Our team of IKEA co-workers had an emotional and fun-filled day in Indonesia as we had a chance to play ball, do puzzles and even swim with a group of 50 children with disabilities—just a few of the many children who are benefiting from community support programmes being offered in West Java by Save the Children.
The event was called BERBAGI BAHAGIA BERSAMA ANAK DAN KELUARGA, which means HAPPY TO SHARE WITH CHILDREN AND FAMILIES. By 8:30 am, we were at a therapy centre in Garut, surrounded by children—some hyper, some shy. All of them were excited to get involved in activities like drawing, stacking blocks, doing puzzles, a sing-along session and even a water bottle rocket experiment. Fareena and Tim were all over the place, playing along with the children and interacting with their parents.
I struck up a conversation with the father of an eight-year-old boy named Irfan. He told us that when Irfan was just three years old, he came down with a very high fever and, though they rushed him to hospital, the boy ended up in a coma for four months. When he finally woke up, he was partially blind and could not walk. Luckily, his father looked for help. He found a programme funded by Save the Children that offers art therapy. And that programme helped Irfan so much that he is now on his feet and able to see again. One staff person mentioned that Irfan is now the most active boy around. He really touched my heart.
The therapy centre we visited also includes a swimming pool and Chye Hin did not hesitate to get involved. Together with experienced staff, he helped some of the children to swim and exercise their legs and hands. The children were laughing and swimming and some did not want to go out from the pool!
Activity like this is rare for children with disabilities in West Java. There are more than 70,000 children with mental or physical disabilities in this part of Indonesia. Most of them do not get to attend school, and Save the Children explained to us that there are almost no community programmes to support their parents or other caregivers, and health clinics do not offer any rehabilitation services. That’s why many families become frustrated and feel unable to care with children who have special needs.
We ended our activity by eating a meal with the families (rice, beef rendang and dessert nicely packed in a box.) One mother told the group that she would like more days like this because she gets to see her children having fun, and meets with other parents and makes new friends. She was so grateful to the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children for making this day possible.
After five hours of activity and the meal, the children were tired and restless so the families started to head for their homes. Most of them would have to drive for two hours!
That evening, we left the hotel at 5:30 pm all dressed up for a semi-formal dinner with the governor of Garut. When we arrived, children from the primary school in Garut were practising the angklung, a traditional musical instrument made of bamboo.
In the end, the governor of Garut could not make it to the dinner but he sent his wife to dine with us. We appreciated the effort as they had dinner despite her busy schedule. We met everyone from Save the Children Garut and more children with disabilities from different village areas.
The children put on a great show for us. They had played three traditional songs for us and it was amazing!! The next performance was a poem recited a 14-year-old boy who is blind. We heard traditional drums, saw pantomime and heard a recited verse from the Quran. The children did all of this to show us how much they appreciate IKEA and Save the Children for support in Garut.
One mother gave a speech, explaining how much Save the Children has helped her child, who has Down’s syndrome and was not able to even talk until she was four years old. Now she is in a mainstream school mixing with the other kids and playing angklung too! I felt so good knowing that IKEA has been a part of changing her life.
I was welcomed up to the stage along with Katarina, a representative from Save the Children. She talked about the hard work and commitment of caregivers, and told them never to give up hope. The governor’s wife then also made a speech, advising all the mothers and fathers: “Always be patient and keep believing that children are gifts from God.” She told parents that we parents will always have to try to give our very best. Her voice quivered as she spoke, and tears ran down the faces of some family members as she told them she could feel their pain, as if she was in their shoes. The ceremony ended with photo taking and also we were given the chance to play the angklung together with the children. Before we walked out of the hall, Wiewie stopped us and handed over a painting done by the children for IKEA Damansara and IKEA Singapore as a token of remembrance. We all feel very touched by this.
Pictures taken by: Haryati, Tim Yoke Seng and Goh Chye Hin.