Study, Scrum: The schoolgirls now participate in a rugby team together, with aspirations to play abroad
Jakarta. Indonesia has for years been plagued by an education system that locks out the underprivileged, while indoctrinating those who do make it into the system in a curriculum centered on rote memorization and with very little emphasis on critical thinking.
But at one school in Jonggol, in Bogor district, south of Jakarta, educators are tackling both problems by taking in orphans and children whose parents are unable to pay for their education, and giving them a new lease on life through the generosity of the two founders, Mike and Jeveline Hilliard.
Mike and his wife Jeveline decided to start the orphanage 12 years ago after they spent some time helping out in another orphanage in Jakarta, and had a feeling it was the path they wanted to take in life.
“We went on a trip to Kalimantan and saw some terrible poverty. We were in some places that were six hours from the nearest road [with extreme poverty], so we decided to try and do something,” Mike said.
They got registered and settled in their current location in Jonggol, bringing back five children with them from Kalimantan.
Mama Sayang quickly grew from five children to 70, and now 12 years later they house 107 children.
Many of the children don’t know how to read or write and Mike said they knew if they wanted to survive in the world they had to receive a proper education.
Mike and Jeveline set up a kindergarten and a high school in the surrounding area, ensuring every child who left Mama Sayang left with a diploma, and could speak both Indonesian and English.
They opened the school up to the wider community, and currently have 325 students enrolled.
The surrounding community have full access to the Mama Sayang medical clinic, with a full-time nurse employed to cover a variety of needs.
However, the process of funding all these ventures is not easy, and every month Mike must find $10,000 to cover the costs and keep the orphanage, school and clinic open.
They receive steady support of $4,000 a month, but this still leaves Mike, at 70 years old, having to find an extra $6,000 a month — no easy feat.
But every month they keep going, with Mike saying it is the kids that “keep me young.”
One of those kids is Herlina Bangun, 18, who arrived at the orphanage five years ago after her family could no longer care for her.
“My parents were divorced and I had to stay with my aunty, and my aunty’s husband passed away so she couldn’t look after me,” she said.
Herlina said she loved living at the orphanage, as she not only received an education, but also found a new passion in life — rugby.
Herlina is one of 24 girls playing in the Mama Sayang rugby team, which began with a chance encounter after the orphanage sang at an event in a bar.
Rugby fan Steve Barber approached Mike, as he had been asked to set up an Indonesian girls’ rugby team, and asked if Mike thought the girls would be interested in playing.
The team has now been together for three years and Herlina said it had helped them in many ways.
“It’s a tough game and it’s challenging us because in Indonesia only boys play rugby and really few girls play rugby so we want to play [to show the boys we could].”
She said it taught them “team work, and to focus on one thing.”
Ever since the girls had started to play rugby he had seen dramatic improvements within them, Mike said.
“They are a lot easier to work with to talk to, get along with they seem to have more camaraderie together,” he said. “They are stronger and they don’t give in as easily. They seem to have more of a spirit about them and I put that all down to the rugby.”
Herlina said they had already had the opportunity to go to Bali to play against the Malaysian International team, and this year hoped to be selected to be a part of the team to play in the Southeast Asian games in Singapore.
As well as continuing with rugby Herlina said she also hopes to go to University after graduating high school.
Mike continues to worth with the children when they finished school to either find jobs or private sponsors to send them to university. Former students of Mama Sayang often go to university, with 26 currently studying further.
Growing up in an orphanage for most can be tricky, but Mike said the ones who left to work or study always came back to visit, showing that to most of them, Mama Sayang had become home.