When I got the scholarship to India to continue my master studies, I was excited. I thought of how I would be able to meet new friends and how many experiences I would get from the land of Gandhi. What I didn’t expect was to be introduced to a whole new world I never knew existed. The world where child violence and child labor were just one of the normal things you would witness in day to day basis.
It all started on one fine, normal college day. The university I studied at was doing some major renovation in celebration of the coming Centenary Celebration. You could feel the joyous vibrant echoing every corridor and every classroom. Even outside, with all the colorful paintings describing both the history of the University and of India on the walls of the building, it was a feast for the eyes. However, near the end of the complex, we could find tens and hundreds of workers, labors consisting of women and children carrying the heavy load of stones and blocks of cement. Digging the ground, painting the pavement. You could witness not only the change of scenery but also a whole different aura there, it wasn’t joyful.
A shock wasn’t the word to describe how I felt at that time, it was a mixture of sadness and shame. How could I study here for quite too long but didn’t witness this huge discrimination? I had the chance to chat with one of the supervisors about why he was employing women and especially children, while these children supposed to be at school, not working under the sun? His answer was simple, they didn’t have money, at least here these kids could get some money. In return, he asked me another question, which one is more important money or school? The school won’t keep their stomach full. To which I was just standing there, stunned and speechless.
As I continued to watch these children working day by day. I slowly came to the realization that not only they had to suffer from the sun and weight; every now and then they had to suffer from mild to extreme violence from the supervisors for not being able to do the works of an adult. It was heartbreaking. Though there was a language barrier, as most of the children had no formal education, I still tried to reach out them, helping in the little way I could. I went to my department chairman than to the international students' director at my university – unfortunately, nothing could be done. There was no change.
Feeling hopeless, I began to share it with my group of friends. It was surprising, that no one of them knew what was going on. We started to voice out our opinion by helping them in some way we could. At first, it was a slow progress, yet even in that slow progress, we could see how one’s action inspired others to take the step and joined us in helping those children to be able to get back to school.
Fast forward, to a year later. After graduation I moved back to Indonesia, all I had in my mind was to use my degree to get a better living. Until one day, I saw a new of female genital mutilation practiced in Indonesia. The nation I have lived for almost 20 years yet I was even aware such brutal practice still happening here. I tried to do some research, unfortunately, there was nothing being covered by the local media, only certain NGOs and entities like UNICEF. I found all the information I could on children's rights on UNICEF official sites, with that information I began to be the voice to voiceless. I found a digital magazine, Next Generation with its sole purpose of educating people around the world on the issues around children. Few months to its release, more and more join our movement. I got many people, from college students to teachers, from parents to caretakers who would like to participate on voicing the violation of rights children are facing. I began to reach out to schools, doing a free seminar and social outreach. Teaching the children about their rights, which many didn’t even know they have one.
I have seen up close of a violence would affect a child, it was not just scars and wounds that they are carrying along with them. The memories and the pain would always be a scary companion for the rest of their lives. As much as we need to create the world from them, we need to realize that children are the future of our world. With violence, we are already destroying the future.
It’s my responsibility – our responsibility to have and to create a safe place for children to study, to play and to rest. Each place with their experiences and their memories will be etched forever in their mind. Shouldn’t we at least try to make the memories to be a happy one?
I’m the example of how one person voice can bring a significant change, and I’m aware that together, our voices will shift walls and break barriers. My hope is that to see more people are becoming active in being voicing and helping children. No matter who you or what you do, your voice matters. That’s why Next Generation is formed with a team from various backgrounds and from all around the world because anywhere we are, we can always be the reason for a change.