Selamat Datang means “Welcome” in Indonesia, and we four IWitness ambassadors from Singapore and Malaysia have felt very warmly welcomed in this country by Save the Children.
This is the very first time that anyone from IKEA Singapore or IKEA Malaysia has had the chance to go on a trip to see how the money from our Soft Toys for Education campaign makes a difference in the lives of other people, so we were all really excited on the first day of our trip.
We started our day at 8 a.m., heading off to the Save the Children office in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. We were welcomed by Ricardo, the Country Director of Save the Children Indonesia, and Patricia, the Communication and Advocacy Manager, along with other members of their team. They explained that Indonesia has the fourth largest child population in the world—but 50% of the people live in poverty. West Java—where we were soon to be travelling—is the most populated province in Indonesia, with 42 million people. Of those, 18% are school-aged children and 187,000 are children with disabilities.
Those numbers are hard to imagine, but what really broke my heart was hearing how severely many of these children are neglected. Most don’t get to go to school. There are no local clinics that offer rehabilitation services. I was shocked to find out that some parents are so ashamed of disability that they hide their children away, and even deny that they exist.
We learned later that the community knows them as “window children”… the kids who never come out, but see the world through the window of their home only.
The good news is that, of the 437 schools in the area, 31 are supported by the IKEA Foundation! We are going to get the chance to visit one of those schools, as well as a home for children with disabilities.
After the briefing, we climbed into a vehicle and began the five-hour journey to Garut in West Java. The scenery was beautiful. The roads were quite narrow, and we passed many green rice paddies. Children were running freely, flying kites and playing football in the fields.
We arrived safely at Garut at around 5:30 p.m. and freshened up before we met up with the project team here for Save the Children. The team in Garut started working with just a couple families that have children with disabilities, but soon they discovered that there were many disabled children in the area who are being hidden away. The project has helped more than 1,000 families over the last two years.
Over dinner, the team shared stories about the difficulties they have had in creating awareness about children’s rights and actually delivering services to people who need help. I was shocked by the stories they shared of mothers who feel so much shame that they deny the existence of a disabled child. I wanted to cry when I heard that.
Save the Children is working to educate the parents and to convince them that they need opportunities for exercise, for outdoor activity and education. Save the Children works with other local partners to provide therapy programmes that includes physio in pools, counselling, art therapy and more. We are going to get the chance to see all of this in the days to come. We could feel from their stories and voices of our Save the Children friends that they were happy that we are here to witness what they go through day by day in their daily work.
We realised as well that we will need to be mentally and emotionally strong to get through the coming days. We also shared our expectations to know more about how the IKEA Foundation supports them, and our wish to get involved hands on with the children whom they work with.
The first day has definitely opened our eyes to many possibilities of how we can help and reach out more to them. The journey has only just begun.