Straits Times Feature on Our Volunteering Journey in Jakarta

It’s been exactly a year since I first wrote about Volunteering in Jakarta: Kampung Kids (dated 26 Feb 2016). And today, one year on, an article was published on Straits Times Online titled ‘Singaporean volunteers bridge education gap in South Jakarta‘.

Working with the children from Kampung Kids has been a wonderful learning journey for both Dianne and myself and this write-up is a lovely keepsake of our time spent there.

I will be sharing it with you here:

Singaporean volunteers bridge education gap in South Jakarta neighbourhood

Singaporeans Deborah Lee and Dianne Goh sat on tiny chairs, with half a dozen curious preschoolers at their feet. Their eyes widened and narrowed and their voices rose and fell as they recited each line from “The Three Friends”, a children’s story about animals.

In a smattering of English and basic Bahasa Indonesia, the volunteer teachers tried to make themselves understood.

Unsure of the Indonesian term for elephant’s trunk, Ms Lee resorted to using hand gestures. She balled one hand into a fist, put it in front of her face and extended it outwards.

“This is elephant’s trunk,” she said. Ms Goh chimed in: “Trunk. Not nose, OK? Trunk.” The children nodded.

After the story-telling session, they played videos on their i-pad and led the class in singing and dancing to simple tunes such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”.

Ms Dianne Goh (short hair) and Ms Deborah Lee (long hair), volunteer teachers from Singapore, teaching Indonesian children English. They are among 20 volunteer teachers at the Yayasan Kampung Kids, a foundation in the poorer neighbourhood of Pejaten in South Jakarta. PHOTO: SHELBY GARLICK

Ms Lee, 29, and Ms Goh, 28, are among 20 volunteer teachers at the Yayasan Kampung Kids, a foundation in the poorer neighbourhood of Pejaten in South Jakarta which has been running free educational, as well as food and nutrition programmes for the underprivileged for nearly two decades.

Ms Lee has been volunteering there since 2015, shortly after moving to Jakarta where her husband is stationed for work. Ms Goh did the same last year.

In a country where pre-primary education is not compulsory, and most of the kindergartens and nurseries are privately-run and expensive, volunteer teachers like them are much welcomed.

Ms Dianne Goh (short hair) and Ms Deborah Lee (long hair), volunteer teachers from Singapore, teaching Indonesian children English. PHOTO: SHELBY GARLICK

The government has been increasing funds gradually for early childhood education and plans are afoot to build an education centre in every village across the country. In the meantime, foundations like Kampung Kids are helping to fill the service gap.

Housewife Sumarni, 45, said she would have to fork out anywhere between one and five million rupiah (S$105-S$526) to enrol her five-year-old daughter Nurita in a regular kindergarten, and another 300,000 rupiah every month for school fees.

“All parents want the best education for their children. But not everyone can afford that,” she said.

The biggest challenge for the Singaporeans, as expected, is the language barrier. But they say this has only spurred them to get creative.

Ms Lee, who holds a Master’s degree in Child Development and Education, had taught English and Mathematics to primary school pupils in Singapore and wanted to continue helping the local community.

Ms Dianne Goh teaching Indonesian children English. PHOTO: SHELBY GARLICK

“The children hardly understand or speak English while I’m not very fluent in Bahasa Indonesia,” she said, adding that she conveys her messages by drawing pictures and playing charades. Sometimes, the mothers who sit in during the lessons will help her explain to the children.

Struggles aside, they aim to make lessons fun through songs and get the children “used to listening to English”, Ms Goh said.

“We have to use very simple and short stories. We also get them to repeat the sentences after us,” she added. “I can see the importance of giving young children a good foundation in education as it gives them self-confidence, and a love for learning.”

The parents say they appreciate the efforts of the foreign teachers – including those from Singapore, India, Australia, Britain and the US – and do not mind that they are not fluent in Bahasa Indonesia.

“They could be doing something else with their time, but choose to come here to teach our kids. I’m just grateful,” 30-year-old Fitriyah said.

Ms Deborah Lee teaching Indonesian children English. PHOTO: SHELBY GARLICK

Agreeing, housewife Nenah, 32, said that her daughter would sing English nursery rhymes at home and tell her that she looks forward to going to school.

“I hope my child will be able to master English so she can interact with people other than Indonesians,” she said.

For the Singaporean teachers, sharing knowledge goes two ways: The pupils and the parents have not only expanded their Indonesian vocabulary, but have also given them valuable life lessons.

“They taught me so much more beyond the four walls of the classroom,” Ms Lee said.

“Despite not having much, the children are very content and carefree. I’ve also learnt to be content in life, in various situations and circumstances,” she said.

“They constantly remind me to have a bigger and more generous heart towards the poor.”

The original article with the video can be found at this link:

If you have any questions about volunteering in Jakarta, feel free to drop me a note here! 🙂

Volunteering in Jakarta Update: Kampung Kids

Can’t believe close to 9 months have gone by since I started volunteering at Kampung kids! I documented my initial thoughts on volunteering in Jakarta here: Volunteering in Jakarta: Kampung Kids | thediplowifey.

Looking back, I’ve learnt so much from the kids. They don’t have much yet are one of the most carefree around. While I teach them how to read and write in English, they’ve taught me so much more beyond the four walls of the classroom. 🙂


Playing with paints in the classroom.

Of late, apart from teaching the children letters of the English alphabet and key vocabulary words + working on their penmanship, we have started doing art with them (thanks to Dianne who volunteers with me and is a real art genius!).

One art lesson we exposed them to watercolours. Dianne came out with the idea of painting the underside of their hands and putting together all their hand prints to produce a piece of artwork – a signboard for their classroom.


Cute lil’ palm!

Having never touched paints before (despite them being 5-7 years of age), the children were very precarious about having their palms painted. When we asked for a volunteer, hardly anyone raised their hands.

We started with the daring ones, and slowly the more timid ones also came up to have their palms painted.


Children with their drawing blocks and signature hand prints (for them to take home).

Here’s a picture of the beautiful art piece, a product of joint effort by all the kids. It’s now hung up in the front of their classroom. 🙂 🙂 🙂


Lovely piece of artwork comprising the children’s hand prints.

Another art lesson, we pre-cut eye masks for the children and had them design their very own masks. (Many of the kids were into superheroes like Batman and Spiderman who wore masks.)

Here are some pictures of the kids in action:


Luky designing his Batman mask (he’s wearing Batman on his shirt!)


Hard at work.

One thing I’ve noticed about the kampung children is their willingness to share the little they have (be it crayons, pencils, erasers, etc). Even if they had only 2 pencils in their pencil case, they would happily loan the other to their friend without a pencil. These sweet gestures often brought a smile to my heart.

Here’s one of all our mini superheroes (in their own rights) posing for a picture. Aren’t they just so adorable? ❤ ❤ ❤


Kampung kids superheroes.

My volunteering at Kampung kids (and my ladies bible study group) is on a hold for the next few weeks because of the mid-year school holidays. Crossing my fingers the children won’t forget all the letters and words we’ve taught them thus far!

Because next week is the Lebaran period in Jakarta, practically everyone I know (friends, Agent D’s colleagues, my driver, my helper, etc etc) is out of Jakarta. I heard it is going to be super duper quiet next week with GOOD TRAFFIC WITHOUT JAMS. Whoooop can’t wait!

[Wikipedia: Lebaran is the popular name for Eid al-Fitr in Indonesia and is one of the major national holidays in the country. Lebaran holiday officially lasts for two days in the Indonesian calendar, but the government usually declares a few days before and after the Lebaran as a bank holiday. Hence many Indonesians take this time to travel out of the country or return to their hometowns.)


Selamat Lebaran with this Ramadan-themed Starbucks cup!!

Am so looking forward to the slow(er) week ahead.


Volunteering in Jakarta: Kampung Kids

When I first set foot on Jakarta, what became apparent to me was the great disparity between the rich and the poor. Some of the really poor live in overcrowded slums with poor sanitation and nutrition. As parents struggle to put food on the table, the last thing on their minds is probably education for their children.

I wanted to help but did not know where to go/ how to start. With the help of Mr Google (one of my best friends!) and a recommendation from another lady, I got to know of a Yayasan (foundation) called Kampung Kids.

Of the various Yayasans in Jakarta, Kampung Kids stood out to me because of their 3-phase program:

  1. Basic Nutrition – Young children as well as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are provided with one meal per day + a cup of milk.
  2. Education – Playgroups and tutoring classes are set up for children of all ages, some of whom have never attended school and are illiterate.
  3. Health and Hygiene – Quarterly health checks are provided by volunteer doctors/nurses; young children receiving milk are weighed monthly to check progress.

Since I was a teacher in my home country, volunteering to teach seemed almost natural. And so I sent an email to the coordinator (Julia) together with my resume, asking if I could volunteer with them. Julia replied that very night and said I could start the following Tuesday. Wow that was fast.

In the email, she gave me the location of Kampung Kids: Jln Pejaten Barat II, RT 011 RW 08.

What in the world was RT and RW??! I had no idea.

Anyhow, I entered the address into google maps but got the message “We could not find Jln. Pejaten Barat II, RT 011 RW 08. Make sure your search is spelled correctly. Try adding a city, state, or zip code.” Hmmm weird. I decided I would just attempt to find the place when I got there on the day itself.

On Tuesday, my driver and I managed to find the road Jln Pejaten Barat II. The houses on that road seemed hugeee and grand. I thought this was supposed to be a poor estate.

After circling around 3 times and asking around, we still could not find the house situated on RT 011 and RW 08.  As a last resort, I called Julia and she told me to wait at a particular cross-section in front of a white mosque. She would arrange for someone to come out and fetch me.

After about 10 minutes, a man in a purple shirt came up to us. He was riding a motor bike and told us to follow him. We followed him all the way to the end of the road where there was a small opening cum entrance. The entrance was too small for my car to enter so we parked outside. It almost seemed like The Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narniaa portal that linked Earth through to the World of Narnia – except this one linked the world I live in and know about to the world of the poor.


Entrance to the kampung where the poorer people of Jakarta stay. You can see the disparity between the big houses leading up to the entrance and those of the kampung behind.

As I walked into the kampung, people smiled at me and waved to me. I happily waved back, greeting them with “Selamat Pagi!” which means Good Morning. Indonesians are generally very lovely and welcoming people.

Here are some pictures of the kampung. You can see that some of the houses are in desperate need of repainting and touching up.


A passage way only accessible by foot or by a motorbike.


I was surprised to see a nail salon!


That’s my driver (Pak Amrun) posing for me.


Friendly folks of the kampung.

After many turns and bends deep into the Kampung (I was thinking to myself I would never be able to find my way out!), I finally arrived at Kampung Kids. Dozens of shoes and slippers were sprawled outside the house because of an ongoing feeding programme.

A class of 5 to 6 year-olds (there were about 10+ of them) greeted me shyly. Almost all of them had never been to preschool and this was their first time in a class setting. Some were smaller in built for their age due to a lack of proper nutrition. A number of them looked at me fearfully as if I was going to have them for my lunch.

I flashed my best reassuring smile and introduced myself to them. It only took a while for the children to warm up and for the next part of the lesson, we learnt the letters ‘A’,’B’, and ‘C’. While walking around the class during penmanship practice time, I realised that a good half of the children did not even know how to hold a pencil! Looks like I’ll have to buy some penmanship books to work through with them.

Here are some pictures of the little ones in my class:

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Over the weeks, I’ve also taught English to the 9 to 10 year-olds. I was very comfortable working with that age group because back in my home country, I taught the middle primary group.

Here are some pictures of the older children in my class:

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I really enjoy my time spent with the kampung children. Although I go to the kampung with the purpose of teaching them English, they in turn always teach me little life lessons.

I always go home with my heart full. 🙂