Religious Pluralism At The Dumps
By Paul Glader & Robert Carle
JAKARTA – Korryzon Akikalamu “Korry” climbs a mountain of trash, stepping over plastic bottles, disintegrating diapers and UV light bulbs stacked a hundred yards high.
She walks past workers wearing torn clothes and dirty gloves as they sift through piles of trash, sorting and bagging recyclables: cardboard pieces, aluminum bits, strands of rope, plastic toys. Maggots and ants crawl over the shoes of visitors. An acrid stench of burnt plastic and a slight ocean breeze competes with clouds of dust that ooze from the hazy dump. Aggressive green flies hover over the heaps of garbage and buzz around the heads of the workers. A family of sheep forage through the garbage alongside a rat with a six-inch tail.
“People who work here pay per head [to the dump owner] to recycle the trash,” says Akikalamu, 30, standing atop a section of the sprawling dump in the outskirts of East Jakarta. Children between ages 4 and 8 wear flip flops as they scamper over the garbage heap, finding an occasional toy here, proudly holding up a purple dress there and giggling as they jump on a bug-infested, beaten up mattress as if it’s the world’s best trampoline.
Akikalamu works for a local foundation (which asked to not be named) that assists impoverished communities regardless of race, religion or ethnic background. Among its projects, this NGO aims to serve some of the poorest communities in Jakarta. Its motto is: “The Least. The Last. The Lost.” As director of education, Akikalamu has helped set up schools in four shantytowns in Jakarta.
At this particular garbage dump in East Jakarta, which is surrounded by thousands of shipping containers, Akikalamu supervises a preschool that serves 60 children between ages three and seven. Her organization purchased a small, brick building from the local imam and hired a Christian couple from the area to serve as teachers for the children. During this holiday week, books are lined up on a shelf, alphabet charts and pictures line the classroom walls, and small wooden tables and chairs are stacked on each side of the room. The kindergarten, located at the entrance of the dump, has an immaculate, white-tile floor.
A mosque a few doors down from the kindergarten broadcasts the Muslim call to prayer five times a day starting at 5 a.m. in this majority-Muslim neighborhood in a majority-Muslim country. Akikalamu is a Christian. Her mother passed away when she was five. She fled her home in the Maluku Islands in the late 1990s at age 14 because of deadly clashes between Muslim and Christian communities that killed at least 5,000 people and displaced 700,000, according to the International Crisis Group and a report by Cornell University. Her father allowed Akikalamu and her two siblings to be raised as orphans by a church in Jakarta. Later, she attended University of Pelita Harapan, a Christian university on the outskirts of Jakarta, for a Bachelor’s degree in education. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in education at the school, as well.