Made up of more than 17,000 beautiful islands, Indonesia hosts a spiritually and culturally diverse population. The nation’s economy is booming, but the divide between rich and poor has widened.
13 Oct, 2021
Yosina and her friends play on the beach, laughing as they dart between the waves and try handstands on the wet sand. She watches her father, Frangky, pick up his fishing gear and walk towards the shore. He carefully loads his speargun into a boat borrowed from his neighbour and pushes it through the waist-deep water. It’s early evening on the tiny island of Gangga in North Sulawesi and Yosina wonders how late her father will return tonight. Arms aching, Frangky rows further towards the horizon.
Fishing is Frangky’s second job since he lost work as a boat driver for a resort during the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide for his family, Frangky works from morning until afternoon tending to his garden before setting out to fish in the evenings. At best, his daily catch earns him just under five Australian dollars, but this income is dependent on the number of fish caught and the weather.
Frangky is no stranger to a life of uncertainty. After being admitted to university because of his excellent high school results, Frangky was forced to drop out six months later when his parents could no longer afford the fees. He was determined to find good work and so he tried to enter the Indonesian police academy and then the army. Unfortunately, he didn’t pass the entrance tests, so he joined the generations of fisherman before him.
Living in poverty takes its toll on persevering fathers like Frangky. “I have tried hard to find a job. I always work at whatever I can put my hand to, regardless of the pay,” he says. “But everything is limited, like how big I dream. Everything looks narrowed for me.”
What is the need in Indonesia?
Stories like Yosina and Frangky’s give us a small window into a much bigger picture of generational poverty and inequality in Indonesia. Home to more than 270 million people, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago and fourth most-populous country in the world. Despite rapid urban growth and some substantial progress in the fight against poverty, the divide between rich and poor is vast. Typically, rural East Indonesia has the greatest challenges.
In 2016, Indonesia’s richest one per cent of the population controlled 49.3 per cent of its total wealth.1
While economic growth in Indonesia has boomed over the last two decades, inequality has worsened. Indonesia’s Gini coefficient, a statistic that represents income inequality across a population, increased from 28.6 in 2000 to 38.2 in 2019—the higher the measure, the worse the inequality.2 Pronounced inequality is a hard pattern to change and undermines development work.
In Indonesia’s case, economic gains have transferred to the wealthy while low wages, restricted access to education and unstable employment—as Frangky has experienced—often stop those living in poverty from finding a way out.
COVID-19 has had an undeniably devastating impact on Indonesia. Cases peaked on July 15th 2021, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded 56,757 total positive cases that day. Indonesia was declared to be the new global epicentre of the virus. Indonesians have been deeply affected economically and emotionally by the pandemic and its restrictions. Widespread unemployment and loss of income has reversed decades of progress reducing extreme poverty.
What does child poverty look like in Indonesia?
Frequent natural disasters are a recurring disruption to child development in Indonesia. Since 2004, the nation has grappled with a natural disaster, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, on average once every month.3 An earthquake in September 2018 left 133,000 people displaced throughout Central Sulawesi.4 More recently, Tropical Cyclone Serjoa made landfall in east Indonesia in April 2021, damaging 66,036 homes.5
Annual floods and serious weather events are particularly devastating for vulnerable children, who bear the brunt of disrupted education, recurring damage to their home and belongings, exposure to water-borne diseases, increased anxiety and even abandonment.
Improvements in child poverty have been seen in education and mortality reduction, however, poor childhood nutrition continues to be a significant challenge in Indonesia. According to UNICEF, both under- and over-nutrition are concerns. In 2018, nearly two million Indonesian children under the age of five suffered acute malnutrition, while one in five primary school-aged children were overweight or obese.
The effects of the pandemic on children in Indonesia have been harsh. Earlier this year, Handoko Ngadiman, Compassion Indonesia’s National Director, shared that “a lot of parents have lost their jobs. So the stress levels become higher in their houses and it created increasing child abuse.”
Schools, businesses and churches closed. Life was confined within the walls of the home, a harsh prospect when dwellings may be little more than a single room shared by the entire family and lacking running water. Of particular concern is the long-term impact of the pandemic on Indonesian children’s social mobility.6
COVID-19 has made it much harder for a child to escape poverty.
Compassion’s story in Indonesia
Compassion’s work in Indonesia was established in 1968. We now partner with over 730 local Indonesian churches to bring holistic child development to 162,185 vulnerable children and youth, as well as supporting 1,837 individuals through our Mums and Babies program.
This work is only made possible through the incredible generosity and faithfulness of our supporters.
When Yosina’s local church became aware of her family’s challenging situation, they were quick to respond. She was registered in Compassion’s programs and connected with a loving sponsor. Yosina’s sponsorship helps to provide her with health care, learning opportunities, nutritious meals as required, key life skills, individualised care and attention and the chance to hear the gospel message.
“I really want to say a big thanks to my child’s sponsor for all the support they give to us through the Compassion centre,” Frangky says. “I can’t imagine how I would find money in this difficult situation to pay my daughter’s school tuition if there was no support from Compassion.”
Compassion’s holistic Child Sponsorship Program is delivered to registered children like Yosina through their local church, who are best placed to understand the unique needs and cultural context of their communities. Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program works together with Critical Needs. When urgent situations like COVID-19 arise, additional funding through Critical Needs gives extra support to families like Yosina’s.
Throughout the pandemic, Indonesian staff and church partners have been focused on ensuring all children and their families receive food, hygiene kits and training, mentoring, spiritual support and education resources. They have closely monitored children’s wellbeing and behaviour to look for any indication of child protection issues or other concerns.
Through support from Critical Needs, local staff are also trained in disaster and crisis response protocols, allowing them to quickly and safely respond to the needs of Indonesian children during events like floods.
"Our first priority is to give the families meals to eat and provide them with the necessary emergency health kit," says Heris, a Compassion centre worker in Java. “This disaster package consists of food, medicine, blankets, aspirin and skin ointment. The food is a ready-made meal, so families don’t need to worry about how to cook it.”
How you can help
Sponsoring a child living in poverty in Indonesia is a powerful way to show neighbourly care and move towards the country’s need with compassion. That’s because we’ve seen that transformed children transform their communities.
Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program doesn’t just address a child’s physical needs, but looks at the holistic development of their social, emotional and spiritual needs as well. One child is connected with one sponsor who can provide life-changing support, encouragement and hope. You can write letters to one another, and sponsors may even give additional financial gifts, such as birthday or family gifts, to assist with their greatest need.
As for Frangky and Yosina, the future is bright. Despite the setbacks experienced throughout his own story, Frangky holds big dreams for his daughter thanks to the support of their local church partner and Yosina’s sponsor. His inspiring determination and heart of thankfulness remains present.
"I know that God has given me a talent that I must develop, even though I have to go through many struggles and suffering,” he says. “The ability to work in the sea and gardens—those are skill that God has given to me.”
Make an impact in the life of a child like Yosina and sponsor a child in our neighbouring country of Indonesia today.
Would you like to learn more about poverty and Compassion's response in other parts of Asia? Read our blogs below:
- Asia in Focus: Poverty in Bangladesh
- Asia in Focus: Poverty in The Philippines
- Asia in Focus: Poverty in Thailand
Words by Rachel Howlett with field reporting by Vera Aurima.
1 Oxfam (2017). Towards a More Equal Indonesia: How the government can take action to close the gap between the richest and the rest. https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/bp-towards-more-equal-indonesia-230217-en_0.pdf
2 World Bank (n.d.). The Gini Index (World Bank estimate) Indonesia. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI?locations=ID
3 Relief Web (2020, September 4). The facts: Indonesia earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. https://reliefweb.int/report/indonesia/facts-indonesia-earthquakes-tsunamis-and-other-natural-disasters
4 Relief Web (2018). Indonesia: Tsunami/Earthquakes—September 2018. https://reliefweb.int/disaster/eq-2018-000156-idn
5 Relief Web (2021). Tropical Cyclone Seroja—Apr 2021. https://reliefweb.int/disaster/tc-2021-000033-idn
6 UNICEF (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on child poverty and mobility in Indonesia. https://www.unicef.org/indonesia/media/8456/file/The%20impact%20of%20COVID-19%20on%20child%20poverty%20and%20mobility%20in%20Indonesia.pdf
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