Located just minutes away from Jakarta’s glistening skyscrapers – the beacons of Indonesian wealth – lies the seemingly hopeless slum of Cilincing, but Red Nose Circus is working to change that. They’re using circus to teach the children of this slum essential life skills, and in the process giving its children a vision of hope for their future.
Officially, Cilincing is uninhabited. It’s in the flood plane into Jakarta bay, and is zoned industrial agriculture. However, thousands of people do live in the shadow of Tanjung Priok Harbor, the busiest port in Indonesia.
According to an abstract published by Hendro Prabowom, Heri Subrapto, and Teddy Oswari of Gunadarma University in Jakarta, the waters of Tanjung Priok, where untreated sewage and industrial waste freely flows, contain some of the highest levels of lead and mercury poisoning in the world.
Yet, it’s in these very waters that the people of Cilincing spend their days…
the adults fish…
…and the children play.
Green mussel cultivation is their major source of income, as is fishing. As it was explained to me during my visit, the fishermen do not actually own what they catch – it’s more of a sharecropping arrangement in which one party owns the equipment and fishing rights in Jakarta Bay, while the people of Cilincing supply the labor.
And labor they do! The day I was there, I watched as the men carried load after load of fish and mussels to the women and older men who would then spend the day processing them. Some would clean the mussels, while others dried the fish in the sun.
When I arrived in Cilincing, the first thing I noticed was the complex smell of oil, saltwater, sewage, and fish mingling in a way that strained my senses.
Then there was the constant barrage of smoke from the mussel boilers stinging my eyes.
“This might be a long day, but if they can live here for a lifetime, I can surely manage a day,” I thought, as my friends and hosts for the day, Dan Roberts and Renny Antoni led me through the twisting alleys of the village, paved with mussel shells, to the Red Nose (Hidung Merah) Circus Project.
They worked hard to raise the funds to build the facility. There is one large room downstairs equipped for circus training, and two rooms upstairs that are used for teaching English. The walls of the circus training room are adorned with murals that the students designed.
Red Nose Circus is a Social Circus, envisioned by Dan as a tool to help children develop essential skills.
For example, learning to juggle develops perseverance, acrobatics develops teamwork, and clown develops self confidence.
It also gives children something positive to be a part of, a place to belong to, and an environment in which to prove to themselves that they can do, they can learn, and there is hope for the future.
As I watched the children perform what they had been taught, I was impressed by their enthusiasm, and their energy. They clearly had come to see Red Nose Circus as an integral part of their lives and this center as their home.
Dan spent his high school years in Jakarta and wanted to give something back to the country that he felt significantly impacted his development as an individual. So, in 2008 he returned to Indonesia with $2000 and a dream.
Today, after a lot of sweat, tears, stress, courage, and persistence, Red Nose Circus is a success and widely recognized by influential NGO’s and government agencies as being an organizing worth noticing, and more importantly, worth funding.
Cilincing is a squatter’s village that has been there for 40 years. But, one day the government bulldozers may arrive to clear it away, as happens in Indonesia. I’m sure that insecurity rests in their hearts but you’d never realize it by watching the hum of activity in the village.
When I left around 4:00 pm, the fish were still drying in the sun, the mussel pots were still boiling, and people were still sitting in groups processing the mussels. That’s the way it was yesterday, and the way it will be tomorrow.
With the help of Red Nose Circus these children may have a different future – perhaps that gleam I saw in the children’s eyes was a vision of a new, more exciting possibility for their future – maybe it was the gleam of hope.
Additional Web Resources
Circus Stances, an article by Time Out Jakarta.
Slum Kids Juggle Learning and Fun, an article by The Jakarta Globe.