“But don’t give up on us. The children here need help.”- Alison Chester
Surrounded by high off-white jagged walls filled with splashes of childlike drawings of green and red floral, housed a saddening issue in Indonesia’s city of Denpasar. Laughs and cries of young children spiralling around me was the shock that broke my already hurting, over privileged, naive self to the core.
Jodie O’Shea’s Orphanage, home to 99 resilient children in the back streets of Bali came about in July, 2005. This establishment is named in memory of Jodie, following her tragic passing in the 2002 Bali bombings. Alison Chester and Riyanto Samadi are the founders of this life giving home and they strive to provide the best care, love and opportunity for these young kids. The children are not all orphans. Some are born into severe poverty, others victims of neglect and abuse. With a growing population in Indonesia of over 250 million, making it the 4th largest nation in the world, it faces endless challenges resulting to this type of life for the younger generation. An estimated 2.7 million Indonesian children are involved in some form of child labour, as a result of severe poverty. ‘Street Kids’ as they’re most commonly known, will pull heart strings as they ask for money or hypnotise you skilfully with their sales tactics. Some of these children are not attending school and therefore grow up with a life far less desirable than most westerners can even imagine. This is survival. As an alternative, struggling parents will give their child to an Orphanage, with the knowledge they will at least be provided with food and shelter. The thought is devastating, though this is reality.
“I will get a call from locals, informing me of an abused and abandoned child eating from the trash.”
Unfortunately orphanages in developing countries are sometimes run as profit centres and sadly Bali is no exception. Child labour, trafficking, scams, exploitation and abuse is rioting through the Island and this is a serious problem- not one that can be fixed by visiting, taking a selfie and uploading it to the gram. They are not a tourist attraction. If you’re going to visit an orphanage please do thorough research and make sure you impact and contribute or walk on. Add value; teach, supply food, toys, books, clothes, other material/mental needs. Jodie O’Shea’s orphanage isn’t government funded and does rely solely on the generosity of others so they do welcome and encourage visitors. Avoid walking in there with your social media, taking selfies with #helpthechildren and then hand over your 10000 IDR ($1 AUD) at the door. At Jodie O’Shea’s orphanage the donations go directly to the children’s needs. This is an establishment that provides a home for 99 children, three meals a day, snacks, clothing, education, rehabilitation, 24 hour security guard, carers and most importantly another chance at life. If you have any questions or queries about where your donation lands- the option to purchase food with a member of staff and older children and watch it directly enter the kitchen is always available. My non expertise suggestion is to visit and see for yourself as It’s a short distance from Denpasar Airport. You only have to open your eyes, heart and mind to realise it’s desperately needed. Above all else, they are children. How important is that Marc Jacob’s bag anyway?
As I walked cautiously through toy trains and pieces of lego, it became apparent that I’m in fact a weak piece of shit. This powerfully eye opening experience is flooring. Emotion rose up through my body, all movement slowed down and tears were fogging the view to the exit. I’ve glided through the air struggling to remember basic motor skills until I reach an opening of child free space and can breathe. Desperately searching for that breathing exercise I learnt from a yoga class back in ’07’. I recall questioning the need for such a simple exercise back then, yet a decade later and it seems crucial. The following two minutes was a heated argument with myself based around the fact- I’m definitely a weak piece of shit. Compassion and strength go head to head like a Mohammad Ali fight and just before heading into round two I was greeted by a young boy. My blurred vision could make out the blue checkered shirt with the most adoring stare, holding one of my strongest nightmares. A glittery pen. A blue glittery, sticky pen and he was aiming it towards my face. I hate glitter. The mere thought of the substance makes me uncomfortable. But his magical presence won any mental battle and quickly we were painting each others face like old friends, oblivious to anything around us or my close call breakdown. This was my first embrace of many by the children at the orphanage and also the moment I fell in love with glitter.
Determined to push aside any emotional struggle, I set out to interact with as many kids as possible. These humans are incredible. The most resilient, strong, intelligent, talented and funny individuals. Broken hearted but I was battling through to connect with as many as possible. A tiny goddess of a girl made herself comfortable in my lap, while the strong smell of shampoo flowed from her neatly plaited hair. Two young boys that looked half their age with missing teeth jumped on my back while another ran towards me eagerly from the front. Despite their disheartening start to life, these children are smiling, they are laughing and just share everyone else’s desire to love and be loved. A shy 10 year old boy, confidently bilingual and wise beyond his years started singing ‘Miracles’ by Whitney Houston as we sat across from each other on the playground. WHITNEY BLOODY HOUSTON! The tears started fogging my sight again. The delicious smell of dinner travelled through the outdoor area as children made their way to the dining domain at their own leisure. One very large family, scattered messily throughout the metal surfaced tables. Finding a seat wherever there was space. It was free and beautiful. Childhood. Embrace after embrace, I was moved and shaped into a different person. Each interaction confirmed that I needed to do more while I was here. How can I help? I can’t go. Fuck.
“Time to leave now”.
Never being one to ‘let go’ gracefully, I started planing my second visit. The panic-filled hour cab ride, drowning out the awkward conversation with the non english speaking driver was all worth it upon arrival. Walking through the now familiar childlike drawings of green and red floral, I found a sense of contentment. The familiar smell from the kitchen, the giggles and the reactions from the kids were remarkable. Children running around, no shoes, kicking soccer balls, holding pieces of fruit while playing card games. Real childhood. These children look out for each other like family, similar to the workings of the road etiquette in Bali. The setting isn’t ideal, it’s crowded and unpredictable but everyone looks out for one another and somehow- it works.
“What happens if the money runs out?” I asked Alison, nervously.
“I don’t even want to think about it, that can’t happen,” she replied.
If you are travelling to Bali, I encourage you to take a small portion out of your day to visit. They have a wish list of items in need on their website- http://www.careforkidsbali.com/html/wish-list.html
or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a look for my heart too, it’s left somewhere between lego.