Anton Muhajir, Contributor, Denpasar | Tue, 09/16/2008 10:27 AM | Bali
The tallest among about 15 children in the room, 11-year-old Ni Wayang Komang shyly sang along with the others, clapping her hands at times.
That day she was joining an alternative school for street children in Banjar (neighborhood organization) Penyaitan, Pemecutan, West Denpasar.
The school, named Street Kids Ministry, accommodates children of low-income families in the banjar.
The young girl, who hails from Tianyar village in Karangasem regency, looked the most untidy in appearance. She wore no sandals.
She lives with her parents and two siblings in a rented room, 20 meters away from the school.
Poor economic conditions have forced her to drop out of formal school. She works as a porter at a nearby market from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the morning and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the afternoon.
Her mother is a suun noodle seller, while her father is a parking attendant at the market.
“I earn an average of Rp 15,000 (US$1.60) per day. It’s not enough to buy food, let alone to send the children to school,” the mother said.
That’s why Komang joined the alternative school, established by Permata Bali Foundation five years ago, which runs every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 2 p.m.
The school’s coordinator Ernawati Patioran said the Street Kids Ministry was established to cater to the limited availability of education facilities for the street children.
The site where the school is located was full of banana trees five years ago. Together with five of her friends, Ernawati set up the alternative school at a request from the children’s parents.
“Our main objective is to encourage the parents to send their children to the formal school, not to set up a new one here,” Erna, as Ernawati is more popularly called, said.
That is why what is taught is different from that in the formal school. The activities here focus on how to make children happy through playing, singing, drawing and learning English.
“We also persuade them and their parents to pay attention to their health,” Erna said, adding that a health lesson was given at the beginning of each meeting, especially on how to brush your teeth and clean your nails and body.
The acquaintance between Erna and the children’s parents started in 1996 when they were still living in Kuta.
They worked mostly as garbage collectors at the popular tourism center. But due to the deadly Bali bombing attacks on Oct. 12, 2002, they were forced to move to Pemecutan.
Erna was then invited to teach the children of the poor area. Most of them are street children making a living by begging in the markets, at busy traffic lights or from door to door. Some work as porters at markets such as Komang.
The school now has 60 students, but there is no obligation for them to join the school’s activities.
“We also have no right to prevent them from quitting the school,” Erna said.
Erna also said a number of formal school students also join the learning activities at the Street Kids Ministry, which accounts for why it is opened after school hours.
Kadek Putra Wijaya, 9, is one of them. Still clad in his formal school uniform, the fourth grader of state-run Elementary School SD 10 joins dozens of other street children.
“They sometimes do their homework here as well,” Erna said.
There are five volunteers at the alternative school, including foreign citizens Robert Wipf and another one identified only as Sarah.
Wipf, an American, has lived in Jimbaran for the past two years. He arrived there as a volunteer for the Aceh tsunami disaster.
Claiming to have been working with street children while living in New York, Wipf join the voluntary work at the school last Thursday.
He said he knew about the school from friends of his.
“It makes me happy to know they can hope for a better future,” Wipf said, accompanying the street children playing, singing and drawing on the floor one afternoon. [end]
This article published at The Jakarta Post [16/09/08]