A New Dormitory

September 20 2020 | by

BEING a kid growing up in Bandar Baru isn’t easy. This village, in North Sumatra, Indonesia, is a designated lokalisasi – a government licensed red-light district. Although there are several cafes, many of them act as fronts to the prostitution business and the waitstaff are available to be taken away to nearby or attached hotels. Sex trafficking, particularly of underage girls, is a significant problem.

“Drugs, alcohol, and gambling are rife in addition to prostitution,” says Fr. Robert Z.P. Sihotang OFM Conv., “although both local and central governments are strongly against these vices, a solution to the problems is difficult to find. Young people are, unfortunately, not mentally prepared, and are ‘fragile’ – in fact, many have become victims.” After school, many children go home to a less than ideal environment. “They are not protected from these dangers,” continues Fr. Robert, “often their parents are not at home because they are at work, or because they themselves are part of the problem.”


Grant of €227,000


For these reasons, the Deli Murni Catholic School wanted to help female students by instigating preventative measures – namely the building of a dormitory for the female students, “where they can live in a healthy educational environment, and where they can be helped in a holistic way to achieve a mental maturity capable of dealing with the risks of addiction in an adult manner.” A dormitory for the male students already existed for that purpose.

“This socio-educational project is a further step on the way to giving attention to the poorest of the poor,” says Fr. Robert, “in particular, to new generations, and takes into account the need for prevention of problems of young people – especially girls. The construction of the new dormitory will enable them to live in the presence of their educators. They will grow as people – today in school life, and tomorrow in society – such that they are able to take responsibility and live dignified lives, growing both from an intellectual and human point of view.”

The plan was to build the dormitory over five months in order for it to be available for the start of the new school year. It would provide lodgings for and benefit to 200 female middle and high school students. Permits had already been obtained, together with some local funding, and construction was ready to begin. The cost of the project would be close to €300,000, a local contribution of around €700,000 had been secured, and a grant of €227,000 was requested from St Anthony’s Charities. This was approved in March 2019.


The first step


Work on the St. Antonius Padua, Bandar Baru, dormitory building started at the end of March 2019 on receipt of the first funds. The first step was to carry out a survey of the land to determine the depth required for the foundations. “The results showed that for our two-storey building a depth of 2.5 metres was more than adequate,” explains Fr. Robert. “After determining the depth required, the next stages were to drain some of the land and level it using heavy machinery.” A construction shack was also built to provide storage for building equipment, but also resting places for the workers. Excavation of the foundations themselves then took a further ten days. Laying of the foundation stone was carried out by Fr. Maximilianus Sembiring, OFM Conv., Provincial Custodian, accompanied by brothers from various communities. Teachers and other employees from the middle and high school were also in attendance, together with representatives of the local government, such as the head of the village, district head, and the commander of the local military. During April and May of 2019, the college began to take shape, as a framework was put in place using iron poles and beams.

From the end of May until the middle of July, work began on constructing the second floor, culminating in the construction of the roof of the building and guttering. Towards the end of July, bathroom and sanitary fittings began to be installed and were completed by the middle of October. At the same time, the electrical and plumbing works were also completed. Other works included tiling for classrooms, installation of a septic tank, painting of the exterior of the building, installation of doors and windows, and construction of the road to the new building.


The female dormitory


The construction of the female dormitory St. Antonius Padua started on 27th March 2019 and finished on 29th November 2019. In the end it took eight months to build instead of the five envisaged. The completed building has five dormitories, each with the capacity to sleep 40 girls. Each dormitory has its own bathroom facilities. On the first floor, there is a chapel and two of the dormitories, a refectory, public toilets, laundry room, kitchen, pantry, and two rooms for the cooks. The second floor has the remaining three dormitories, showers and toilets, a study room, and an ironing room.

On 1 December 2019 the building was inaugurated by Fr. Carlos Trovarelli, Minister General of the Friars Minor Conventual. In attendance were representatives of the Indonesian friars, the faithful of the Bandar Baru parish, parents of the children of the dormitory, and all the students of the Deli Murni Bandar Baru School. On 5th January 2020, after finishing their vacation, the first students of the St. Antonius Padua Dormitory were able to move in to their new building. And, on 11th January 2020 they were able to celebrate the New Year with all the teachers of the school. The girls were very happy with their new dormitories and study facilities. “We offer you abundant thanks. May God bless us all,” said Fr. Robert.


Covid-19 setback


Unfortunately, shortly after the girls had taken residence, the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold in Indonesia. All schools were subsequently closed by order of the government, and students in the school dormitories were sent back to their hometowns. They have been receiving online tuition since then. All activities outside of home have been stopped. All churches and other places of worship have been closed. The community is supporting the government by complying with the requests it makes. “We ask for God’s blessing so that we are always healthy and that this global problem can be solved soon,” concludes Fr. Robert. “Through prayer and our efforts, may God grant our prayers and requests.”

At the time of writing, although the 2020/21 school year was due to start on 13th July, the Indonesian government did not plan to reopen schools until December 2020 at the earliest. Until then, students will continue to study at home to remain safe from the pandemic.

Updated on September 20 2020