Didit Adidananta
IndonesiaFellow since 1988

Didit Adidananta, is helping street children develop viable futures. He is starting work in the urban areas of Yogyakarta.

#Homelessness in the United States#Homelessness#Poverty#Street children#Youth#Begging#Indonesia#Squatting

The Person

Didit was born in Surakarta 26 years ago to a retired lower official of PERUMTEL (the state telephone company). His concern for other people's suffering began as a very young boy. As a student, when his leadership qualities made him chair of the student senate, his concern grew. He was a founder of a progressive student group and, through both channels, he stimulated active discussions on various social issues. He first tired to work with street prostitutes, but discovered both that it would be very hard to him to develop the relationships of trust necessary to succeed with this group and that the growing population of street children perhaps needed more immediate attention.

The New Idea

Didit is setting out to help street children grow to become independent, self-esteeming, skilled and employed (or self-employed) adults who can fit well into the mainstream of Indonesian society. He is setting up an open house, which provides shelter, peer-care, innovative education, skills training, income generation, and saving schemes for hundreds of street children. More than 200 street children have been part of the home, and he is beginning to establish open houses in other urban areas (Surabaya and metropolitan Jakarta so far) with the help of his alumni.

The Problem

Although there is no fixed data on the number of homeless people in Indonesia, the Indonesian Council of Churches' 1976 estimation is at 100,000 in Jakarta alone. The marginalizing impact of both urban and rural development in the last decade has added roughly the same number in Jakarta and thousands in other major cities. These homeless people consist predominately of children and adolescents. A number of attempts have been made to ease this growing social problem. A group of squatters pressured the government for assistance to obtain land. This was ignored. In the early 1970s a project to educate the young and homeless was initiated under the name, "Modern Diaconate Campus." A few young boys and girls were brought from the street to a boarding school where they received schooling. The government has also established a Detention Center where squatters are kept for an average of two months. Then they go to a Rehabilitation Center until they're considered ready to be returned to their home districts or at their own request handed over to the Transmigration Authority. None of these approaches has been a solution. How these programs have been implemented suggests that they have done more to hide than to solve the problem. The number of homeless young people in Indonesia continues to increase. As in other parts of Indonesia, street children in Yogyakarta are commonly orphans, kids of poor broken families, or children of the homeless or of prostitutes. They come from surround villages and towns as well as from the city. Their ages range from 5 to 17 years old, and they survive through shining shoes, selling newspapers, collecting cigarette butts, or begging. Some earn through petty crimes such as pick pocketing. Very few of them have any schooling. Many sleep along the sidewalk; the older boys sometimes visit the street prostitutes, spending much of what they earn during the day. During the mysterious killings a few years ago (an attempt to clean up the country of criminals?) a number of these older street children were found dead. The street children grow up not only without love and care but also with constant humiliation and fear of being caught and brought to prison-like orphanages or government institutions. They lose self-esteem and develop suspicious and distrustful attitudes concealed behind either bravado and/or the pitiable look of the beggar.

The Strategy

Street children often earn as much or even more than homeless adults, sometimes even more than some street hawkers. They have learned how to survive at a very young age. But despite being streetwise and "mature," they remain the children they are, with dreams like other "normal" kids. They generally have money but they do not always use it in ways that would give them a future. Didit started his work with direct and thorough observation, disguising himself for long periods as a street child. He soon discovered that such children hate being pitied, although commiseration when they are at work is okay. Didit received a lot of help when he was sick and learned that the opportunity for these children to give and to be helpful is a key to friendship and openness. This insight has become the first principle underlying Didit's entire work. His approach seeks to provide street children with:(1)Shelter, a place they can call home, where they can come and go freely but to which they have strong psychological attachment. (2)Formal education for those who understand the importance of schooling and want it. As they have to and would like to support their own education, school is arranged during the time they are not at work. (3)Non-formal education for older children who either do not fit into classes of their age (due to possessing no previous schooling at all) or who simply are not used to and do not like being in a school routine. For them the home provides student-centered education, using techniques and teaching-aides with which they are familiar (such as playing cards, Indonesian board games, etc.) to teach literacy and the general subjects taught in formal school. (4)Skills training. The home teaches art skills, notably the production of marketable crafts from recycling waste. The youngsters turn broken glass into attractive souvenirs that sell well to visiting foreign tourists. The home includes a display studio where visitors and buyers are able both to buy and to see how the souvenirs are made. (5)Apprenticeships with various business enterprises ranging from art studios to cleaning service agencies. These apprenticeships are expected either to lead the street children to permanent employment or to provide them with experience they will need to start their own businesses. (6)Saving schemes. Didit also encourages the street children with whom he works to open bank accounts into which they regularly deposit a minimum amount from their daily earnings. These savings should enable them to pursue education and/or later start a small enterprise. (7)The concept of brotherhood and leadership. Didit encourages the street children freely to feel the need for the others and also the value of being needed and responding. Everything about the home's daily interactions is designed to foster this trusting mutuality -- and also to encourage leadership in the group and in taking the initiative to help others. (8)The opportunity to help others. Participating youngsters help other street children find and fit into the open house. The alumni continue to take responsibility by starting new open houses wherever they are. Didit has been able to attract a number of student volunteers to help. He, for example, has developed a mutual-help relationship with a school of social workers. It gives him volunteers, while he provides valuable internships for its graduating students.