The Rough Life


Indonesia’s economic growth over the past few years has landed it on the business pages of international newspapers. But the country’s development and emerging wealth is yet to trickle down to the masses. Nationwide, millions of parents struggle to make ends meet, and their children are left with little opportunity for change. The contrast between Indonesia’s rich and poor is particularly obvious in Jakarta, where exorbitant wealth and devastating poverty coexist. 

Jakarta is built on a floodplain that covers 650 square kilometers of land, and more than 10 million people reside within its boundaries. Each day, however, this figure swells as countless others from the 18 million people living in the Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Area (Jabodetabek) travel into the city for work.

Despite being the economic and political center of the country, Jakarta is riddled with problems: poor physical infrastructure; high informal employment and unemployment rates; low wages; inflation; air and water pollution; flooding; a lack of affordable housing; and inadequate public services and facilities, particularly where health and education are concerned. And those who are living on or near the poverty line (less than US$2 a day) feel the full weight of all of these issues every day.

Poverty leaves people vulnerable to too many factors that are out of their control; it’s understandable then how those living at the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum might feel lost amid the chaos of the city’s urban slums and worn down by the constant fight for a better quality of life.

Red Nose sees first hand what the consequences of poverty are for those living in Cilincing and Bintaro Lama where the foundation offers its Arts and Education Outreach Program.

Cilincing is a sub-district in North Jakarta with a population of about 371,000, more than 97,000 of whom are under the age of 14. It is here, in a kampung at the edge of the Java Sea characterized by its local fishing industry, that Red Nose first began its work with impoverished children in Jakarta six years ago.

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Pak Muksin and his wife, Ibu Nining, are a fair example of what life is like in Cilincing. Muksin owns a boat and he dives to harvest mussels that his wife then prepares to be carted off and sold. Together, the couple can generate around Rp. 100,000 a day to support themselves and their son Dedi, 15, a RNF student.

Because of poverty, Muksin left school after the second grade and Nining, who moved to Cilincing from Banten after getting married, was only able to complete elementary school. Both parents say they will do anything they can to help their children have a real chance of getting an adequate education because they believe it “is an integral factor of building a better future.”

Money, though, is far from being the only thing that stands in the way of a better life for children in Cilincing. There is a sinister side to Cilincing that Muksin and Nining, and many other parents like them, worry will influence their children.

“The neighborhood is full of negativity, drugs, and fights,” they say, and “we fear that our children will fall into a life of crime.”

Naturally, in a village that is so densely populated there is barely enough room for two people to walk side-by-side each other down the alleyways, many of the parents in Cilincing have formed a tight-knit community to help them cope with the challenges they face.

“We are like relatives and we all help each other out a lot because we share the same hardships.”

Ibu Darini is in her late forties and is a divorced single parent of two Red Nose kids – April, 17, and Tara, who is 6. Darini also worries about how the negative attitudes that permeate the neighborhood might impact her two daughters.

“The neighborhood is full of distrust,” Darini says. “There’s too much gossiping and bad mouthing going on and I am afraid that my daughters will be influenced in a negative way and they might throw away their bright futures.”

Darini earns between Rp. 200,000 and Rp. 400,000 per month washing clothes and occasionally cleaning mussels. With some financial assistance from April and Tara’s father, and with the support of the foundation, she believes that her daughters have a real chance at getting a good education and might even have the opportunity to go to college. Bintaro Lama, where Red Nose’s second center is located, is smaller than Cilincing and doesn’t benefit from having a localized industry that creates jobs and provides residents with a somewhat reliable source of income, albeit minimal.


Ibu Juleha, or Leha, is a scavenger who earns money by picking up rubbish and salvaging objects to sell for cash. Leha works sporadically, though, because she has five young children to look after. In one month, Leha’s income ranges between Rp. 400,000 to Rp. 600,000: about Rp. 20,000 per day.

Leha moved to Jakarta 13 years ago chasing the dream of big money in the big city, but like so many others from rural Indonesia who’ve pursued the same dream, she couldn’t find a job and quickly ran out of money. Eventually Leha was offered a job by a “trash picker boss,” and that has been her primary source of income since.

Leha wants a better life for her children, two of whom – Lana, 12, and Tantri, 10 – are students at Red Nose, but money is scarce and it’s difficult to keep all of her children in school. She has her ups and downs, she says, watching her children stop and start school over and over again, but she clings to the hope that an education will be able to help her children pull themselves and their family out of poverty.


Ibu Warniti and her husband are also scavengers and earn an average of Rp. 500,000 to Rp. 650,000 per month to help support their three children, including Heru, 9, another Red Nose student.

Unlike Leha, when Ibu Warniti moved to Jakarta around eight years ago she didn’t start out as a scavenger.

“I used to have a small food shop but then it went bankrupt because people just kept on not paying for the food they ate,” she says. After losing the business, with no education or qualifications, Leha and her husband were eventually forced to become scavengers.

“I don’t want me or my family to live this way,” she says.

This article originally appeared in Red Nose’s 2012 Annual Report and is also published on the Red Nose blog.
Text: Jacqueline Wales
Sukma and Kasma (Kids With Cameras, Cilincing); Lana and Niis (Kids With Cameras, Bintaro Lama)



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