It seems every other week in Australia there’s a conversation going on about the disparity in gender pay levels, the ‘glass ceiling’ or some other issue relating to the rights of women, usually driven by pseudo-intellectual feminists.
I’m far from being a feminist – or an intellectual, for that matter – but my experiences in third world countries as a humanitarian make me incredibly grateful for what progress we have made in this country.
When I founded Project 18 Inc. in 2009, fighting for the rights of women was the last thing on my mind. Our agenda was purely children and conservation. My vision for our first orphanage was a family-based group home, no dormitory style accommodation where children were numbers but children being raised in a family unit, with a belief that they could be whatever they wanted to be. The same way I raise my own children in Australia. The children would be raised to live in harmony with their environment and eventually be part of a large conservation project.
In Indonesia today there are 1.8 million children homeless. That’s a group of children the size of the entire city of Brisbane living on the streets and at risk of exploitation. The child sex trade is rife. On a visit to Bali last year I made conversation with a 15-year-old career prostitute who told me she was happy. “Oh yes, always food. Very happy” were her words. Moments later she ran across the busy street and slipped into the back of a car. She knows nothing else. My stomach churned.
In 2010 we established our orphanage in a small village in Bali’s north, away from the tourist areas, away from exploitation but also away from long term employment opportunities. There is no industry in Ringdikit. Women in the village are left with whatever work the men don’t want to do. Usually this involves carrying rocks on their heads for road works or construction. The teenage girls in our program are the only teenage girls in the district that go to high school. Girls aren’t worthy of education. You don’t need to know how to read or write to carry rocks on your head.
Last month on a routine visit to our village I was made aware of a single mother with two young boys. Manik was suffering active Tuberculosis, without urgent treatment she would die. Over the last couple of years I’ve struggled greatly with ‘maintaining focus’ – keeping my eyes on the prize and remembering why we started the project in the first place. I didn’t go to Indonesia to heal the sick, I went to save children. I immediately offered to take her children into our non-residential program – where children can still access education, food and healthcare while staying with their family.