Indonesia, August 2013
Sekai’s story, by Sierra Fan
“What are you drawing?” I ask the little girl sitting next to me, using the bamboo porch as a makeshift table.
The OML and Energizer teams sit around in the brisk and humid Indonesian air with a few local families. It is only around 7:30pm, but the sky is completely dark. The only source of light is from the lantern we distributed earlier in the day, which is set directly in front of her, illuminating the dog-eared notebook she is purposefully scribbling in.
Startled, she looks up at me with huge eyes, sheepishly smiling, and covers the doodles with her small hand.
“She is supposed to be doing her math homework,” explains Arif, our partner from Energizer and volunteer translator in community. So that explains the the girl’s expression.
I didn’t want to distract the girl from her studies, but I couldn’t resist asking just a few more questions. Just a simple conversation, I thought at first. But the answers, given with such innocence and sincerity from such a young girl, pieced together a candid story that struck a chord with me. A story with a sense of hope for the future, that will be brightened with a solar light.
Her name is Sekai, she lives in Suka Bakti, a small rice-farming village a few hours to the east of Jakarta of less than a thousand people. She is seven years old and in her second year of pre-school.
We had actually seen Sekai and her friends all day, running around the distribution. They were shy at first, staying back and peeking out from behind pillars while the more rowdy boys asked us to play make-shift soccer. But slowly, they came forward, and shyly allowed us to join their games during our breaks. They had only learned very limited English at school, but we had great fun communicating with hand signals. Sometimes, testing out our broken Bahasa Indonesia would leave the girls giggling almost to tears. By the end of the day, we were holding hands and giving them piggy-back rides. She seems like one of the most cheerful of the bunch, always smiling at us whenever we make eye contact.
By this time, we were surrounded by quite a few neighbors of the local community, all standing in a circle around the light. I ask Sekai to point out her parents and siblings from the group, knowing that most local families have around 10 kids. I was surprised to see her shake her head, and had to slowly understand her story.
Neither of her parents live in Suka Bakti, in fact, no one knows where her father is. Her parents divorced right after she was born, with her father leaving the community. Her mother works in Jakarta as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family, rarely having the chance to return home and visit, especially with no public transportation and unreliable roads into community. Sekai does not have any siblings and now lives with her grandmother, depending on her aunts and uncles to support them.
Sekai doesn’t let that get her down. She has big dreams of her future. Every day, she wakes up at 6am to help her grandmother get breakfast ready and take the long trek to school, attending her elementary classes every day from 10am until noon. She comes back and works on her schoolwork, and like all little kids, loves playing with her neighbors. They chase each other around in tag games and have cute clapping games, Indonesian versions of “slide” and “down by the banks”, that they tried teaching us. Sekai also loves to draw and make doodles on her notebooks in her free time.
But what really inspired me was when Sekai said she wants to do well in her classes because she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She wants to stay in the community and start a healthcare clinic. As of now, the people of Suka Bakti have to travel to another village for a basic healthcare clinic. When doing community scouting a few days ago, we saw a mother strongly massaging her baby with an herbal mix, which our Energizer partners explained was part of their traditional medicine. It is inspiring that only at 7 years old, Sekai knows what the community needs and is working hard to provide that. There was absolutely no hesitation when we asked her what she wanted to be in the future. Her voice, though soft, was determined.
Illuminated by the solar light, I am so proud that OML provided Sekai and her family a light that she could study and work hard by. Sekai and her grandmother can use a few more hours each day productively, and she does not have to worry about the dangers of having the open flame of a candle in their grass hut when she studies. I can imagine Sekai growing older, still studying hard under the solar light for her exams, and becoming one of the first of the community to go to college in the city. Someday she will be coming back, beaming with her medical certificate, and caring for the entire community.
Even back in the United States, I’m whole-heartedly wishing that Sekai could overcome her circumstances and achieve her dream. And I am so grateful to be part of the team to provide solar lighting to such genuine people in the community with inspiring stories. A huge thank you to Energizer and WALHI, our local partners, for providing the resources necessary to work toward our mutual mission.