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One year of outreach in Jakarta…
Reflections by our Indonesia Country Program Director, Ghislain Morard.
“Today it’s been exactly one year since my colleague Endang and I first went for a long walk in the busy center of Jakarta – that was the very first outreach session for Friends in this mega-city. I’d like to pretend that we were both as impressed as we stepped out of the bus and got ready to make first contact with the very busy looking children who were working around us on the streets, but I quickly realized that only I was actually impressed. Within minutes Endang had cracked a few jokes, engaged conversations and we were starting to meet with young people who by now are familiar with our social workers and their blue t-shirts.
This year has been a fascinating, difficult, exciting and certainly hectic journey… How could we decide on where to open an office and start providing services with just a few social workers while there seemed to be children working at every street corner of Jakarta? How could we understand the difficulties and needs of thousands of young people without over-simplifying and forgetting their individual stories and aspirations? How could we build trust relationships with children who for years had been facing stigma and judgment, and often had been exploited by adults who pretended to offer help? How could we effectively support children and youth who had become so street-smart that they had long ago found their own ways to get what they want?
The answer to all these questions was right in front of us from the beginning – something we had already learned years before when developing our other programs and that sounds very simple: listen to the children.
The really difficult part is that this actually meant listen to the children, and listen to them again the next day, and the next, and ask more questions, and listen to their answers, and keep asking and listening every day for months and months without assuming that you’ve heard and understood it all. And that involves fighting strong instincts developed in years of interacting with “smart and educated adults”.
And so we did… It took five months of restlessly going out on the streets, in train and bus stations, in informal settlements where families live under bridges, along railways and rivers, and of engaging with hundreds of children and youth before we finally settled on an suitable area for the office. It took more time even before we started running the first center-based activities, in a building lent by the local government in a community where we had started working. And every step forward we made brought its new questions that will take many, many more months to answer.
But we’re progressing! Despite all the open questions we’re very proud of what we have achieved in a year. We have supported families to build businesses so their children wouldn’t need to work, provided many hours of school support to hundreds of children at risk of drop-out, helped out unemployed youth to find jobs, and even helped children organize their own parade for Mother’s Day! Most importantly we have learned a lot and are decided to keep learning. We’re planning a busy second year of work in Jakarta and can’t wait to tell you how much more listening to the children will teach us.