At just 12 years old little Hizkia has seen more adventure and desperation in his short life than any of us should ever have to live through.
“He lived alone on the road from the age of two,” says Paimun Yefta. “He survived from what he could beg or steal and slept wherever he could find shelter. He lived like an animal until he was six years old.”
Apart from Hizkia, Paimun and his wife Niluh have 22 other children. Their kids come from eight islands (Bali, Java, Sulawesi, Sumba, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Lombok and Bantan) and were born into four religions (Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Sumbanese animism).
Paimun Yefta set up the Budi Mulia Orphanage in Pulukan, West Bali, a decade ago. He sold his land and car to raise the money and has never had any official help to house or feed the children. For the first year he fed his entire family by selling snacks along the street. Budi Mulia Orphanage is Christian in a poor and predominantly Hindu/Muslim region, so they are rarely helped by locals. Few Westerners pass through Pulukan, however, and the orphanage subsists on the donations that the rare visitor (about one a month) brings.
The children come from all walks of life: the offspring of nomadic rice workers who died far from home; abandoned street-kids; unwanted babies. Four-year-old Debora’s mother was a student in Jakarta. Debora’s conservative grandparents in Sumatra would never have welcomed a child born out of wedlock so her mother gave the baby up in Bali. Debora’s birth-mother is now married in Jakarta and has another baby, and she will never risk her secret by returning to see her daughter at the orphanage.
It is humbling to realise how little money is needed to make the lives of these children so much more comfortable. Renovations to the orphanage, which will allow the children to have shared bedrooms, have to be put on hold when no funds are available and the older children help out with the building.
“We want to be able to help more kids,” says Paimun, “and to have a guest room so that friends can come to stay; perhaps we could even be able to take in a volunteer from time to time.” At the moment, the only help that Paimun and Niluh have is their own daughter, Ratih, who works there when she can.
If possible it would be nice to buy the patch of land next door to make a playground for the kids. Or an old mini-bus for outings. But for the moment these are just pipe-dreams for the future. For the moment this loving family is happy if they can just make ends meet and have enough rice and a little fish and vegetables to get by on. For cost of a pizza in most Western countries it would be possible to feed this family of 25.
Twelve-year-old Hizkia is lucky to be part of what – more than just an orphanage – seems to be one huge and happy family. A great many children are still living on the streets of Jakarta and Makassar and Surabaya and a church organisation in Denpasar rescued Hizkia from a life on the streets when he was six years old. But the tearaway was almost uncontrollable by that time and the organisation passed him on to another institution in Lombok, who also found him – at best – unpredictable.
“He was a clepto,” says his new mother Niluh – using a term that came as unexpected in our Indonesian conversation. “But he’s been with us for six years and he’s happy now. He remembers everything and tells his brothers and sisters about his life and adventures on the street.”
I ask little Hizkia if I can take his photograph. There’s a wisdom in his eyes that unsettles me. As if he knows things about life that I’ll never comprehend. I look around for a diversion and am happy to spot his bicycle: Hizkia seems more relaxed and natural sitting on his bike.
We’ve already left a donation but before I leave I ask the price of a bicycle in the village. All kids love bikes. But Niluh is quick to reassure me: “We don’t need more bicycles,” she says. “We have 12 already, the place is full of bikes and we just don’t have room to put anymore.”
It’s reassuring to hear that there’s one thing at least that the family doesn’t lack.
If you’d like to help the orphanage out by making a donation, it would be very, very much appreciated. If you’d like to send money to Mark via Paypal (firstname.lastname@example.org), we will withdraw the cash here in Medewi and take it to Paimun and Niluh.