Mary Durran reports on Jakarta's child workers and the new hope offered by the Amalia Project
IT'S TWO o'clock on a su try afternoon in Jakarta. A battered-looking, airconditioned taxi weaves its way through the afternoon traffic, taking me to my next appointment. We stop at the traffic lights. Suddenly a busy road junction is transformed into a hive of human industry boys of about 10 scramble to pour buckets of water over dirty car windscreens, then produce sponges and old rags to wipe them down, completing the whole operation in less than two minutes.
Children weighed down by huge piles of newspapers wander past each car, gazing in, rummaging for English language newspapers and magazines for the white woman. A child wearing a rubber mask depicting the hideous face of a toothless grinning old hag tries to sell me a similar one. I refuse, feeling oddly disturbed.
At the cue of the amber light, the road is suddenly cleared and the street vendors scurry back to their posts at the side of the road to wait for the lights to change again.
Several months ago, nine year old Tamin lived at a similar junction, sleeping out in the hot dust under a bridge, amidst the roar of traffic and the noxious exhaust fumes. From dawn to dusk he rushed out into the road every time the traffic lights changed, to wash windscreens for 300 rupiah (about 10 pence) each time. He worked under a group of teenagers who "protected" him and to whom he paid all the money he earned. Then some other boys told him about the Amalia Project. One night, he ran away from the crossroads, and arrived, a dirty, exhausted heap on Eddy Hidajat's doorstep.
Eddy Hidajat is the Project Officer at the Amalia Foundation, a scheme that aims to provide a home and give a direction in life to some of Jakarta's 100,000 street children.
"These children are regarded as the scum of society. They're treated as throwaway objects no one does anything for them", Hidajat explains.
"They come from all over Java. Most have come from violent homes where they have been shown no love and on top of that, the situation has been compounded by extreme poverty. They run away to escape from all this."
Tamin ran away from his home in a village in Central Java after getting into a fight with some neighbours. He was so terrified of his father's wrath that he got onto a train, hid in a luggage rack, and ended up, quite by chance, in Jakarta. He now spends much of his free time at the first house of the Amalia Project.
"The first house is normally an interim stage", Hidajat tells me. "Here, children can come and go as they please, knowing that there is always someone there to listen to them and give them advice if they want it. We try not only to listen to their problems, but also to understand them, love and accept them."
When the children choose to stay at Amalia and want to go to school, they move to a house where they live with a house "mother" and "father." Tamin shies away from this commitment. A small, waif-like child with frightened eyes, he has two conspicuous bald patches on his head, each of which are about an inch in diameter.
"Those were caused by a beating from the leaders of the gang he fell in with," Hidajat explains.
"Our ultimate aim is to reunite the children with their families and get them to go back home. But of course, this isn't always possible." Tamin is set against the centre attempting to reconcile him with his parents. He wants to be a farmer when he grows up. I ask why. "Because that's what my dad does."
Twelve year old Supri wants to be a policeman. His face is expressionless as he tells his story, he speaks in a monotone. He has no recollection of ever living at home with a family and can only remember living at the railway station in Jakarta. There, three "brothers" looked after him. He says he's 12, but looks more like nine years old.
Supri had heard about the Amalia project through other children, and badly wanted to go to school. But he thought he'd have to pay school fees. Working as a shoe-shine boy and begging, Supri managed to scrape together enough money to buy a shoeshine kit. Cleaning mainly businessmen's shoes in the street, he would earn between 1000 and 3000 rupiah (30 pence 90 pence) per day.
Eventually, one of the "brothers" found his way to Amalia and told Eddy Hidajat about Supri. Hidajat went to find him at the station where he lived and took him to the second of the four Amalia houses. Supri says he is now enjoying school, and that his favourite subjects are maths and the Indonesian language.
When he is 14, Supri will move to another Amalia house where boys are encouraged to be more independent by making their own rules and by doing odd jobs for pocket money. Following that, he may go to live at a centre for older boys where he will be able to learn vocational skills such as carpentry and animal husbandry. As we sip cold tea in a cool reception room, groups of boys sitting on the floor in corners stare curiously at me and burst out into occasional fits of giggles. Eddy Hidajat explains that the gospel is at the centre of his work.
"Our whole philosophy is contained in the gospel text: 'Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me'. Our main objective is to see Christ in all these children."
He emphasises that although all the staff at the Amalia project are Christian, each child is encouraged to practise his own religion most have been brought up as Moslems.
What happens when the children grow up? As the project was only founded four years ago, it is too early for statistics to be available to show how and if t he children adapt to normal life as adults. But there are already some encouraging stories to be told.
"I hope that there will always be a relationship between these
children and staff at the project," says Hidajat. "Six of the adolescents who have passed through the centre are now married. Their children call me `grandfather'."
Yet the work of the Amalia project is still only a small drop
in t he ocean if the number of homeless children on the streets of Jakarta is considered.
Those who do find their way to the Amalia project do not always stay. "It's very difficult to gain their trust," staff member Lest ari Pradjasuta explains.
"Most of them have been through such traumatic experiences at home that it's very difficult for them to trust us enough to come in off the street and live here. We certainly never have to turn any away."
Pujo, eight and Mohamed, nine , are two other such cases. Both recently wrote letters to Mother Teresa. Pujo wrote: "Please pray for me, so that I'll be clever. My name is Pujo, a shoe polish boy, and I sleep in the market."
Mohamed has mixed feelings: "I sleep by the roadside and eat leftover food. Please, Mother Teresa, pray for me. I want to go to school soon. I like begging. "