, “Inclusive Foundations for Early Childhood: Working Together to Reach the Unreached,” sought to spotlight good care practices within the region.
Photographer Nic Dunlop captured the winning images of children thriving in ChildFund’s Leopa Day Care Center in Timor Leste and a community health center in West Jakarta, Indonesia.
The photos will be featured on the ARNEC website and widely distributed via ARNEC’s 2011 calendar.
Here’s a sneak peek at ChildFund’s winning photos.
Reported by ChildFund Asia
Since age 5, Titin, a slight girl with long dark hair, has taken her education seriously. “A good education means bigger opportunities, bringing a good job,” says Titin.
Now 13, she is determined to pursue her schooling to the highest level possible.
Her hard work and diligence means she is one of the top 10 students in her class of 34 pupils. She’s counting on her efforts to result in a good job when she graduates — enabling her to supplement her family’s income.
Born into poverty in Lampung, Sumatra, Titin was five months old when her family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. Like many poor families in Indonesia, Titin’s family sought a better life in the capital city. Yet her family of five lives in a rundown two-room house. Her father is a seasonal laborer and her mother stays at home.
Titin considers herself lucky to be able to go to school, given her family’s precarious situation. The impact of the current global economic crisis means that many children in Indonesia have quit school because their parents cannot afford to send them anymore. About a third of the poorest families in this country can scarcely pay for tuition, uniforms, books and other school materials.
Through ChildFund, Titin has the opportunity to attend school and take extra-curricular courses including English, information technology and drawing. “I also participate in the Child Commission, organized by ChildFund. I have learned about recycling, and I take part in group activities that enhance my leadership and socialization skills,” she adds.
Titin’s mother wants a better life for her daughter than she herself has known. “I see many positive changes in Titin since she is going to school; she is so determined to do well at school. I have to admit, my daughter is now smarter than me. She teaches me English and math.”
Ever focused Titin says, “I love going to school. I study diligently to get good grades so that I will have a good career. I won’t stop learning.”
ChildFund Indonesia National Director Sharon Thangadurai provides an update on issues most affecting children and youth in Indonesia. Many children are malnourished and child abandonment is not uncommon, so increasing children’s access to healthcare and education are pressing priorities for ChildFund.
by Virginia Sowers
Today begins a three-part series on ChildFund’s recovery efforts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India following the 2004 tsunami.
More than 200,000 people lost their lives on Dec. 26, 2004, when, without warning, a tsunami hit countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. ChildFund was among the first responders, attending to children’s needs, distributing emergency supplies and helping families and communities organize for survival and recovery.
Like most of you, I watched the catastrophe play out on television, shocked by the devastation across Asia, and moved to make a modest contribution to disaster relief. But as is often the case in the U.S., the media cycle moves on to keep pace with Americans’ notoriously short attention spans.
Since joining the staff of ChildFund this past year, I’ve happily come to realize that our organization has a long attention span in the wake of disasters. Our field staff in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka recently updated me on the significant progress since the tsunami—and the continuing need to support children in the region.
Restarting sustainable livelihoods for devastated communities and helping children cope were the top priorities for ChildFund Indonesia in 2004. Immediate focus was placed on helping communities provide safe and healthy spaces for children, with special attention to orphans, children separated from their families and households headed by one parent or grandparents.
ChildFund Indonesia was able to assist communities with income-generating skills and improve educational opportunities for children with no access to schools. As schools were rebuilt, ChildFund established a mobile library to put books in the hands of children on a regular basis. Another program provided families with gardening tools, vegetable seeds and fertilizer. ChildFund also helped with the formation of “Self Help Groups” to start up small businesses and microenterprises within communities.
Today, community-based organizations and youth clubs continue to pave the way for improvements in education, child protection, nutrition and employment skills.
Tomorrow: Much work remains in a country still recovering from a 30-year military conflict and the deadly tsunami of 2004 — Sri Lanka.
Natural disasters create chaotic situations that put already vulnerable children in grave danger. In the past week, ChildFund International responded to two emergencies in Asia that have killed hundreds of people, destroyed homes and disrupted livelihoods.
In Indonesia, a deadly earthquake in Padang leveled schools, hospitals, businesses and homes. ChildFund Indonesia National Director Sharon Thangadurai says response has been quite slow because there are blackouts in the earthquake area, phone lines are cut and roads connecting neighboring cities are damaged.
“Our assessment team was able to reach Padang area … but they have no access to phones with the electricity being out,” Thangadurai says. “They will conduct the needs assessment and then travel to a nearby city to report back the status of the situation and what are the most critical needs for children.”
ChildFund Indonesia is currently working with the local government to establish Child Centered Spaces for displaced children.
“Our priority will be to provide the needed emotional support to children who always bear the brunt of major disasters like this,” Thangadurai says.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Super Typhoon Parma made landfall over the weekend, but the area where ChildFund works has been spared from the worst.
“Because the typhoon went more along the coastal area, there has not been significant damage in our ChildFund program area,” ChildFund Philippines National Director Dennis O’Brien says. “The damage will be manageable; however, our vulnerability is that typhoon season is still with us.”
This typhoon comes on the heels of Typhoon Ondoy, which caused severe flooding in the country. ChildFund continues to work with the local government to meet the basic needs of more than 18,000 children and families.
“We have five evacuation centers, housing 500 families, where we have set up Child Centered Spaces for children,” O’Brien says.
We will continue to update you on theses situations as information comes from the field. For the latest information and to donate to the relief updates, click here.