Yayasan Mari Cintai Kanak-Kanak, formerly known as Mary’s Cancer Kiddies, supports young cancer patients in Indonesia and is currently working on setting up the first PICU (Paediatrics Intensive Care Unit) for Children with Cancer at Dharmais Hospital.
It all began in 2003, when Mary Binks, an Australian journalist living in Jakarta at the time, set up a fund that helped children in Indonesia suffering from cancer. She met Dr. Edi Setiawan Tehuteru, a pediatrician at the Dharmais Cancer Hospital, and the two of them began working together.
Mary began to tell her expatriate friends about the children she had met in the hospital and their plights. One of these friends was fellow Australian Julie van Laarhoven.
“In those days, there was little support for children with cancer,” Julie recalled. “For many Indonesians, cancer was equal to death, because they didn’t have enough money to go to the hospital for treatment. Chemotherapy is a long process and can be very expensive.”
Mary’s friends then started to raise money to support her cause. When Mary eventually left Indonesia with her husband, Julie and her friends felt very strongly that they needed to continue the invaluable work that Mary had been doing and established Mary’s Cancer Kiddies.
“We recently changed our name to Yayasan Mari Cintai Kanak-Kanak (YMCKK), which translates as Let’s Love the Children and really captures the spirit of what we do,” Julie explained.
Working closely with two leading children’s cancer hospitals in Jakarta, Dharmais and Cipto, YMCKK provides financial support for the treatment of young cancer patients and premature babies. They also cover the treatment costs for children with illnesses such as tetanus, HIV, tuberculosis, acute diarrhea and malnutrition.
“We usually leave it to the doctors to lead us to the patients who need help the most,” Julie said. “We also have a volunteer who is based at Dharmais and talks to the patients and their parents, to gauge their situation and how best we can help.”
Even though Indonesia introduced universal healthcare in 2014, there are still many ways for YMCKK to help and contribute. When it comes to cancer, not all the costs are covered by the insurance. YMCKK is also helping to obtain certain medication that is not available in Indonesia and financing medical equipment.
Currently, YMCKK is raising funds to set up the first PICU (Paediatrics Intensive Care Unit) for Children with Cancer at Dharmais Hospital.
“At the moment, both children and adults are put together in the ICU,” Julie explained. “That can be quite distressing for both sides. If the child had to undergo surgery and then shares a ward with adults in critical conditions, it can be quite a traumatic experience for them. It is also hard on the adults because the children cry a lot when they are in the ICU.”
According to Julie, YMCKK is looking ahead and aims to give the best possible treatment and facilities for the children, and therefore they decided to come on board the hospital’s PICU project.
Last year, a couple of BJS students ran a campaign to raise funds for the PICU initiative by shaving their hair. They have another “Hair For You” event coming up, and have encouraged JIS students to also organise a “Hair for You” event as well.Inspired by their spirit and courage, Christopher Brit, whose own wife was suffering from cancer, decided to start his own fundraiser as well through a Half Ironman Triathlon.
More than just raising funds for the children, YMCKK also regularly visits the children at the hospital for emotional support.
“It’s not always about the money,” Julie said. “It’s about the interaction with the children and their parents, too. Most of the parents feel scared and hopeless about their child’s sickness, and we simply try to talk to them, help them and even pray with them. Some of the JIS and BSJ students accompany us from time to time and the children are able to get their minds off the disease through different activities, if only for a little while, and give them hope.”
Over the years, YMCKK has been supported by many different organizations and private donors, including the Werkgroep72, British Women’s Association, Wintermar, Jakarta Free Spirit, TutorTime, Australian New Zealand Association and Priscilla Hall Memorial Foundation to name only a few.
In 2010, Scott Thompson completed the Sahara Marathon in aid of YMCKK – he ran 250 kilometres in five days in the searing heat of the desert. Two years later, he ran from Bali to Jakarta, covering an astonishing 1250 kilometres in 25 days. In 2013, Scott rode a becak the length of Sumatra and now holds the Guiness World Record for the longest journey by cycle/rickshaw of 2,597kms- all, for the children.
“We are very grateful for the support we have received over the years, as it would be impossible to do this on our own,” Julie said.
While the work with YMCKK is incredibly rewarding, Julie acknowledged that it can be challenging at times - especially when one of the children dies.
“Sometimes, it brings me to tears, when you see them going through so much pain,” she said. “But this is where my Christian faith comes in. I believe that all children if they pass away, go to heaven and I will see them again. That is my comfort and gets me through the tougher times.”