Grade 9 students at Saint Enoch School in Bogor district, West Java, studying for the upcoming national exam on Feb. 7. (JG Photo/Aleasha Bliss)

A Place to Call Home: Orphanage of Miracles


FEBRUARY 15, 2019

Jakarta. There are between 5,250 and 8,610 children living in residential-care homes, and nearly 1.8 million in religious boarding schools or orphanages in Indonesia.

Due to poverty, access to opportunities, government assistance and food is near non-existent, resulting in families, many in rural communities, having to give up their children in the hope that they will be offered a better life and receive health care and education. 

Children born out of wedlock are often given up or sold to prevent the shame and stigma attached to such a situation, with such children often ending up in facilities that are unregulated, while some are even sold, without any form of record, and become victims of child trafficking.

There are many cases of "orphanages" closed down by the authorities for selling babies. The most recent involved the jailing of four people for selling babies on Instagram.

Although Indonesia's 1945 Constitution states in Article 34, amended in 2002, that "impoverished persons and abandoned children are to be taken care of by the state," Article 31 states that only citizens (defined in Article 26 as indigenous Indonesians and persons of foreign origin who are legalized as citizens in accordance with the law), have the right to an education.

This is a major issue for many orphans as they are often unregistered or do not have birth certificates, as they come from impoverished families who either do not have the means to obtain one, or do not realize they need it.

"Unicef supports the Indonesian government to develop mechanism to ensure all children are registered, including in the orphanage," said Kinanti Pinta Karana, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Children's Fund. "The support includes, but is not limited to, the drafting of the national strategy on civil registration and vital statistics, local regulations to ensure inter-sector collaboration for proactive and accessible, free-of-charge services."

Mike Hilliard, founder of Mama Sayang Orphanage in Bogor district, West Java, said most of the children arriving at the institution lack birth certificates, but that he and his wife Jev do everything possible to ensure that the children are registered by the time they graduate from school.

He explained that they decided to open Mama Sayang Orphanage after volunteering for four months at an orphanage that later turned out to have been selling babies without their knowledge.

"They often had 16 or 17 babies at a time; I found out from a staff member that she bought the babies from single mothers, prostitutes and women who had recently had babies in hospital and put a price on their heads," Mike recounted.

"People could walk out with a baby; no checks or anything. A year later, I found out she was jailed for selling 888 babies in the time she had the orphanage. They could've been sold for kidney transplants or anything."

The Hilliards started out 17 years ago after initially helping six children while they were on a mission trip in Kalimantan. They saw children they "couldn't tell if they were boys or girls" because they were all dirty, playing on the streets and not attending school, and knew they had to help them. The town was excited to give the children an opportunity to receive an education, care and food, and tried to give them up to 15 children straight away.

"When we got the kids back, they'd never seen running water before. They were used to getting water from the river and filling a jerrican; we broke six taps in three weeks, they were on, off, on, off…it was such an amazing experience," Mike said with a smile.

More than a thousand children have passed through their doors since then, and they later established Saint Enoch School, a medical clinic and retirement home. The children are also all part of a sports program.

Their girl's rugby team has represented Indonesia and traveled to many parts of the world – an opportunity they never would have had in their home villages. The orphanage has been proudly hand-built by the children, Mike, Jev and two paid workers.

Mama Sayang Orphanage is a licensed Christian institution, but the children do not get adopted, they stay until they are old enough to look after themselves. Because Mike is a pastor and teaches Christianity, they are not allowed to accept any Muslim children.

However, they believe in tolerance and want to integrate with the community, so they donate rice to local Muslim children every month. All the children have come from poverty and only 15 percent are real orphans. 

Mike and Jev focus strongly on education and encourage the children to work hard and dream big so they can avoid poverty later in life. They have helped children overcome tobacco addiction, as many parents who cannot afford to feed their children suppress their appetites with tobacco. Although horrifying to most, they believe they are helping the child avoid hunger pains.

They have also fallen victim to a petrol bomb that severely damaged the children's computer room and destroyed equipment used to teach them trades – such as how to make picture frames. It took a year to replace the damaged, donated computers and restore the classroom.

"We forgave them. They are jealous of our success and the success of the children. They think we are rich because our children do well and are healthy, but we are not," Jev said.

Every day is very structured with prayers, chores, play, school and sport. Every meal is enjoyed together; the children are all family and Mike and Jev pride themselves in ensuring that they all feel loved, wanted and respected. Although the children are now in a safe, empowering and loving environment, they rely on donations, sponsors and churches but always manage to get by.

"We lack nothing, because we live by prayers," Jev said.

"One day, we ran out of rice and as it's a staple in the diet, the kids were very worried," Mike added wistfully.

"I said, 'today we pray and are fasting.' We just prayed. Lunchtime came, no rice. The little ones were getting a bit agitated, 'what are we going to eat?' I just said, 'keep praying and keep fasting.'"

But at 7 p.m., a truck arrived. It was on its way to another orphanage, got lost and turned up on their doorstep. It was carrying 10 sacks of rice.

"God told them to come," Jev said with a smile, "We've seen miracles from time to time."

Saint Enoch School has 210 students, from elementary to senior. The school encourages high achievement and many of the graduating students have gone on to become lawyers and engineers, while those who do not excel at academia are taught life skills, so they can build their own homes or find jobs.

"We have kids that have worked in Japan, Dubai, America and have 29 students currently in university," Jev said.

The school is run by Jev's son, Trevino who teaches history, information technology and civics. The high school has five teachers, offers 13 subjects and ensures that all the children can speak English. 

"I love teaching; the good thing about my school is there is no bullying; we can watch over them because its small and they all laugh with their teachers," Trevino said.

The headmaster, Mr. Bagus, beams with pride as he talks about his students and their teachers. He says he loves the kids and prides himself in ensuring that the government curriculum is upheld and that the children excel. 

"I wanted to come here as a humanitarian project and love the children and teaching them," Bagus said. "People in the area, not from the orphanage, pays support funds to help support the school and they get a professional regulated education."

They encourage visitors to come and see their facilities and the children love visits from bule (foreigners).

To donate to Mama Sayang Orphanage click here.

The vibrant Saint Enoch School offering orphans and local children high standard education
The vibrant Saint Enoch School offers orphans and local children a high standard of education. (JG Photo/Aleasha Bliss)