In Kupang, the capital of West Timor in Indonesia, the number of street children has increased dramatically in recent years. The annual monsoon, and the rains it brings, has been arriving later and later, so the food growing season is shorter, and increasingly families are running out of food before the following year's rain arrives. Many children, especially boys, who are thought to be less vulnerable to the threats of life on the streets, are leaving homes in the mountains of central West Timor to fend for themselves as best they can in the city. Over time, their visibility has attracted more local children to life on the streets and/or child labour in the city's markets, selling newspapers along major roads, working as "conductors" on public mini-buses, collecting recycleable rubbish, or sex working. THREE for All has met children as young as 5 years old selling plastic bags, carting vegetables, selling newspapers and doing other odd jobs in order to be able to purchase food and other necessities. The children from rural Timor may return to their family homes for the next harvest season, but both they and the local street children have more and more tenuous relationships with their families the longer they experience the independence of employment, no matter how exploitative that employment may be.
Streets to Strength Kupang is a collaboration between THREE for All, Yayasan Tanpa Batas (YTB) and MITRA, to address both ends of this challenge - supporting poor families and communities in rural villages and in the city, and developing strategies for supporting street children in Kupang. MITRA provides university student volunteers and YTB provides the venue for our education and social programs for street children, while THREE provides training, funding and overall coordination. From 2017 we are also undertaking individualised case-work, working in two rural villages including building a school in the village of Camplong 2, developing programs for parents, and providing sponsorship to the most vulnerable children.
Aim: To prevent vulnerable children in West Timor from becoming street children, and to support those who are on the streets to return home and/or develop skills and opportunities for a better life.
Partners: Yayasan Tanpa Batas, Yayasan Puri Bunda and MITRA
Activities: Development and support of education and social programs for street children; action research; capacity building training and support; building village capacity and providing technical and financial support for village initiatives; case work: development of resources and networks for advocacy; child and family sponsorship and support; school building.
Why? Children from villages in the central hills of West Timor are leaving home in unprecedented numbers to become street children in Kupang. This appears to relate to climate change, a shorter food growing season and higher food prices. Once in Kupang, the children become child labourers, sex workers and garbage pickers, with little opportunity to change their circumstances or return home. Growing numbers of local children from poor and vulnerable Kupang families also work in exploitative and unhealthy employment, and are denied the opportunity for education.
What's happened so far? THREE was first alerted to the growing numbers of street children by Yayasan Tanpa Batas (YTB) an HIV/AIDS organisation based in Kupang. Initially we worked with YTB to identify the children's needs, develop YTB's capacity to work with the children and built partnerships to ensure that we could sustain and grow the programs we develop. These partnerships, especially with student organisation, MITRA, has enabled us to establish and support education and social programs for street children and other vulnerable children in two areas of Kupang. Around 35 children regularly access the education programs, while a larger cohort attend irregularly or are supported by our outreach workers. THREE for All Foundation provides the overall coordination, technical support, and the funds for education materials and other needs.
in 2015 we began also providing funding support to Puri Bunda, a small, local NGO that provides a safe home, meals and the opportunity to attend school for children who cannot live in their family homes. Puri Bunda provides outreach support to the street children of Kupang and is working to encourage children to move from the markets to the safety of their organisation.
In 2016 we began an outreach program aimed at building relationships with child workers at Kupang's largest market, better understanding their needs, and encouraging attendance in our education programs.
In 2017 we have worked with Puri Bunda to build a school in the rural village of Camplong 2; developed an individualised support case-work approach for street children in partnership with MITRA; expanded our outreach program to have a more regular presence in Kupang's largest market; and begun providing sponsorship for some of the most vulnerable children and families.
What's next? Beyond 2017, we hope to focus on growing and strengthening our work in a number of areas - opening a new education program for children who live on or near Kupang's rubbish dump; building links with schools to support street children to attend formal education; building stronger relationships with families to build their capacity to look after their children; and developing stronger relationships with other stakeholders.
Many of Kupang's street children come from the hills of central Timor, or from smaller islands off the coast. Growing food in these places is very difficult due to poor soils and a dry climate, which is only getting worse as climate change brings the monsoon later each year. Children move back and forward seasonally or as their needs dictate (see Lias's story below). We will continue to grow our community development programs in rural villages, building educational and social opportunities for children and income-generating activities for their families, so that children do not need to leave their home and community for Kupang. The Church of Timor, is very keen to work alongside us in this venture, and to take our learnings to other parts of Timor.
When we first met Lias he was working in one of Kupang's markets, trying to make enough money to support himself and send money home to his family. Lias had never been to school, and doesn't know when his birthday is or even how old he is.
Photo credits: THREE for All Foundation