Stories

Turning the tide for teens in a Jakarta slum

Earlier this month, I met a really lovely guy in a really grim Jakarta slum. Ahmad is 20 years old and lives in one of Jakarta’s toughest neighbourhoods. Located near the airport with planes flying low and loud overhead, the area is a mess of garbage, cramped alleyways and broken makeshift houses. The roads leading in are so narrow, two cars can barely pass.

Ahmad was a sponsored child until last year when he finished his schooling. Where he comes from, that in itself is a massive achievement. Most kids in Ahmad’s neighbourhood drop out of school at 16, if not before. While primary and junior high school in Indonesia are free, the fees for senior high school put it out of reach for many.

Friendly and easygoing, Ahmad is now working as an ”office boy’ – sweeping and mopping floors, making drinks and buying food for the employees. I have to admit, it doesn’t sound like much at first. Ahmad himself tells me: “It’s not my ideal job but I’ll take it.” But after discovering more about life for teens in the Jakarta slums I’ve realised that Ahmad is on a much better path than most.

While young people in Australia can generally take education and jobs for granted, it’s certainly not the case for their peers in Jakarta’s poor neighbourhoods. By the age of 16, many of the kids have dropped out of school and are working underage in factories. Others turn to drugs or prostitution.

Ahmad tells me: “It’s hard living in Jakarta. There are lots of issues like drugs and free sex (sex outside of marriage). For me, it’s a problem seeing kids in my neighbourhood who tend to just hang out, drinking.”

Being sponsored and involved with ChildFund kept Ahmad in school and out of trouble. “My sponsor helped me with my school fees,” he says. “At the start of each new school year, I also got books.”

Ahmad has also attended ChildFund-supported trainings about drug education, HIV prevention and public speaking. He says: “The training helped with my confidence. I know how to mix with the right people and pick good friends. I live in an area with drugs so I make sure I hang out with good people.”

At the end of our conversation, Ahmad mentions he loves interacting with kids and I suggest maybe he could study to become a teacher. “Maybe,” he ponders, but I’m later told teachers don’t earn much. His ‘office boy’ wage of $115 per month would be about the same.

For now Ahmad is content to be employed and paying off his moped, which he uses to weave his way to work in Jakarta’s infamous traffic.

“I am happy because I have friends and a supportive family,” he says. “But I hope one day that I will have a better job and continue my studies.”

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