Anissa S. Febrina, The Jakarta Post
Who has been the most effective agent of change in the campaign for cleaner lifestyles in Jakarta's subdistricts?
In North Jakarta's Teluk Gong it has been the children. Chirpy, curious, innocent children.
Months ago, none in the slum had any knowledge of sanitation or garbage sorting. The children were among the first to introduce the words as they brought home plastic bags labeled "paper", "tin" and "plastic".
Many children now also remind their mothers and fathers to wash their hands before eating simply by singing a song taught in a small bamboo hut beside the river in Teluk Gong.
Children like these are the ones who make the efforts of non-governmental organizations such as the Emmanuel Foundation and Mercy Corps worthwhile.
Living with substandard sanitation and limited water resources, slum dwellers -- especially children -- are among those prone to infectious diseases.
And children are indeed the best group to initiate a clean-lifestyle campaign in the community.
"Who knows why we have to wash our hands before eating?" Emannuel Foundation social worker Mita Sirait asked a gathering of Teluk Gong children last Friday afternoon.
Right hands quickly raced upward for Mita's attention while answers were shouted out before she had the chance to choose a child to answer.
After the fun and educational session finished, the children ran to a used plastic bucket that had been converted into a water container outside the hut to wash their hands -- a habit the children had developed and were spreading through their community.
Outside their homes, Mercy Corps has provided water containers labeled with the advice "wash your hands before eating".
"They (Mercy Corps workers) give us cooking oil in return for our getting ourselves used to the habit of hand washing," said Nurbiyanti, a housewife in the area.
When providing aid to those living in slums, incentives are highly useful in introducing the concept of a healthier lifestyle -- both for adults and children.
"Who has finished hanging up their garbage sorting bag in their house?" asked another tutor, though this time only a few shy hands flew into the air.
Seeing that the children were not so eager to respond this time, the tutor explained the advantages of garbage sorting using examples such as last year's fatal garbage slide in Leuwigajah in Bandung, West Java.
"Remember what I told you? You can make money by sorting your own garbage," the tutor said.
"I made Rp 5,000 from selling the plastic bottles that I sorted out at home," Budi, one of the children, said confidently.
The hygiene education programs have been underway for several months now and the changes have been quite apparent.
"At least the children have been quite used to hand washing and some have even started garbage sorting. It is a bit difficult to educate the adults and expect them to change as quick as the kids," said Emannuel Foundation public health engineer Arum Wulandari.