Lisa Horowitz is a member of the SkillCorps team currently in Indonesia working with Hi5.

Jakarta is a city of dramatic contrasts.  This was perfectly captured for me in a billboard above the major city highway advertising a “5K Run for Leprosy.”  Leprosy is a curable disease that has been virtually eliminated as a global concern, but remains a problem in pockets of the world, Indonesia among them.  Lack of information and stigma are barriers to accessing treatment and consequently eradication.   On the other hand, “runs” for causes are a familiar western form of “doing good” in affluent communities of health conscious, civic minded individuals.

Our SkillCorps group was first introduced to Jakarta at the ultra-modern Soekarno-Hatta international airport.  We were driven by hotel van (yes, bright pink) at night to our hotel in East Jakarta and had a chance to observe a vibrant city of high rises and blinding lights.  Our hotel is attached to a shopping  “mall,” a collection of vendors of all types of necessities from clothing to electronics to massages.   At the ground level is a panoply of fast food restaurants, including many American chains.  Our group has enjoyed exploring the variations on well-known offerings, including the Dunkin Donuts local specialties of “Durian” and  “Black Lychee Orange.”  (Note:  Durian is a fruit found in Southeast Asia known for its unique and very pungent odor and distinctive and unique taste – imagine the aroma of athletic socks and the texture of mealy tofu— not a favorite of our group, although other local fruits including the rambutan and mangosteen got rave reviews.)

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Navigating Jakarta’s streets, which are crowded with motorcycles as well as cars, is a challenge.  To its credit, Jakarta has a mandatory helmet law, but it gives pause to see families of four crowded on a motorcycle with infants wedged between adults and young children crouched in front.  Drivers are polite – surprisingly little honking_– and traffic is remarkably orderly.  Nonetheless it moves very slowly at times and a taxi from the old city to our hotel one evening, a distance of 9 miles, took almost two hours.  Our taxi driver seemed to take this in stride.

Although downtown Jakarta rivals many cities in its displays of deluxe shopping malls and modern office buildings, poverty and decay are also hard to avoid.  The old city of Jakarta, which houses much of the city’s rich history, is surprising for the level of deterioration and neglect.  Many of the city’s poor live in the narrow, crowded streets of the old town and the waterfront.

In such a city, it is not surprising that autism treatment is something of a muddle.   Although awareness of the disorder is rising, the options for evidence-based treatment are limited.  Parents are presented with an array of confusing and unsupported therapies and children are often treated with interventions such as diets and acupuncture.  In desperation they may engage in more drastic measures; a news report described the case of one rural family forced to keep their child on a leash due to his aggression because services were unavailable.

We are thrilled to be working with Shinta Barasa and her colleagues at the newly formed Hi-5 Center to educate and train staff as well as parents them on best practices.   Hi-5 is eager to learn and become a model of excellence in providing services for Indonesians, a worthy and essential mission.

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