by Yulia Immajati, Gender Advisor of Oxfam GB in Indonesia (Taken from www.oxfamindonesia.wordpress.com)
It was one fine evening and I was enjoying my fried chicken in one of the street vendors’ tent along Jaksa street, Central Jakarta, when this soft touch on my shoulder made me turned my head to her. She was standing there, starring at me, with those pathetic look, asking for money. I stopped eating. I look back at her, well…to put it more precisely, I stared on her. I started feeling this rejection of giving money. I don’t give money to street children since I know very well that they are employed by those lazy adults who prefer to exploit these children rather than using their own labor to earn money.
She stood still, with her right palm opened, just right in front of me. I sighed…poor one.. she was a pretty little one but looked dirty with her old dress, which I guessed was 1 size bigger than hers.
‘Have you had dinner?’ I asked. She shook her head, with her pathetic look still.
‘I don’t have money, but I can buy you dinner’ I said
‘Do you want to have dinner with me?’ I added. She look at me as if she tried to judge my seriousness. I smiled at her, tried to buy her trust. She smiled back.
‘Okay’ she said.
‘Come over, sit next to me,’ I said, moving myself a bit to give a space for her to sit.
Her eyes sparkled when I asked her to order her own favorite food and drink. She quickly became relax, started asking my name, and we began our little chat over dinner.
Her name is Melon. Well, it was not her real name, for sure. But she preferred to be called that way anyway. She is 8, but to me, she looked too mature for an 8-years old little girl. After some time of our conversation, I revealed the reasons why she looked more mature than her age. She is apparently responsible for bringing food for her mother and her two bigger sisters. This is because after her father left them two years ago, her mother needed a substitute income earner. A neighbor, whom she called aunty, offered the job. Her two elder sisters were too old for doing the job. Thus, she was the only person left to do it. Ever since, she spent most of her evening and her holiday on the street with several other children that this ‘aunty’ organized.
She has a long hour in each of her days. She starts her day as early as 5am. After her morning prayer, she rushes to school. Her school starts at 7am and finishes at around noon time, sometimes at around 1 pm. She usually takes an hour break, often for doing her homework before she starts her job at 2 pm. She usually finishes at around 9pm. She has to collect, at least, Rp16thousand each day to give to the ‘Aunty’. After some deductions for lunch, dinner, and transport, the ‘Aunty’ will give the remaining fund to her mother. Sometimes, when she cannot meet the Rp16 thousand quota, she has to stay on the street up to around 11pm.
Whilst she told me her story, she was repeatedly sneezing. I told her that she might catch in cold. She said she was not feeling well for the last view days but she had to work still. ‘Nanti nggak ada makanan di rumah..‘ (‘there won’t be any food at home) she said plainly when I suggested her to go home earlier.
Her look, her soft voice, her smile, haunted me in almost every night since after our first encounter. I always want to meet her, dine with her, and chat with her. To me, we become friends ever since. But I start wondering how to expand this friendship in a more meaningful way for her and, if possible, for so many other ‘Melon’ in my country.
My personal attachment to her is, perhaps, due to the fact that we shared an almost similar history. We both were born in a poor family and have to strive for getting out of our poverty trap. The difference is that I was luckier than hers. My mother was in a more favorable position than Melon’s mother to send me, and my other two siblings, to school. My father never left my mother and were always be there supporting my mother in whatever terms he could. I and my two other siblings managed to get out of the poverty trap mainly because we have good educations. But for Melon, it may not be the case. Being born in a poor family, practically growing up on the street, she may end up in a not so far distance from her current poverty. Poverty breeds poverty. Poverty may also breed sexual violence for her. I hope not, but she is certainly in a higher risk than any other children at her age that has a normal family.
Working with Oxfam, which has main focus on attacking poverty, makes me questioning myself even more. What does it mean by working with others to fight against poverty? Sometimes I feel frustrated of myself for I witness so much poverty incidence, but have so much limitation. The world has too much wounds. With us having too little bandage, the blood will never stops. Or, will it stop? Someday? Somehow? …Well, I truly hope so. But the question, then, is how? Do you have any ideas to share with me for helping my Melon out of her poverty?