In a cemetery in East Kalimantan, 13-year-old Algar is standing in front of his parents’ grave in protective clothing.
Relatives gathered around the cemetery to hold a funeral for his mother. Algar’s face was hidden, but his voice revealed his sadness. When he recited the call to prayer, it was trembling.
Both his parents died of COVID-19. They were buried beside each other.
Aga lives in an Islamic boarding school, and his parents often send him packages of homemade food.
But when the packages stopped coming, Algar began to suspect that there was something wrong, and he wrote a letter to his mother.
“Are you sick, mother? Call me when you are okay. Please get enough sunshine,” he wrote.
“I am healthy here, don’t worry about me. I have 133,000 rupiah [$9] In my bank account, it is enough for me. “
She never had a chance to open this letter.
“His father passed away on Thursday. He didn’t know because we didn’t tell him. Then on Saturday, his mother also passed away,” Algar’s aunt Leonita said.
“No one wants to tell him. But his brother insists that we must do this.”
Arga’s 17-year-old brother was unable to attend the funeral because he also tested positive for the virus, but now that he has recovered, he and Arga need to plan their future for themselves and their two older brothers and sisters. Nine o’clock and four o’clock.
“Why did my parents leave me so soon?”
In Indonesia, as the COVID-19 health crisis continues, more and more children are facing Arga’s trauma and grief.
10-year-old Alviano has just received a new fishing rod as a gift from a friend of his father.
When he was winding the fishing rod, he thought of his father.
“I like fishing…I often go fishing with Dad after get off work,” he said. “Some fish are as big as his thighs. Sometimes we go fishing for shrimp.”
Two weeks ago, his mother died in the hospital due to COVID-19. She is five months pregnant. The next day, his father also passed away.
“He said… Why did my parents leave me so soon? We tried to be strong for him, but it was devastating for us,” said Alviano’s uncle Margono.
For two weeks, Alviano also tested positive for COVID-19, and during that time, he had to live alone.
Relatives, family and friends slept outside on the porch, so he would not feel alone.
“He would look out the window and see us. Many of his friends and family are sleeping outside. So he doesn’t feel alone,” Magono said.
Soon, Alviano will live with his grandparents who live in Slagan, Java.
‘The impact is very worrying’
Children’s rights organizations have noted that social workers across the country have reported an increase in the number of orphans.
Dino Satria from Save the Children Indonesia said that due to Indonesia’s low COVID-19 testing rate and insufficient data collection, it is difficult to know exactly how many children have lost their parents.
“We don’t have exact data, but in some cases, the children have no one to support them. They don’t have a big family or anyone who can take care of them,” he said.
Satria worries about children who missed help because their parents’ deaths were not reported.
“We urge the government to strengthen the support system at the community level, where we can collect this information, because now we don’t have this information,” he said.
“Moreover, the information is not specific. For example, during COVID, the information we have is that someone has died… We don’t know much about them, whether they have children or not.”
The Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has long required hospitals to record information about patients’ family members in order to make arrangements for their children when necessary.
However, as Indonesian hospitals have reached their limits due to COVID-19 and the number of deaths at home has increased, finding and supporting children in need has become more challenging.
“The problem is that the process is not working very well. The number of COVID cases has increased significantly. What we have now is only partial data, which is not very systematic,” said Kanya Eka Santi, Director of Children’s Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Santi said finding housing for children in need is more challenging because many families are experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Some people don’t want to accept this child because they can’t afford it, even their own grandchildren,” she said.
“During COVID, the financial situation is more difficult. Some people can’t even eat, so if we let them bring children, it will be even more difficult.”
Santi said that sending the child to the orphanage is the last resort.
“When the extended family cannot do it, the next option is foster care, guardianship or adoption,” she said.
“When a child has no relatives and nowhere to go, we have more problems.”
“I thought she was sleeping”
10-year-old Aisyah is one of the foster children in Tangerang, a suburb of the Indonesian capital.
Six months ago, Aisyah’s mother died of COVID-19. Her last memory of her mother is her hallucinations and breathing difficulties.
“After a while, she stopped moving. I thought she was sleeping. When I tried to wake her, she didn’t get up,” Aisha said.
“At that time, I didn’t know that my mother was dead.”
Her father died before she was born. After the death of her mother, she moved to a family of social workers.
So far, none of Aisyah’s relatives have visited or contacted their family members.
“I’m very happy to have Aisha here. I love her and I don’t distinguish her from my children. Thank God, she accepted us and she loves us,” Aisyah’s adoptive mother Rinamelda said.
“I hope Aisha will stay and realize her dream.”
With the help of the foster family, Aisha began to return to normal life.
She likes to play with other children in the area and listen to music from the Korean pop band Blackpink.
“When I was in COVID isolation, yes, my studies were disrupted. But once I came here, I started going to school again,” Aisha said.
Now, she hopes to have a future where she can respect her mother’s life.
“I have my dream and I want to realize it so that my mother will be satisfied with me. I want to be a doctor.”