Where Does Milk Come From?
If you ask a kid from a city ghetto or slum estate, s/he'll likely answer the 'corner store' or 'supermarket'. If your parents are unemployed, living on social security and there's little choice in life, then existence can be precarious and meaningful experience vicarious for these kids. There is little connection with Mother Nature if you're trapped indoors by traffic, urban grime, pollution and decay.
About thirty years ago I was appointed as the first full-time co-ordinator of Oasis Children's Venture
, an umbrella group for various play provision sites and parent-led play schemes in the areas of Battersea, Stockwell and Vauxhall
in South London.These areas were identified as exceptionally deprived of cultural and recreational facilities with a high level of youth unemployment. The charity acted as a forum and pressure group to enable the provision of play services and strongly advocated the child’s right to play as natures training for life.
I helped initiate a number of projects and served as an adviser and/or trustee of various local organisations, including Elm City Farm, an early member of the UK City Farms Federation
. In association with an adjacent elementary school, a vacant plot of land was turned into a children's community garden
, which I am very pleased to note is still valued today.
However, beautifying one's neighbourhood does not necessarily bring one in touch with the joys of nature. And giving children rides on a delman
, a horse and carriage (left - seen passing Jakartass Towers) although once common in Jakarta is now a very temporary glimpse. Stars cannot be seen unless there's a citywide power cut. Most animals are pets, or domesticated and pettable, or feral cats and dogs. Of course, there may be rats amongst the refuse, but, by and large, for inner city dwellers they are an excuse to remain within familiar surroundings.
Another project I happily fund-raised for and co-ordinated was taking groups of teenagers referred by social services and the juvenile courts on camping expeditions to Cwm Kesty, a former farm in the Brecon Beacons, just inside Wales over the border with England. These children had never left London before and had rarely left their 'stomping ground' of a housing estate.*
Experiencing life under canvas, the lack of electric comforts, the wide outdoors and the sheer darkness of night, was an emotional eye opener for them. Subsequent reports from social services indicated that they'd undergone a real life changing experience, and many were 'released' from bureaucratic clutches as they were able to act responsibly.
A couple of email contacts have brought this back into my focus.
I originally thought that the first, from an organisation based in New York called The Fresh Air Fund
(FAF) , was beyond the remit of Jakartass. After all, I'm a Brit and a long-term resident of Jakarta. What could I possibly do of relevance, I asked.
And, in part, this was the reply I received this morning from Sara Wilson
.The reason I reached out to you specifically is not because you are based in Jakarta, but because you are an influential blogger with an international medium to instantly spread this message.
Well, flattery will get you everywhere, but influential? Lots of my readers are Stateside, so I suppose I am. I therefore urge you to contact Sara if you can help.The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877.
Nearly 10,000 New York City children enjoy free Fresh Air Fund programs annually. In 2007, close to 5,000 children visited volunteer host families in suburbs and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada. 3,000 children also attended five Fresh Air camps on a 2,300-acre site in Fishkill, New York. The Fund’s year-round camping program serves an additional 2,000 young people each year.
That's lot of children needing a lot of support, and the FAF is still looking for host families for the summer holidays which have just started in the USA.Fresh Air Fund volunteer host families, in a Friendly Town community supported by an experienced local volunteer, open their homes to inner-city children for two weeks or more in the summertime. There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air child. Most hosts simply want to share their homes with inner-city youngsters. Host families are not paid. The Fund has a program for placing children who have special physical or emotional needs.
If you want to know more, contact Sara, and please tell her that Jakartass sent you.
Finally, closer to home - in fact in Jakartass Towers - on Thursday I play host to the proprietor of Hotel Rimbo
in West Sumatra. The soft opening is next month and we hope to set in motion definite plans for setting up Camp Rimbo, the Children's Jungle Study Centre which I plan for my retreat from urban life.
If you want to experience a bit of peace, look at the banner at the top of the page; this is the view that I hope city kids will soon enjoy as much as I do.
*There's a picture of me and some Cwm Kesty Kids in the Oasis Children's Venture History - a .pdf download