Friday, 30 September 2011

Sunrise at Jakarta docks

When we arrived at Sunda Kelapa docks, the sun had just risen and sat fat, red and squat on the horizon, enveloped in a dirty haze of pollution. The air was cool for the first time since I arrived in Indonesia and the docks were eerily quiet. On the west side of the harbour was the main attraction – a long line of Indonesian sailing ships called ‘pinisi’, which have been built to the same design since colonial times and are still very much in use. Their wide prows and tall masts stretched out before me, lit up by the first rays of sunrise. It was like stepping back in time. Read my Jakarta blog ».

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Treasure island: exploring Jakarta's boat docks

A market trader displays his scaly wares at Jakarta’s fish market.
Photo © Andy Brown/2011/Indonesia

I was warned about Jakarta. ‘It’s polluted, dangerous and characterless,’ everyone said. Even the Lonely Planet calls it “a hard city to love”, noting the “relentless urban sprawl”. Yet now that I’m here I find myself liking the place, somewhat to my own surprise. It’s true that the traffic is terrible. In the mornings it takes me 15 minutes to get to the UNICEF office on foot - or 30 minutes in a ‘taksi’. The roads are solid with cars, although a tide of motorbikes makes its way through, flowing between the cars or racing along pavements three abreast. Travelling by foot, you have to dodge these same motorbikes and breathe in their exhaust. You also have to cope with the intense heat, which I managed by staying in the shade of the skyscrapers.

And it’s true that Jakarta is dangerous. When we arrived at the airport, my colleague Yas made straight for the premium taxi stand. “Aren’t the meter cabs cheaper?” I asked. “Usually yes,” he replied. “But last year a member of staff was kidnapped by a taxi driver at the airport and taken to a cash point.” Once we got to our hotel we had to go through three rounds of security, including metal detectors, blast barriers and razor wire, a legacy of the 2009 Al-Qaeda linked attacks on targets perceived to be ‘Western’. It was the same at the office.

But characterless? I really can’t agree with that. Most of the people thronging the streets and riding the motorbikes did so in cheerfully brash and colourful batik shirts. The local currency is measured in units of 1,000 rupees, which meant I had up to a million in my wallet. “In Indonesia you feel like a rich man,” Yas joked. The skyscrapers and malls were interspersed with a multi-cultural medley of architectural curiosities, including crumbling Dutch colonial buildings in the Kota, or old town, a Catholic church in the style of a Chinese temple (complete with stone lions and a red tiled roof) in Chinatown, and a huge Greco-Roman palace near my hotel in the business district.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Full house: former street children in Manila

Mary with Butch at his home in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown.
Photo © Andy Brown/2011/Philippines
Last year I visited Manila, capital of the Philippines, with photographer Sharron Lovell to document a day in the life of three children, for the launch of the new UNICEF UK website. One of them was thirteen-year-old Mary (not her real name) who lived with her family on the street outside Starbucks, where her mother ran a cigarette stall. Back then, Mary spent her days working on the stall or looking after her younger sisters, and her nights hanging out on the streets with other street children, many of whom ‘did rugby’ (sniffed solvents).

I was in Manila again recently and spent an afternoon with street educator Butch Nerja from local charity Childhope Asia Philippines. After saying goodbye to Sally (see part one of this blog), we went to find Mary. Although her family was still on the streets, Mary was living temporarily with Butch and his wife in order to concentrate on her studies. “Mary is such a smart girl but it’s hard for her to study when she’s on the streets,” Butch told me. “Her brothers will be going to a shelter soon but Mary won’t leave her mother. I had to think of another solution. We live only two blocks away so I said ‘you can come and stay with us’.”

Butch and I first looked for Mary at Binondo church, where Childhope runs alternative learning sessions (ALS) and a choir for street children. Mary wasn’t there but her older brother Bayani was. He was studying hard, writing in a notebook on a wooden table in a humid upstairs room. Outside the church, we ran into Mary’s younger sister, Jasmine, who was running unsupervised across the busy square with other street children. In the evenings, children throw firecrackers here, with little regard for their own safety. Jasmine had a T-shirt tied around her head. “She got lice recently and was scratching her head,” Butch explained. “Because her fingers were dirty it got infected, and she had to go to hospital.”

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Educating Sally: a street child goes to school

Sally with her mother Grace.
“I don’t want Sally to be illiterate or to drop out of Grade 3 like I did,” Grace says.Photo © Andy Brown/2011/Philippines

The Philippines will always have a special place in my heart. I lived and worked here for three months in 2009, following Typhoon Ketsana and the flooding of Manila. It was my first overseas posting and I was captivated by the friendly, outgoing people, the colourful chaos of the cities with their brightly decorated ‘jeepneys’ (public buses made from converted army jeeps), and the unspoilt natural landscapes of the islands and mountains.

One of my tasks back then was to collect photos and stories of children living on the streets of Manila, to feature in UNICEF UK’s ‘Put it Right’ campaign, which aimed to raise awareness of children’s rights and money to protect them. One girl who featured heavily in the final material was three-year-old Sally, along with thirteen-year-old Mary and fifteen-year-old Crisanto (not their real names). Although this time I was in the country to help UNICEF Philippines develop a digital communications strategy, I took the opportunity to revisit the three children and see how they were getting on.

After a morning in the office, I made my way to Childhope Asia Philippines, a local charity supported by UNICEF that works with street children. Childhope is run out of an old Spanish villa in Paco, a district of Manila. The road outside was potholed and lined with posters from local politicians wishing residents a ‘Happy Fiesta’. Inside, the villa was full of faded grandeur – high ceilings, teak wood panels, antiques and oil paintings. An administrator worked on an old typewriter surrounded by paper files, while electric fans thudded rhythmically, moving hot air around the room. Above the bay window hung an alternative take on Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’, with the disciples replaced by Filipino street children.