Volunteering at Indonesian Street Children Organization (ISCO)

By Ken To

  • My Experience
  • Photos

An Inspiring Experience

My time volunteering at the Indonesian Street Children Organization, or ISCO, in Medan, Indonesia, was fun and fruitful, albeit a short period of time. During the two weeks, I had an enjoyable time teaching English classes to children of different ages, from kindergarten, elementary school, to high school levels, at ISCO’s activity centre in the Polonia district, which is situated right next to Medan’s international airport.

A “Slum” Adjoining the Airport

Before the trip, that the centre is located in Polonia somehow puzzled me. As what I saw when I was in Medan a few years ago, the city’s airport was surrounded by luxurious residential buildings and bustling streets. Probably, the ISCO centre might just be in one of those grand villas, I thought as I was making my first trip to the centre by becak, or pedicab.

As the becak turned from a main street into a dusty village, the road became bumpier. What was then in my sight were run-down shacks and squalor, which was a completely different view from what it was just a few minutes ago. Astonished, I realized that I had arrived in a so-called “slum” area. The ISCO centre is right in the middle of it.

The centre is in an old, worn-out house with the most basic facilities including three classrooms, a kitchen and an office. There are no tables and chairs in the classrooms.

Children from the neighbourhood come for free classes everyday. They are from families of which their monthly income is below 200,000 Indonesian rupiah (US$23) on average. Typically, their fathers work as pedicab drivers or street cleaners, while their mothers are housewives or domestic helpers, earning minimal income. In some cases, both parents are unemployed.

In Indonesia, the government offers nine years of free education for children; however, students are required to pay a considerable amount of money for books and school uniforms, let alone extracurricular activities. That can be a burden to many families.

ISCO was set up in 1999 to provide support for underprivileged children in Indonesia and to improve their lives through education. The organization works very closely with these children to see firsthand what they need, and to ensure that assistance goes to the families most in need.

In addition to sponsorship programmes, ISCO also operates a number of activity centres throughout the country. Children from the neighbourhood come to these centres to study or enjoy their spare time. This provides an effective alternative to going to the streets or being forced to work by their parents.

The First International Volunteer at ISCO Medan

ISCO currently has four projects in Medan. At the activity centre in Polonia, classes are held from 11am to 4:30pm daily. The children of the kindergarten and elementary school levels are between five and ten years old, and they are simply adorable!

Most of my time was spent playing games with them, together with two local teachers, through which the children learned basic English vocabulary. It was obvious to me that the children enjoyed the classes so much that they kept turning up on time everyday, even though they had to read and write on the floor.

The high school students demonstrated a strong eagerness to learn, too. Some might be shy at first but gradually they were able to express themselves with simple sentences in English. At the classes, I took the opportunity to introduce my hometown Hong Kong to the students, while they told me about the fascinating culture in Medan.

I felt proud to be the first international volunteer to work at the ISCO centre in Medan. To me, what was the most important was to give the children an opportunity to meet and talk with someone from a different background and with a different culture.

For this reason, I recommend ISCO to engage more volunteers from other countries to work with the children in Indonesia. Not only will this widen the children’s horizons, but it will also improve their communication skills and increase their confidence.

My sincere thanks go to ISCO for accepting my request to be the first international volunteer to work in Medan, and giving me such a valuable opportunity to inspire the children and inspire myself. I am proud to be able to contribute to the community in the Polonia district.

Wish to Help?

If you wish to know more about ISCO and help the children in Indonesia by making donations or volunteering like what I did, please visit ISCO’s website www.iscofoundation.org.

Additional Info:

Trip Duration: 2 Weeks
Country: Indonesia
When: July 2011
Travel Provider: Other
Volunteer Experience Type: Human Services / Education

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