Lighting Up Monica's Lantern of The Heart

There is a Dutch proverb that says "three times is right". And this proverb seems to illustrate the writer’s three visits to “Pelita Hati” (Lantern of the Heart), a social organization under the leadership of one of my friends - Monica Ginting Soedibjo - because during those three visits, it is obvious that this organization is quite unique despite its young age.

Pelita Hati was founded by Monica Ginting not long after Jakarta’s big riot, when a former President was forced to step down in May 1998. Despite being an architect graduated from the States and who used to have her own office in her field in Jakarta, she was willing to switch profession. Her social institution is an expression of her unsatisfaction of a life style that seems to focus too much on excessive material accumulation. After being an "apprentice" of a Catholic priest, this mother of three sons felt that it was time for her to set up her own social organization. The first ever volunteer to join was Farida Anggraini, a psychologist who - back in 1999 - was still a student and now the right hand for the organization.

The atmosphere of the office in West Jakarta was relax and friendly. Three or four volunteers were at the computers working diligently on the pictures to be used for their periodic newsletter named JeHa, abbreviation for Jendela Hati (Window of the Heart). A couple of others were tidying up the book-keeping of the organization. Here and there burst forth a few light comments plus laughters at some mutual experiences, especially at the campus – as most of these volunteers were students of several universities in the capital city. Monica herself was busy in her multi-roles as the Organization Guiding Mother and mother for her own youngest son, Rangga, or kept on changing tones from casual conversation with her staff and formal telephone conversation with institutions that sponsor the activities of the organization. Without being told, the household assistant prepared various delicious meals on the dining table as it is lunch time.

The friendly atmosphere of lunch seemed to carry over to our trips to the various projects of Pelita Hati during these three visits, despite the scorching heat of the sun and the traffic jam that dominated most of the travelling hours. Mysterious terms such as "impolite house" or "londre" uttered by them in the car, which was donated by one of their biggest donators, became clear when we arrived at Teluk Naga, Tangerang. And among those houses of simple people in that area was a very eye-catching colorful house that led to the suspicion that the owner of the house was either the Managing Director of a paint factory – or someone who was running out of a particular color of paint and had to resort to using other colors on hand. And that "londre" (which is laundry in English) was a gathering of ladies washing clothes by the small river and who used too much detergent that produced lots of foams does not need any more explanation.

The real question is if the gap between the have and the have-not is still very wide or not. My first impression is that the slum areas I have seen in 1984 are not that open and visible anymore, but even until 2006 they still exist. Only now sort of camouflaged, hidden under the flypasses or removed to Jakarta's large suburban areas. The harsh fact that there are those who unashamedly show off in "impolite cars" such as Ferrari on the jammed streets of Jakarta (do you need a speedy car for that?) while others are struggling to find a little to eat behind the industrial area by recycling factory oil thrown into the little river that was jammed by 1001 kinds of virusses and bacteria can be called very insensitive. And in the middle of the struggle of these two life styles, Monica with her volunteers – who try to shorten the distance of the social enomical gap – have earned a lot of respect. Eventhough the place of the Pre-School for the poor children at Teluk Naga they built consists of a simple building with sandy floor, or the bread brought there is sufficient for one meal only, or the visits to the slum area of Bukit Duri by the river of Ciliwung are only a survey to find out the urgent needs of those living there – at least there are concrete steps by this social organization.

Not only does the organization have volunteer members from the universities, but it also has its own health services where periodically doctors (also volunteer members) provide social services to the public, organizing education projects, provide free teaching under bridges, and participated in the field during the big earth quake in Bengkulu, Sumatra, some time ago. More recently the organization helped the people recovering from the devastating tsunami which hit the province of Aceh, North Sumatra, hard and also provided food to flooded areas of Jakarta in February 2007. In addition to that all, it also helped clean up the Bay of Jakarta from garbage dumped carelessly by people into the sea. This garbage fishing resulted in seventy-five plastic bags and according to Monica, those collected garbage is only a fraction of all the garbage floating freely even to the shores of the nearest islands of the Thousand Islands.

As the youngest daughter of the late Mr. Lo Siang Hien Ginting who was one of the founders annex rector of Atmajaya University, and a 86-year-old mother who was until a few years ago still active in social welfare, but also with the in-laws that are active in leading the orphanage "Sayap Ibu" (Mother’s Wing), it is not surprising that Monica felt called to open a trail in social welfare herself as she had been brought up in this environment since she was little.

As for the Dutch proverb of "three times is right", I can only say amen to the truth that three times participating and following the activities of Pelita Hati has made it clear why society still needs people like Monica, Farida Anggraini and their volunteers to close the gap of the difference in social status. At the same time I can state here as well that while we were having lunch at the Pelita Hati's office that day I did not take up their kind offer to eat three portions.

In my heart I left the other two more portions for those who need them out there ...

This article was written by Jim Rais. First published in Sprice-Online edition 9 of December 2004. Translated from Indonesian into English by Lisa Sastrawaty M.A. Re-edited in February 2007.

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