The first homeless boy I
ever really knew
12 years old as of August 2003
I just found these notes. It hurts me to read them and think about how smart this boy was and how people are probably just abusing him and ... well, I don't even want to think about what has happened to him. But please read this carefully. It says a lot about a young boy who was very smart and living on the street. And it says a lot about a teaching style that seems to work very well with smart people like Budi.
May 5, 2005
Budi is 12. He lives in Gambir train station in Jakarta, Indonesia. He says he has no mother and no father. I met him when he came around to shine shoes. I didn't really care if my shoes were shined or not, but since he was so young I said okay. After we met I saw him around a lot and we became friends. I started teaching him English and how to use my laptop computer. Here are some notes. They are from a night we worked together after I had known him for about two weeks.
He was alone. I asked him about his friend Iman. He said Iman was not here tonight. (Iman was another homless boy)
I felt relieved he didn't have three or four of his friends because they were a bit much for me to handle by myself.
I bought him an ice cream cone.
I used my fingers to suggest that we do some work on the computer. He didn't look very interested. He made a disapproving face and shook his head just a little.
I was afraid he wouldn't want to do any
work, but I motioned for him to follow me.
I led him to the restaurant where I had been feeding him and his friend so we could sit down at a table we could work on the computer.
I was a little afraid he would not follow me, but he did.
Along the way I watched what he would do with the wrapper to the ice cream cone. first he licked it, then he dropped it on the ground.
This time I said "hey" and he quickly understood and turned to pick it up, but I got there first and picked it up myself. Then we kept walking and I was looking for a waste basket. I didn't find one before we got to the restaurant.
When we got there I looked at him and held
up the wrapper, questioning what to do with it. He quickly
understood. He took it from me and went around behind a counter
and dropped it in a bucket of trash. I wondered how he knew it
was there because it wasn't visible until you walked around the
counter. So he must have used it before or seen someone else
We sat down and I got out the computer and the conversation book. I started reading the numbers in English. He joined me then I let him go by himself.
When he got to ten I smiled and shook his hand. Then we went from 11 to twenty. I had him read the numbers along with me. They were spelled out, for exampe, seventeen.
He read them and I also said them to help
him hear how they sounded.
I looked at the conversation book and typed in the following, copying from the book:
one = satu
two = dua
Then I motioned for him to type, he willingly took the computer and started looking at the book and then typing.
Soon a woman came to talk to me. I felt a little preyed upon by her. She was asking me questions like the typical "Where do you come from" but also, "Are you alone...., single...? etc." I wasn't at all attracted to her and felt uncomfortable with her from the start.
Then she started trying to correct Budi. She would say "No..." and try to show him that he made a mistake. Twice I put my finger over my mouth and said "Shh." She understood and said "Sorry." I explained to him that he was very smart, very clever and that he can figure things out for himself.
If he makes a mistake I just use my facial expression to show that there is a problem. I don't shake my head "no" and I don't say "no". Instead I twist my mouth or scratch my chin, more like a sign of feeling puzzled, seeing something strange, unusual so it will draw his attention to it.
Then if he doesn't see the mistake I point
to the word in the book. He will look at it, then look at the
screen, then back to the book till he sees his mistake. Then he
The first time he made a mistake he quickly found the backspace key. I was impressed because it had been over a week since he had used the computer. This was another indication to me of how intelligent he is and what a good memory he has.
He also seemed to remember where some of
the letters were because he didn't seem to take long to find them
as he was typing.
And he remembered how to use the space bar with me just reminding him once. Or by watching me use it once or twice. And he found the = sign after a few tries. He is very persistent.
But then she started asking him interrogating questions in Indonesian. I couldn't understand them all but it sounded like she was saying: Where do you come from? Where are your parents? Do you go to school? What? You don't go to school!? Why not?! School is important...
I wanted her to be quiet and stop interrogating him, but I didn't stop her directly. Instead I asked her what she was asking him and she told me that his mother lives in Bekasi, which is a town about one hour from here by train. Then one of her male friends came, who was smoking. And someone she said was her sister also came.
They were all staring at Budi typing and talking about him. Sometimes asking him questions.
He kept concentrating on his typing though. It was amazing to me to see his level of concentration.
I didn't know how long he would type before
he got tired of it. He surprised me with his attention span.
I also noticed that he did not look to me for approval or admiration. I thought he might want to stop and show me what he had typed so I would congratulate him, but instead he kept typing without looking at me at all.
Then I started talking to a black man who turned out to be living in Philadelphia and working with what he called troubled boys.
We talked about how patient Budi was. The man from Philly told me that some of the boys he works with get frustrated very easily and start swearing.
That helped me realize how special Budi was in comparison. I already knew he was special, but this was just more evidence for me.
He kept working even when I moved to the other end of the table to talk to the man from Philly. Then I saw that Budi had stopped working and started looking around.
So I said to the man, excuse me but I want to check on him.
When I looked at the screen I saw that he
had somehow erased nearly everything. I tried to get it back but
was afraid it was lost.
I looked at him with a surprised look on my face and he returned a puzzled look saying "I don't know what happened." But he didn't seem upset about it and he hadn't shown any noticible frustration.
He didn't make any loud exclamations when he saw that he had lost his work. Nor did he ask for help. Budi doesn't feel helpless. That is one thing for sure.
I suspect that he was pretty satisfied with what he had typed, just for having typed it and seen it once on the screen.
I don't think he cared if the file was saved or not. He might have even been experimenting with keys once he got to the end of the page in the book.
I think this was his goal. I let him set his own goal. I would have thanked him for even typing two words. But he typed from three to twenty, or more, but twenty was all I could see when I finally recovered some of the file.
I was afraid I was too late to recover any, actually. I was feeling a little unhappy with myself for neglecting him for so long and not checking to see how he was doing while I was talking to the other man.
The software automatically makes back ups every so often. Maybe every five or ten minutes. I am not sure. But what I was afraid was that it would make a back up of the file that had been erased on top of the last good file. If I had waited longer this is what would have happened.
But I was able to save the numbers up to
twenty. I showed him and he smiled, but he didn't care too much.
Not as much as I did.
For me this was something very important. It was part of my "research" if you want to call it that.
I don't want to think of him as just a case study, but he is proving to me that at least some of my ideas about children and education are correct, or at least very close to correct.
Before we sat down I offered him more to eat, but he declined. Then later I got myself another juice drink and he smiled. I offered him some and he declined. He notices things and has an emotional reaction to nearly everything, as shown by his facial expressions.
I am starting to believe that this kind of
quick emotional reaction, show in the face, is a sign of
emotional intelligence in children. I really noticed this at the
school in Malaysia with the girl who was so attentive and
When we were leaving, a friend of his came up and motioned that he was hungry. I tried to say that I was going back to my hotel and I was finished for the night, but Budi wanted me to get some food for "his friend". So I asked if it would be okay if I got him something like peanuts and bread rolls because I didn't want to get a whole dinner, both because of the cost and because of the time it would take.
He agreed but wanted to get two of
everything. Two cups of water, two bags of peanuts and two rolls.
I didn't want to say no, I will only get you one of each, so I
said okay. It cost a little less than a full dinner and was much
simpler so I was okay with it. Then I said "Okay goodnight I
am going to sleep. They said goodbye and thanked me. We all felt
good, unlike the last night when I had been afraid of them
getting too depedent on me and always expectimg me to feed them,
so I had only got three dinners for four people and asked them to
share, which didn't work very well when the left out the girl
completely! So later I got her her own dinner and indicated my
unhappiness to the boys.
Then I stopped by another restaurant to talk to someone I knew. While I was talking Budi came up and was looking for customers who might want their shoes shined. I smiled at him and he smiled back, but when he saw that there were no prospects he went on his way.
About a half hour later he checked again. When he saw a prospect he came in and asked the man if he wanted his shoes shined. The man said no and Budi went on his way. He doesn't get discouraged easily. I think even Daniel Goleman would say this boy is emotionally intelligent. At least as long as he didn't see him in a classroom where Budi would be like a fish out of water.
Budi is used to his freedom now and he has told me that he doesn't want to be in school. I told him I didn't like school either, but I am not sure if my translator that night told him this or not. Still I think Budi can tell that I either don't like school or don't think it is important. I don't interrogate him about it. I don't lecture him about it like the person who said "Do you want to walk around like this all your life?" That was such a destructive thing to say.
She was helping him feel ashamed of himself; inferior to others who have shoes or clean clothes. I think Budi feels accepted by me, liked by me, cared about by me, understood by me. Though we don't speak the same language, we have connected. When he smiles, I can't help but smile. His smile is so adorable. And I think it is still sincere. I am afraid he will learn to be manipulative and could become a "con artist" if no one serves as a role model and guide in his life. Right now he seems to be the leader of this seemingly loose band of friends.
Someone told me that boys like this are organized by an adult who takes the money. I don't know if this is the case or not. I would like to spend 24 hours with him or close to it, or have someone spend time with him in shifts or something.
If I stay in Jakarta I will ask for
volunteers to do something like this.
To spend time with Budi and his friends. Interview him.
To help me with English/Indonesian.
To help with teens over the Internet.
To help students start businesses.
To translate some of my writing.
To teach parents/teachers.
To interview me/help me write my stories.- Journalism student volunteers.
To let me use their Internet.
To help me write about teen suicide/selfharm, depression.
Interview fire "victims"
Bring or loan digital camera, video cam.
Take laptop computers out at night for people like Budi.
Help Iman with soccer camp.
Help families rebuild homes.
Speak at schools.
Donate Internet time.
Laptops for posco's. (community centers)