The front gate of Kampus Diakonia Modern swings open in the breeze, the light iron hinges wailing softy as the sound of children playing echoes in the distance. The gate of the alternative school is only locked at night for security reasons. There are no attempts here to make a midnight escape.
KDM tries to be a place of encouragement and learning. After all, it’s a school for street kids, not a prison. The school’s rescue team frequently hits the streets of Jakarta in the hopes of finding kids who are looking for a better life.
“There’s a certain way you have to approach the kids on the street,” says Agus Budi Santoso, a KDM rescue team member. “You have to engage them. Ask them questions. Learn about who they are. It’s not something that happens the first time around.”
The KDM rescue team doesn’t just jump out of a van, run up to a kid, shake their hand and change their life. But the fact that KDM has a working computer room, complete with an Internet connection, might help persuade the kids to stay.
One of the biggest downfalls of most local foundations is that, although they may have a room full of computers, donated with only the best intentions, they do not have access to the Internet, which limits children and volunteers to unstimulating lessons in typing, or creating Excel spreadsheets.
Rescue workers have to approach the kids several times to convince them to leave the streets and head to Cileungsi, a suburb of Bogor, where they can stay for two to three months before moving to Bekasi and joining the KDM alternative school. The transition program is meant to wean the children off the streets and give them a glimpse of life outside of begging and busking.
“During the adaptation program we spend a lot of time swimming and playing,” says Amir, a wiry and restless 15-year-old who serves as a self-appointed ambassador of KDM. “After that, we move to Bekasi to start at the alternative school.”
Eki, a 13-year-old who used to busk and beg in Central Jakarta, is one of the team’s success stories.
“I’m so grateful the rescue team found me before it was too late,” he says in a slow yet determined voice. “I have been in KDM since 2010. It’s so much better than living on the streets. Before I met the rescue team I worked at the traffic lights in Manggarai, Central Jakarta, as a pengamen [busker]. Sometimes I swept out train carriages in the hope that the passengers would give me tips. This was the only way for me to make enough money to eat.”
Saskia Panggabean, a teacher at KDM since 2009, says that giving small change to street kids traps them in a cycle of poverty.
“Not only do we have to break this chain, but also we need to support the children and find a way to help give them a better life. We have to contribute somehow, like becoming teachers. They just need someone to talk to them, someone to listen to their problems,” she says.
The 65 children now living at KDM Bekasi vary in age, from 7 to about 21 years old. The children are encouraged to attend school until the age of 17, but KDM also encourages independence: If an older teenager is interested in finding an internship or learning a trade like plumbing or woodwork, KDM fully supports them.
Children living at KDM study five days a week from 7:30 a.m. to noon. For the rest of the day, the children are free to dedicate themselves to their gardens, art projects, music, computer programs or recycling projects.
One of KDM’s most successful projects is its “green” artwork collection. The most impressive item for sale is a piggy bank with the words “STOP GIVING MONEY” scrawled on top. The message reminds the owner that giving small change to street kids may feed them for a day, but a piggy bank full of change is enough to pay a semester’s worth of tuition fees.
And while purchasing KDM piggy banks and filling them with your change will keep the program afloat, volunteering at either the school in Bekasi or alongside the rescue team in Jakarta will help keep kids off the street.
“We need more volunteers in every field,” says Sotar Sinaga, the KDM Bekasi program manager, adding that the school is particularly interested in professionals with computer skills, English language teachers, volunteers with medical expertise and anyone else who simply wants to lend a hand on weekends. “We could use volunteers every day.”