22 May 2024

In bright pink dresses and flashy straw hats, septuagenarian Indonesian twins Sri Irianingsih and Sri Rossyati strolled through rows of desks as students attentively wrote on workbooks.

Known by students, parents, and locals as ‘Ibu Kembar’, or Twin Moms in Bahasa Indonesia, the colorfully-garbed women established Kartini Emergency School in the middle of a once-elite area of Jakarta in 1983.

For over 40 years, the Twin Moms have schooled children aged 6-17 from marginalised families living in makeshift shacks along riverbanks and landfills. Many of them are unregistered.

“In the middle of this elite housing complex… these people sweep the streets,” Irianingsih told Reuters. “They don’t have money… the cheapest tuition fees in that area are 5 million rupiah ($326). That’s why we made this school, and let those kids enroll here.”

The Twin Moms are determined for their students to be able to carve out a living after graduation. Students learn practical skillsets from cooking to flower arranging, ensuring that they won’t return to sorting through trash or begging on the streets.

Indonesia has required public primary schools to abolish tuition fees from 2008, in accordance with a law making it mandatory for children to attend school from grades 1 to 9. Yet many marginalised children coming from low-income families struggle to afford excess costs such as uniforms and books.

One such student is Leni Nur Afia. Before enrolling with Kartini, her parents couldn’t afford schoolbooks, and she resorted to helping her mum run a store in an alley. Her younger brother, Jaka, also attends the school.

Leni, like most of the children in Kartini, does not possess a birth certificate required by the government for children to receive free education. Bureaucracy, complicated administration, and extra travel and paperwork fees often hinder access, according to a 2020 survey from Indonesia’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Nia Latifah, alumni of the school, faced the same challenges. She graduated in 2007 before enrolling in a public school recommended by the Twin Moms. Her father used to work as a low-paying office assistant.

“My family’s condition was too poor for me to go to a public school,” she said while preparing a defense for a postgraduate thesis. “After going to the Twin Moms’ school and being guided by them, I was able to attend the University of Indonesia and now I’m a Master’s student.”

Following the pandemic, Indonesia has seen a 0.26% rise in children out of school in 2022 according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, with 38,716 primary children out of school in Jakarta alone. Yet the Twin Moms are undeterred.

“We’re not asking for money. On the contrary, our money is for this school,” Irianingsih said during the Moms’ birthday celebration at the school.

“But we also receive happiness here,” Rossyati added, standing next to her twin. “Peace, contentment. After going through life for 73 years, this is what we’ve been searching for.”

By Reuters