Are you really helping out?


Once upon a time far away, there was this beautiful place. The land was rich with exotic plants and animals as with the seas. It was warm all year round in this beautiful land.

Originaly uploaded by dmitry kolchev

Originaly uploaded by dmitry kolchev

It was a land of contradictory though. It was rich but also poor. In the countryside papayas and bananas would fall to the ground and rot. Goats and cows would graze in the grass field, but many men, women, and children starve because their wallets were empty, which stops them from buying the instant noodles. In the cities, tall glittering building would hide the ugly view of the slums, but the city smell could not fool anyone from the poverty that lingers.

Class distinction was a norm. The small number of the powerful rich people were looked up to, whatever the ways they took to get to their position. The poor powerless laity look up to them with awe. The middle-class dream of experiencing the rich’s luxurious cars, houses, and vacations. But, they are mostly just grateful for their luck; for having a roof over their head, a job to pay the bills and the mortgage, and for having the opportunity to occasionally eat out in fancy places just like the rich that they aspire to be.

In this far away land, a few times a year, the rich would open their doors to the poor to give alms. In this land, there is a common belief that in people’s fortunes, a small amount of it are the rights of the poor. every year, the haves would clean their fortune from money that does not belong to them.

It was on one of those days, when the tragedy struck. The poor and the rich thought the day of giving would be a jolly one. The modest amount that the poor would get could help them rest their worries about food for one or two days. One thought about buying second hand shoes for her son, so he would leave the used sandals at home when going to school. One thought about paying a sixth of the debt to the shop keeper. One would pay the school fees, so that the school would stop harassing her daughter. One was going to buy a bus ticket out of town. Meanwhile, the rich thought that today was the day that they would feel happy and good about themselves; to be able to give to people who are not as lucky as they are.

So many poor, too little space. The jolly day turned tragic. In the end, as there were too many poor people queuing for money, dozens died of being trampled and crushed to death.

Sounds familiar?

The story was fictional. However, the inspiration came from a real tragic event that happened last week. A deadly stampede during a cash-handout actually happened here in Indonesia last week. In a small East Java city, Pasuruan, 21 people died and others were injured, when thousands rushed to get the Rp 30,000 (US$3.30) each cash gift from a local businessman.

When I read the news last week, it felt surreal. The deadly scene described in the newspaper was like one that was taken from a tragic novel. The description felt Dickensian in a way. Then reality hits. It’s true. It happened. The Jakarta Post reported that a man brought home the body of his sister on pedicab. A pang of sadness immediately rushed in.

Every person would feel a tinge of unease and would feel moved to help when seeing others living in poverty. Helping others in need is indeed a noble act and most of religions in the world teach people to give and help the poor.

Saykhon Frikri, the businessmen, intended to help by giving out cash donation. The people who give out small change to the beggars or the street children in the street also intend to help. But are they really helping?

People would say yes, giving little change of say Rp 30,000 or even Rp 5,000 or Rp 1,000, could be categorized as helping out. After all, even though the money only means a cup of coffee, a bag of potato chips or a chocolate bar, it means a lot for the poor, so of course that means helping them out.

The women in Pasuruan walked for kilometers, stood in a queue in scorching heat and knew there will be pushing and shoving to get the money, so certainly Saykhon was helping out as Rp 30,000 means a lot for them that they willingly went through all that.

It’s the least that people can do.

But is it?

I say it’s not. I’m not against people giving money to the poor. Of course it’s noble to give money to a starving beggar. But it’s not enough to lift the poor out of poverty. It needs a more systematical way of helping. The government should be responsible in lifting the quality of education in the country and opening up jobs. But, set that aside, citizens could also help by channeling his/her money to organizations that are working to lift people out of poverty.

In 2007, I wrote a story in The Post about the potential of charity in Jakarta. A research stated that people spend more money for street charity than giving donations to organizations. This is too bad because while street charity helps temporarily, organizations are actually setting up programs to lift people out of poverty.

There are a number of organizations that have good programs and reports, Sampoerna Foundation, Dompet Duafa, and BazisDKI, are among the many. Do some research; give the organizations a call; ask about what kind of programs they have and their accountability.

Giving to organizations does take out that feeling that one gets when giving money straight to the hands that needs it. If you want to keep giving like that, go ahead. But don’t stop there thinking that you’ve done your part in helping people. Put in mind that it needs more than street charity and cash hand outs to make a change.


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7 Responses to “Are you really helping out?”

  1. bellesbits Says:

    Anandaayu, you bery bery wise woman.

    When I first got to Jakarta I felt a pang of despair for the little children that weave in and out of stopped traffic at the lights, begging for money with sad little eyes. They’d get my cash every time.

    I’ve since been told many times that in some cases these kids are organized by ‘pimp’-like adults who collect the cash at the end of the day, and ship them back to whatever squats they came from.

    I still feel despair, but now instead of giving money (occasionally, i still do) I just feel overwhelmingly helpless. Anyone know any good organizations working specifically with street kids? Every day I’m tempted to just work with these kids full time.

  2. jemise Says:

    Anandaayu, you are a very beautiful writer. I cried.

    One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Jakarta is the huge gap between the rich and the poor. You feel helpless, as Belle’s Bits said. And then, complacency comes unnervingly soon.

    Articles like yours snap you out of such complacency and force you to question your lifestyle.

  3. SuicidalCat Says:

    Try calling Father Sandy @ 021– 8308255 (I lost his cellphone number).
    He’s the main coordinator behind Ciliwung Merdeka, which helps children and other squatters from near and around the Ciliwung river area (yeah, the one that floods annually).
    His is a relatively well-known group so he may have already gotten all the help he needs for volunteers but he’s always up for a chat.
    Just tell him you’re a reporter.

  4. Ganjano Says:

    A friend of mine runs a charity in Jakarta called the friends of children ( They are an independent charity and always looking for people to help teach the street kids they look after and provide them with clothing, etc. Contact details are listed on the website. Most classes take place on a Sunday under bridges around Jakarta, so us working people have no excuse but to get involved! If you want to know more just ask Sahabat Anak or me and I can tell you more about what the charity does. Cheers.

  5. bellesbits Says:

    Hi Ganjano, I’d like to know!

  6. lovelli Says:

    Well, there are many ways to help people. The deaths not only make me sad, but they enrage me.

    I remember wacthing a film titled “Millions” in 2007. In it, a kid found a bag of Poundsterlings arriving to his play tent. Being the good kid that he was (his idols were–gulp!–saints) he tried finding poor people in England.

    Poor people in England? Vain attempt.

    So he asked around for people in need of (quick) money and slipped thousands and thousands of paper money into places that accept them, whenever possible. He spent them on his friends, expensive dinners, newest gadgets and gizmos. Sounds like some people we know?

    But surely, that’s fiction. A grown up wouldn’t do that. A full blown adult would find a way to organize the distribution of money that would allow it to reach its target in a so-called clean and decent manner.

    It’s pretty common knowledge that a really rich person wouldn’t risk causing public disorder, knowing how money literally change people. Surely, they know how angels turn into devils, mothers into pimps, people into monsters, countries into kindergartens, at the sight of money.

    Didn’t they learn from the chaotic distributions of the staple foods, raskin (rice for the poor), and many other essential life supporting goods that we have often blamed the government for recklessly doing, and which the govt. kept doing and doing and screwing up all over again? Is rhetoric ever as rhetoric as these questions?

    So who’s being childish here, the local businessmen, the people receiving the money, the kid with the bag full of money, or is it just me?

    Sadly, I don’t have any immediate solution to the distribution of money causing the deaths of innocent people in the stampede, but I do think that the government should give away some sort of life insurance money for the loved ones they left behind.

    It would just be plain sick to have more children on the street because they’ve lost their parents in a freaskish (freakish, as in use whatever adjective(s) you think is or are human enough to describe the incident, cause I surely can’t think of anything else right now) 3-dollar stampede.

  7. Lee Says:

    There is another great organisation called ISCO (Indonesian Street Children Organisation) that provides children working on the street with education from the ages of 5 up until 18. In Jakarta they operate in Cinpinang and they also have various other operations happening in Sumatra and Central Java. Their website is Ultimately they plan to break the cycle of poverty among Indonesia’s poorest peoples through education. Further, they also strive to obtain citizenship papers for the parents of these children to enable access to government institutions which without citizenry papers have no access to. The organistion is not affiliated with any religious or political organisations, just a bunch of great people wanting to help children living and working on the streets of Indonesia.

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