As we approached the school to volunteer our time, girls swept with rush brooms and boys tidied up. They are used to picking up trash; many are the children of pemulung (scavengers). But their actions represent more than that. This is Sekolah Kami, or Our School in Indonesian, and these children have a sense of pride in their school that other students might take for granted.
Sekolah Kami is located in Bekasi and serves families in Bintara and the surrounding areas. There are gardens, and the school is equipped with a sheltered, gathering place, a play area, and of course, many open-air classrooms. These are functional and noisy, but dry.
A wall surrounds the school, creating an oasis, but just beyond the gates, there is extreme poverty. Ramshackle lean-tos serve as homes for many of these children. Down the dusty path, come four girls, dressed in vivid football jerseys. They are eager for school as they pass through the gate.
Over 160 students attend; in grade one through high school. The children love Sekolah Kami, but also work alongside their parents after classes and on the weekends. They help their parents pick through the landfill next to their home and sort the trash for sale to a middleman.
Stephanie Stallings and I are helping Class Four and Five today. The youngsters are welcoming and curious, practicing their greetings in English. “Hello, how are you? I am fine. Where do you come from?” Their average age is 10 years. Some are quick in their lessons and some are slow. Some can’t sit still and some know all of the answers. They are like children everywhere—busy, busy, busy. Busy mouths singing, busy hands gripping a pencil, busy minds learning English and busy hearts helping one another.
Stallings teaches the children English words for parts of the body and classroom items. They hunch over worksheets, and then check their work, before singing ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’. This shakes their sillies out. Later, the students craft sentences with the new words, using prepositions like ‘under’, ‘above’ and ‘behind’. There is a game of bingo to practice what they have learned, and a shout of “Bingo!” earns them some candy.
There are lots of smiles and shouts as the children run outside to play. The boys have a ball, and that’s all that they need, and the girls have made a jump rope of knotted rubber bands. They dance back and forth, flying over the stretchy rope in practiced steps.
Sekolah Kami was founded by Irina Amongpradja in 2009 in its present location. Ibu Irina originally started a school in 2001 for transmigrant children, but because of property issues, she took her education to the streets before securing the dedicated site for Sekolah Kami.
Ibu Irina graduated from medical school in 1984 and worked in East Timor before marrying her husband. They began a family and a life in Jakarta. She worked for the government in hospitals and a university, but wanted something more. With her children grown and gone, Ibu Irina looked for a new way to reach out to people. “Sekolah Kami is an attempt to break the vicious cycle of a life spent collecting empty plastic cups in the street,” she says. Education is not only learning, but recognising there can be more to their lives. “Sekolah Kami can be their stepping stone. It provides a childhood to every student—a childhood they deserve.” Tears begin to roll over Ibu Irina’s cheeks as she speaks. “These children have become like my own, it is a simple affair of the heart for me to provide the chance for a better future for them.” Even if the students cannot continue their education, she is glad to have provided them with good memories of friendships in a safe, beautiful place.
Amy Shaw visited Sekolah Kami 18 months ago and quickly became a consistent helper. She had no vocational experience, but that didn’t stop her from volunteering to teach English to the students each week. Shaw is also a dynamo as far as fundraising. A recent event netted Rp.80 M, enough to build a classroom, repair an existing roof structure and fund a lunch program. The students generally have no breakfast at home, and previously, they had only a glass of milk for lunch. Now, the children might receive rice, meat and vegetables on a typical day. But there is an ongoing need. Shaw adores the students and says, “They learn functional skills like sewing, paper and soap-making from recycled products in the trash as well as subjects like Bahasa, English, maths, music and even some French lessons for the older children by a French volunteer lady.”
Ibu Irina suggests coming to Sekolah Kami and meeting the children. “Give them some love,” she says, smiling. “Mingle, sing with them, offer them time and comfort. Do what you can—follow your heart.”
When asked why she would give up her career to run Sekolah Kami, creating this oasis for pauper children, Ibu Irina says, “Something higher than me is in charge.”
Visit the website to learn more: www.sekolahkami.web.id
Contact Ibu Irina at: [email protected]