Indonesia has the fourth largest population of children in the world with over 72 million young people under the age of 14. While the Indonesian government strives to support all young people in the country, widespread poverty and family issues often force children into the streets where they scavenge, beg or work instead of attending school. The Indonesian Street Children Organization (ISCO) is a beacon of hope for these vulnerable children.
The seeds for ISCO were planted in the 1990s when Austrian expat Josef Fuchs saw that unemployment rates were rising rapidly in Indonesia and many students were dropping out of university due to financial issues. He knew he had to do something, so he organized a festival and was able to raise funds to finance 3,500 students. This led him to delve deeper into the issue of education in Indonesia and together with Pascale Lalanne, a French psychology professor, he created ISCO with a focus on children in slums.
Founder and vice president Josef Fuchs says, “ISCO Foundation was born of an idea, and a need, to do something to help children find a way to break out of a cycle of poverty which, through no fault of their own, limits their ability to achieve their full potential. Fortunately, after the financial crisis in 1999, we were in a position to take the first, concrete steps to do something useful; something which has certainly worked, especially thanks to our partnership with local government and the Ministry of Education.”
ISCO operates on the belief that every child has the right to education, development and dignity. Programmes include educational support for children who face financial barriers to attending school. Sponsorships include school fees, uniforms, textbooks and transportation to school. ISCO also operates community centres that function as kindergartens in the morning and places for children to do homework or extracurricular activities in the afternoons. The centres also provide children with nutritious meals and yearly health check-ups.
The foundation also aims to prevent marginalised children from becoming street children and child labourers through protection and rights advocacy. They conduct parenting communication forums to educate parents on the importance of schooling for their children. They also help children obtain birth certificates, provide temporary shelter and safe housing for children in emergency situations and work closely with NGOs that focus on child welfare, child labour and trafficking issues.
ISCO runs programmes in 30 locations in greater Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan, the majority of which are urban slums. With help from sponsors and donors, they currently support over 2,000 children aged five to 17 years old. Josef says, “What is important is giving these children the chance and opportunity to become who they dream of being. Our motivation comes from what we see everyday—bright, happy, vivacious children who have the talent and the potential to do anything and everything.”
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