By: Labodalih Sembiring
Indonesian children today face a greater challenge than ever. We do still have street children, children who cannot continue their education, and child labor. Lately, however, children are faced with another serious problem at their schools, namely the narrowing of spaces where children can develop their awareness for the diversity that makes up this nation.
The above statement was made by Nia Sjarifudin, the Secretary-General of Aliansi Nasional Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (ANBTI), or the National Alliance of Unity in Diversity, at a capacity building training for caretakers of 60 children’s communities all around Yogyakarta and Central Java on February 18-19, 2012. The event was held by SOS Children’s Villages Yogyakarta in Kaliurang, Yogyakarta, and its theme was “Toward the Self-Sufficiency of [Children’s] Communities.”
“Children need to learn the importance of cultural integrity. This is where our friends who manage community-based groups come in,” Nia said. “We see that a lot of Indonesia’s community-based groups are not merah putih [red and white — the color of Indonesia’s national flag]. They do not realize that this nation was built on an awareness for diversity.”
She went on by giving an example. “I enrolled my son at a non-favorite school in Jakarta simply because the school boasted that it advocated nationalism. I later became very disappointed when I found out that the headmaster issued a policy that changed the subject of character building into one that pays Moslem students a bigger attention. I’m a Moslem, but I found the change disadvantageous to all of the students because it highlights their differences instead of bringing them together.”
Also present during the training was Gusti Kanjeng Ratu [Her Royal Highness] Hemas, the Queen of Yogyakarta, who also opened the event. In line with Nia’s opinion, the Queen said that patrons of children’s communities need to rid themselves of personal, family, group, and political interests and focus on the needs of the children and their families.
“We have to be clean from all [of those] interests because we work for the children,” Hemas said.
She added that the bright future of Indonesian children also relies on the endurance of families against negative influences, especially those related to poverty. Being the first speaker, Hemas opened the way for a discussion on the downside of the national education system. She said that Indonesia’s education system had been heading for doom when she saw in the 80s that it avoided the inclusion of character building. The Queen has been involved in various social works since the 1970s.
SOS Children’s Villages is an international organization focused on children’s issues. It came to Yogyakarta bringing a trauma healing program soon after an earthquake devastated the region in 2006. The province soon has its own SOS office, and at present it cooperates with 60 children’s communities in both Yogyakarta and Central Java.
One of these communities is a creative space for children called Bocah Sisih Kidul (Bosskid), or Children of the South, in Ngasem Hamlet, Tepus Subdistrict. It is named as such because it is located in Yogyakarta’s southern, mountainous district of Gunung Kidul. Its caretaker, Juni Sunarto, said that even though all of the children in the hamlet are Javanese and Moslem, he made it his business to explain to their parents that the community-based group is not exclusive.
“I told them that, like many teenagers in this Hamlet, many of their children would work outside of the hamlet, even outside of the province one day,” Junior said, “and they would meet people of various backgrounds. It is very important that the children are taught to respect the differences they will come across from now on.”