Thursday, November 23, 2006

Walking into the trap of urban life

Matheos Messakh

Charniyah doesn’t relish the idea of leaving the miniscule hut she has been living in for the past 10 years. Sitting with her baby on the porch of the hut made of cardboard, plywood and tarpaulin, she sighs, “The only skill I have is to scavenge, so every day I hope the disposal continues so we can make a living.”
The stench of garbage and the flies buzzing are familiar to her. Just off the porch, bunches of threadbare clothing dangle from nylon ropes. The yard is so full of piles of collected trash that it is difficult to distinguish between the huts and the rubbish.
As far as the eye can see, tons of trash from small mountains, where men, women and children prowl around and fight with each other for usable items before the bulldozers and scrapers cover over the garbage.
“I do worry about my safety, but I am more worried about getting something to eat,” said Charniyah, referring to the collapse of refuse heap at the Bantar Gebang dump that killed three scavengers, two months ago.
Charniyah, 23, is one of the 3,000 scavengers living in the shanties scattered around the mountains of trash at the Bantar Gebang dump located about 13 kilometers away from city of Bekasi. Most of Jakarta’s garbage is sent at the dump. Around 600 trucks work around the clock to deliver about 6,000 tons of trash every day. Reaching up to 15 meters in height, these mountains of garbage provide sustenance for the people of Sumur Batu, Cikiwul, and Ciketing Udik subdistricts.
Charniyah’s family has eked out a harsh livelihood from the urban trash for many years. By age six, she had become a scavenger and is no stranger to hardship. Her father, a scavenger too, had brought her and her mother from their home village in Indramayu, West Java, to Bantar Gebang because he could not make a living as a landless peasant.
At the age of 12, a time when most children are enjoying their time at school, Charniyah chose to quit school to help her parents. Not long after that, she got married to a scavenger at the age of 13, and now she has two sons, a seven-year old, and a nine-month old.
The scavengers in Bantar Gebang have something in common: Most of them are landless peasants coming from areas, such as Karawang, Indramayu and Semarang. They rely on their bosses, who usually have links to some factories that buy the collected garbage in large quantities.
The scavengers compete to gather saleable items from dawn to dusk. Using hooks and baskets, they pick and choose tin and aluminum cans or other containers, plastic bags, bottles and bones from the mountains of trash. They are careful, however, to never pick a fight over any item, no matter how valuable it may seem. “If you don’t compete, you get nothing. However, nobody will ever snatch away a thing from the one who first picked it up; we are all in the same boat,” said Charsiti, 25, a mother of two.
Every 10 to 15 days – when the collected trash has been cleaned and sorted, the scavengers sell it to their boss for variety of prices depending on the type and quality of the items.
The most valuable trash is aluminum, worth Rp 6,000 (US$ 5) per kilogram. Plastic bags are woth Rp 2,500 per kilo while cans and bones bring in Rp 300 a kilo and bottles bring Rp 150 per kilo.
These are the fixed prices from the boss who provides them with land to erect their huts, and a water pump for each 30 houses. He also provides electricity for each house but not for free; he charges each household Rp 10,000 monthly.
Apart from that, the boss also fronts them cash for daily meals. “We choose the boss who can pay us beforehand, because we need the money on a daily bases,” Charsiti said. “Beside, who else would see you had money for meals if you got sick and could not work for one day or two?” said the women who has been a scavenger for four years.
In a month Charniyah’s family can make around Rp 400,000 but the money is mostly spent on food, especially for the children. “With no kids in the house, we spend only about Rp 10,000 for meals a day, but with two kids, that is not enough,” she said.
She acknowledged that sometimes, after calculating the price of the garbage they collect and subtracting the debt they owe for their daily meals, they might receive no cash at all from the boss. In that case, they would have to ask for loan.
When they face certain situation, such as getting seriously ill, or giving birth, they can only rely on the helping hands of their fellow scavengers. “Most of the time it is enough to rely on medicine we buy from nearby kiosks, but when we are seriously ill, our neighbors will chip in together to pay for medical treatment,” said the woman who had to pay Rp 150,000 to the midwife who helped her give birth to her youngest son.
In another hut, Sari, 25, has her own strategy for coping with the situation. Sometimes, she and her husband can save up to Rp 50,000 in their piggy bank because they have sent their two children to their parents in their village in Indramayu.
Before her marriage to a scavenger, Sari had worked at a shellfish nursery in Cilincing, North Jakarta, but now scours the mountains of rubbish for a living. “As a woman, I have to follow my husband, whatever his job is,” she said.
“The trouble with scavenging is that if you cannot overcome the fear in your heart, you won’t have anything to eat,” said this primary school dropout.
Even with the danger of landslides in mind, she has no intention of getting out of the scavenger business. “I had looked for jobs from door to door at many factories before I started scavenging, but every door I turned to was closed in my face because ia have no skills,” she added.
Like every other women in the scavenger community, she puts her hope in her children. “Gaining material things is impossible for me. No matter how I try, I never will. Therefore I would rather have lots of kids to take care of me when I get old,” she said smilingly.
Tarwin, 40, and Watinah, 30, a couple who have been scavengers for six years, have also sent their children to their parents, but they still cannot make ends meet.
“The hardest moment for us is on rainy days, when our boss doesn’t come to buy our things while we really need some money,” said Tarmin.
“Sometimes, when things are really hard, we even pick fish or fruit out of the trash, wash and eat it. Sometimes, we can even find instant noodles, sugar, or even a sack of rice in the refuse. Thank God we are rarely ill and are still alive until now,” said Watinah.
(Jakarta, Nov 23, 2006)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hawkers a threat to Senen traders

Traders at Senen market in Central Jakarta have complained the illegal street vendors in the area are hampering their business, while the market authority has done little to deal with the problem.
Almost 300 vendors sell their goods out of makeshift tents along the street in front of the market, blocking the entrance.

"It is hard for people to find the way into the marketplace. It is very crowded out there, making it uncomfortable for the shoppers to come in," said S. Hutapea, who sells clothing in a kiosk she rents for Rp 7 million (US$546) a year inside the market.

She said Thursday that her income had continued to decrease since the street vendors began invading the area a few years ago.

"Last year I could earn up to Rp 9 million a month, but this year I can only make up to Rp 5 million," she said while acknowledging that the public's reduced purchasing power could also be a contributing factor.

The street vendors mostly sell imported secondhand goods like clothing, shoes, bed sheets and curtains, which are more affordable and often of better quality than the items available inside the market.

"Outside it only costs them five Rp 5,000 to 10,000 to buy a complete outfit, while a new one would cost at least 25,000 inside," she added.

Raditantri Asri Hendrarti, an operational manager assistant of city market operator PD Pasar Jaya, which is in charge of Senen market, said they had trouble organizing the street vendors in order to create a better environment for the market vendors.

"They are so aggressive that they treat us as if they were the owners of the market facilities and we were the interlopers," she added

"Dealing with them is like having someone try to push something up your nose," she said, referring to the street vendors crowded around the main entrance of the market.

We can do nothing because they operate outside the marketplace. We have no authority to take action against them," she said.

Raditantri said the street vendors started to operate in the area in 1998 in the wake of the economic crisis that hit the country a year earlier. Since then, as many as 331 of the 2,588 kiosks have closed, partly because their owners could not compete with the illegal street vendors.

She also said that 18 tenants had broken their contracts with PD Pasar Jaya because they planned to move due to what they perceived to be the poor trading climate in the market. Many others said they could not afford to pay the monthly rent of Rp 1.5 billion.

Some of the vendors rented out their kiosks to other merchants, including dealers in secondhand clothing, even though the government officially bans the import of such goods.

"We are reluctant to enforce the subletting ban in their contracts, because they are long-term tenants, and we don't want to damage our relationship with them," Raditantri said.

Meanwhile, the street vendors said they would not mind moving from the area as long as the city administration provided them with an adequate alternative space to run their business.

"They should give us another space so we can still make a living for our families and send our kids to school," said L. Silaen, a mother of three and a secondhand clothing vendor.

"Don't treat us like trash, just find us another place," said Sonar Manulang, another vendor. (02/05)

The Jakarta Post, Saturday, November 11, 2006

Domestic workers indispensable in society

How does it feel, to be without domestic staff?

Any working couple relying on a cleaning woman to keep the house in order and a nanny to bring up the children knows the answer. Although the holiday absence of domestic staff may not be the end of the world, one thing is for sure: Without them life can be hard.

Yohana Eti, 32, a career woman who is adverse to doing household chores, had to get up at the crack of dawn every day during Idul Fitri.

"I had to run around the house from early morning, even before my kids got up," said Yohana of her recent experience during the absence of both her cleaning woman and her nanny for the holiday.

She had to take care of her two sons, eight-year-old Kevin and three-year-old Angga, all by herself because her nanny had gone home for eight days and her husband was on duty at the factory where they both work.

"I had to pay extra attention to them, especially in the day time," said Yohana who clearly feels uncomfortable about the closeness of her children and their nanny.

She also had to do all of the cooking and laundry for the entire family.

Yohana, who has been married for seven years, and has had seven housekeepers in the interim, said the most difficult part of domestic work was trying to prepare meals while watching the children simultaneously.

"Last year, my mother was with us for the holiday so she could help us a bit, but this year was my first time entirely without staff and it was really hard," said Yohana who works at a beef canning factory in Tomang, West Jakarta.

Frustrated after only a day of domestic drudgery, Yohana took refuge at Mercury hotel in Ancol, North Jakarta, from Oct. 25 to 26.

"It was a total headache, I'm not used to taking care of the kids. I felt like I was botching up everything, so I called the hotel and luckily they still had some rooms available.

"I was forced to spend a whopping Rp 1.8 million, that is twice the amount I pay my household help in a month," said the woman who pays her cleaning woman Rp 300,000 (about US$33) monthly, and her nanny Rp 600,000.

"I can now understand how hard it must be to be a domestic worker. We really should treat them more like family because they fill in for us when we can't be there and keep the clutter away," said the resident of Cakung, East Jakarta.

Another couple, Ridaya and Rahmi Yunita, who have 18-month-old twins named Rensi and Rahmi, tried a different strategy for Idul Fitri, when their housekeeper and nanny took a vacation. They transported their twins to Rahmi's parents' home in Temanggung, Central Java, for two weeks for a holiday visit, and also in the hopes that Grandma could help with the children.

The couple spent a total of Rp 3.2 millions for the trip, but the strategy did not work. Rahmi's aging parent could not help much and they ended up having to take care of the twins by themselves.

"The life rhythm of the babies is so different and we are not used to it. Just to bathe and dress them is a struggle, and feeding them is even worse," said Ridaya, who works at a domestic non-governmental organization in Kalibata, South Jakarta.

The couple praised their household help, saying: "They are extraordinary people. We never imagined how hard their burden was. They spend more than 15 hours daily taking care of our children; that's far more than the normal working hours for any adult. They deserve better treatment and better wages."

According to Federika Tadu Hungu, a development sector consultant: "Domestic staff are a necessity nowadays. The traditional role of man as breadwinner is now under challenge. Women, as well as men, now have to work in order to make a reasonable living."

Federika, who studied at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, and has written two books about gender and development, added that: "As a result, the care-giving, such as laundering, cooking, washing and looking after the children, which has been regarded traditionally as the woman's role has been shifted to a third party, such as a housekeeper or babysitter."

"Therefore, domestic staff should be regarded as professionals and paid properly," she wrote.

The Jakarta Post, Saturday, November 18, 2006

Scavengers in Bantar Gebang dump