Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wisnu and Panti Bambu

Thirty six hours after I had handed over responsibility for Wisnu to Wisma Delman there was a phone call from Ibu Tini, the lady in charge.

"Wisnu’s gone missing," she announced.

"I’ll come round straight away," I said.

I arrived at the entrance hall of the institution in an angry mood and immediately made clear my feelings to the ibu. "I’ve looked after Wisnu for many months but the moment you take charge of him you lose him. How could he walk out without anyone seeing him?"

"He’s a very difficult child. He’s messy when he eats and he’s not used to washing himself." She sounded pleased to be rid of the child.

"Have you looked for him?"

"I asked my staff to have a look."

"And they didn’t find him?"


"Are you still looking?"

"We’ve already looked." The atmosphere was not tranquil.

I asked Mo, my driver, to walk along the street in one direction while I headed in the opposite direction. When I returned to Wisma Delman, Wisnu was standing next to Mo.

"He was found by a family living just a few meters away. He hadn’t gone far," said Mo.

"I don’t think we should have him back," said Ibu Tini, looking cross. "You were very critical of us."

"He’s not my child," I said sternly. "I signed a document giving you full responsibility. You can’t leave him out in the street."

"You were angry with us," said Ibu Tini.

"It’s the child who’s important. Not me," I pointed out.

"He needs help when he washes. He drops food on the floor."

"He’s backward. Look, this place was recommended by expat women’s organisations that help finance you. What are they going to think if you put him out in the street?"

Wisnu was returned to Wisma Delman, for the time being.

A few days later, a letter arrived from Wisma Delman. It informed me that Wisnu had had to have stitches at a hospital after cutting himself in an accident to his arm. It stated that I must pay Wisma Delman something over one million rupiahs, the cost of the hospital treatment.

It said that Wisnu had been removed from the home and put into a government institution called Panti Bambu.

My letter of reply explained that I refused to pay Wisma Delman a single cent.

That evening I set off to find young Wisnu.

Panti Bambu turned out to be a series of low-rise buildings located in the semi-rural Cipinang district of Jakarta, near the ‘Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park’.

The director of Panti Bambu, a stout and avuncular gentleman with a large Toyota and nice gold watch, gave me a tour of the complex. We crossed a sunny courtyard with an expensive looking fountain and came to a shed-like building with barred windows and a smell of urine and worse.

There was Wisnu in a room crowded with bare beds and men who looked like petty-criminals or tramps.

Wisnu looked sad and agitated, but a grin came to his face when he was allowed out. He took my hand and I could see that the small cut on his arm, sustained at Wisma Delman, was almost healed.

"This place has far too many people," said the director. "It has many times the number of people it was built for."

"Wisnu seems to be the only child," I said.

"This place is supposed to be for adults. There are no homes for mentally backward children. If the police find a mentally backward street child, and they want to put him inside, it’s either here or the prison."

"The prison is worse?" I said.

"What do you think?"

"Would I be allowed to take Wisnu out of here and put him in a private institution?"

"Wisnu was brought here by Ibu Tini, from Wisma Delman. Only she or the child’s parents could move him somewhere else."

"Would I be allowed to take Wisnu for walks in the local streets?"

"Of course you can."

We passed more buildings packed full of gaunt looking men and women. I couldn’t imagine that a prison could be much worse. The main impression was of cages, stained walls, diseased skin and depressed eyes. I wondered how many of these people had TB, typhoid or AIDS.

I took Wisnu for a walk down a narrow little road bordered by trees and damp looking shanty houses. Eventually we reached an area of housing inhabited by top people from government departments and the army. The mansions were grand, the limousines luxurious and the gardens gorgeous.

When I returned Wisnu to Panti Bambu’s office I had another chat with the director.

"I’ll put the boy’s photo in the newspaper once more," I said.

"And we’ll make inquiries," said the director. "It’s part of our regular work to find these people’s families. We have a good success rate."

"Is there any non-government institution that could take Wisnu? If we can’t find his family?"

"There’s a place in Malang, run by a Dutch professor. I’m planning to send him there."

"Please get him in there as quickly as possible."