On 8 August 1975 then President Suharto established Dharmais (Duty of Social Service). Foundation to provide for the orphaned and fatherless children, widows, victims and veterans of the East Timor integration campaign, known as the Seroja Campaign. It built the Seroja housing complex in Bekasi, East Jakarta, which included a child care institution called Panti Asuhan (Orphanage) Seroja. In April 1976, the military authorities in East Timor established a child care institution in Dili with the same name, Panti Asuhan Seroja, also to care for the children of East Timorese killed and wounded fighting for integration. It was also funded and supported by Suharto’s Dharmais Foundation.
Between 1976 and 1979 Dharmais Foundation organised sixty-one young East Timorese orphans and fatherless children to be sent to Java to be educated. Suharto singled out these children for special attention: the fathers of half the group were Apodeti and UDT leaders and supporters who were killed by Fretilin, some just before and some after the invasion. In early June 1976 Suharto met a delegation of East Timorese brought to Jakarta to request integration. In the group were widows of these Apodeti and UDT leaders. He promised them that Indonesia would care for and educate their children. He believed that bringing the children to be educated in Java, the sophisticated heart of Indonesia, was the best way to help development in East Timor. The rest of the group of children were orphans, selected from the districts of East Timor. Most came from the concentration camps where the people lived after capture or surrender. We could refer to them as ‘representative’ orphans: a group of children who represented the orphans of East Timor whom Suharto through his foundation wanted to help.
Dharmais Foundation chose three institutions in Java to receive the children from East Timor:
- PPATN, Panti Penyantunan Anak Taruna Negara, was run by the Social Welfare Department to care for wards of the state; located in Jl Raya Cibabat No. 331,Cimahi, Bandung, West Java. It is now closed.
- St. Thomas Asrama, in Ungaran, Semarang, Central Java is run by Javanese Catholic nuns from the congregation of Servants of Christ, ADSK, Abdi Dalem Sang Kristus. This is an indigenous Javanese Catholic order for women with about seventeen congregations throughout Indonesia. In 1977 Sr. Madelina was the head of the ADSK and Sr. Petrona ran the Santa Maria Foundation responsible for the St. Thomas Asrama. See the letters Dharmais Foundation sent to the institution [translations below]
- SOS Desa Taruna Kinderdorf, situated in Lembang, Bandung, West Java. It is a private institution with links to SOS International, headquartered in Austria.
The children were selected by military personnel and brought to the Seroja Institution in Dili, from where they were sent to Java in several groups. Brig. Gen. Dading Kalbuadi, the powerful military commander in East Timor, personally handed over the first group of five children to the PPATN institution in Bandung on 27 October 1976. The offers to the young children and their families by Dharmais Foundation were well-intended, and the children received good care and education in the institutions where they lived. However, the foundation failed on many fronts in its treatment of the children and their families: it did not help children maintain their links with home; several children taken from their families by the foundation disappeared and their whereabouts are still unknown; and it manipulated the real stories of some of the children to serve Indonesian propaganda purposes (especially those taken to meet Suharto at his home). Table with details of the transfers and some information about the children.
Date of arrival in Indonesia
Name of institution
Information about children, where known
|27 October 1976||PPATN, Bandung||
|All children from Conceição family, Tibar|
|30 December 1976||Kinderdorf, Bandung||
|3 Conceição children; 3 others|
|4 September 1977||St. Thomas, Semarang||
|19 ‘representative orphans’ and 1 Conceição|
|17 December 1977||Kinderdorf, Bandung||
|Children of Apodeti and UDT ‘martyrs;’ later they were joined by others, particularly siblings|
|20 November 1979||PPATN, Bandung||
See information about the Conceição children.The sixty-one children were all raised as Catholics, the majority religion in East Timor. The institutions in Indonesia, often with help from the Indonesian Catholic Church, paid for their education.
Many of the children were successful at school and returned to live and work in East Timor. Some found it difficult to readjust to life in East Timor while others stayed in Indonesia to marry and/or to work: four of the twenty from St Thomas, six of the fifteen at PPATN and one of the twenty-six at Kinderdorf stayed on in Indonesia.
Translation of letters from the head administrator of Dharmais Foundation to St Thomas institution:
Dated 25 August 1977
Based on the telephone communication from Dharmais Foundation in Jakarta on 24 August 1977, about the plan to send 20 Seroja orphans (children whose fathers were killed fighting in the Seroja campaign in support of integration) to be cared for outside the province of East Timor,
We are sending 20 children, consisting of 16 boys and 4 girls, as well as two to accompany them as stated in the enclosed list.
We offer you our unbounded thanks for receiving these 20 orphans from East Timor. It relieves us of a heavy social burden which we currently face. We extend our gratitude for your attention and assistance which will benefit the Development of East Timor.
Letter from the head administrator of Dharmais Foundation to St Thomas institution, 4 Sept 1977
Dated 4 September 1977
Dharmais hands over 20 children, 16 boys and 4 girls, from East Timor to St Thomas. There names are in an accompanying list. St Thomas will care for them and educate them.
The cost of food, clothes and education will be the responsibility of Dharmais Foundation.
It is signed by R.F. Soedardi for Dharmais Foundation and Sister M. Petrona on behalf of St Thomas, and was witnessed by the Bupati of Semarang, Iswarto, and the head of the Social Welfare Department in Semarang, Kardoyo Karjosoemarto.
It is signed by the Governor of East Timor, Jose Arnando dos Reis Araujo with copies to:
The Indonesian Minister for Internal Affairs and the Minister for Social Welfare, and in East Timor: the Head of the Regional Military Command, the District Coordinator, the Commander of the Regional Defence and Security Command, and the head of the Social Welfare Department.