Abdul Kholiq

Place of origin: Somoxo, Los Palos

‘I was born in 1985. I did not know my father. He was an Indonesian policeman from Atambua. In 1991 my mother died. Soon after that my aunt, my mother’s older sister, took me to Dili to send me to school at the Yakin institution. We didn’t have any money for my education, and Yakin was free.

At that time there were about 70 children living in the child care section of the institution. There I began elementary school. Soon after, the organizers of Yakin institution asked my aunt if they could send me to East Java to go to school.

Sent to East Java

In 1992 I left for East Java in a group of ten children. I was six years old and one of the youngest children in the group. The oldest was about 15 years of age. We were all in the elementary school. Before we left they shaved our heads – so we would be easy to identify if we got lost on the boat trip to Surabaya.

We were sent to the Baitulamin Institution, in Bareng in Jombang, East Java. Before the end of that year Yakin sent another 20 children from East Timor to my institution. So we were 30 East Timorese children altogether. Most of us had no contact with our parents or family in East Timor, only one or two children wrote letters. We also had no more contact with staff from Yakin who sent us there.

After some time problems occurred between the East Timorese children and the organizers of the institution. We did not pay fees like most of the other children who came from Java. They often teased us for the way we spoke Indonesian and taunted us because of our black skins and curly hair. This made us mad and we would get into fights. It seemed to us the organizers of the institution were always on the side of the children who paid fees. We were not as easy to manage as the Javanese children.

Running away and moving institutions

In 1993 Yakin sent another group of 30 children to the Tuna Netra Institution (Institution for the Blind) in Ngoro, also in Jombang, East Java. All except two of the children were in the elementary school. I used to visit them on my bike. Their situation was actually much worse than ours. They had to work hard to build their own accommodation. In 1994, five children who were about nine or ten years old, ran away. I knew them all. They didn’t take any clothes with them. I found out they had run away when the organizer of their institution came to our institution in search of them. In 1999 I met one of these children in Surabaya. He told me that they got separated when they were travelling on the bus. Later I heard news about them all but I don’t really know what happened to them.

In 1996 the organizer of our institution sent the youngest children, including me, to another institution run by Muhammadiyah in Jombang. Some of the other children left to find other places to live and go to school in Surabaya, Jakarta and Bandung.

We East Timorese kids still had the same sort of problems in this new institution, so after three years we were sent to another Muhammadiyiah institution in Rungkut, Surabaya, the capital city in East Java. This was just before the referendum in East Timor. In 2000 I completed elementary school. I got into trouble again with the organiser so decided to move out and find my own place. Several other children also left to go to other cities in Java because they heard that East Timorese students living there.

I lived in a telephone booth and was paid a bit to do the night watch. I also helped to clean the nearby junior high school which I started attending; I got reduced fees because I did cleaning. But after one year the telephone booth was closed and so I had no work and nowhere to stay. I had heard that there were East Timorese students in Bandung so I decided to go there.

I found the students in Bandung. There were many living together in three or four houses and they accepted whoever turned up and tried to help them. The older students helped me to start in my second year at high school. But they had problems with getting money so they could not continue to help me. I had to stop going to school and try to find a job. But I didn’t have any success.

Returning home

Eventually older students who were going back to East Timor helped me to go back home. We found our own travel costs to Kupang in West Timor, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, helped us with the last part of the journey. I arrived home just before East Timor became independent, in May 2002.’