Mother of 3 seeks out formal education to improve life

Mother of 3 seeks out formal education to improve life
Treasured dream: Utin shows sketches of her clothing designs while talking about her dream of opening a boutique during an interview at her house in West Jakarta recently. Utin received media attention after taking an elementary school equivalent national exam with her three children in tow.

Everywhere she goes, Utin, 33, brings her three children along with her, including one that is still breast feed. Even, for instance, when she took the elementary school equivalent (Paket A) national examination last week.

On the last day of the exam, her extraordinary entourage attracted media attention and a picture of her working on the exam while breast feeding her one-year-old son, Naufal Zalfaa, was published on tribunnews.com. The picture also shows the older children, Aditya Arya, 10, and Neza Aulia, 4, sitting quietly next to her at state junior high school SMPN 45 in Cengkareng, West Jakarta.

"I took Paket A because I want to take the junior high school [Paket B] and senior high school [Paket C] equivalents. With that kind of background, I expect a higher income to ensure my children can get as high an education as they want and gather enough capital to open a boutique," she said.

She said she took her children to the exam because she did not have anyone to look after them at home.

Utin said she worked in two factories before her father-in-law died in 2008, after which she had to take care of Arya herself. Now, she earns a living through running a small kiosk from her house, selling snacks and household goods.

At times, she gets odd jobs such as massaging, sculpting soap into souvenirs and making finishing touches on garments. She also takes her children to work, including when she gives someone a massage.

Utin said she could not rely on her husband because he did not have a steady job.

Her dream to open a fashion boutique started when she took a sewing course 15 years ago. After completing the course, she began taking orders from neighbours, making various items, from kebaya (traditional blouse) to pyjamas. She stopped sewing after her machine was sold by her father-in-law's second wife, following a family saga that involved the selling of assets after the father-in-law passed away.

Accompanied by all her children, she enthusiastically showed The Jakarta Post a 3-centimeter thick book full of her treasured sewing patterns and fashion sketches while breast feeding Naufal. Utin said she made the patterns and sketches back when she was still sewing.

"I've loved drawing since I was a kid. Nowadays I see many designs out there that I had formerly drawn," she said.

The family lives in a 36-square-meter space that belonged to Utin's deceased father-in-law. The walls are only half-plastered and there is debris everywhere. She said the house underwent a renovation that was never finished. Her kitchen consisted of a rice cooker and a single burner.

"Though it's messy, my house is cool and at night we use nets to avoid mosquitoes. My oldest sleeps in the small bedroom and four of us sleep in the living room," she said.

Utin said the house in Menceng, Cengkareng, sometimes get flooded in the rainy season.

In fact, a meter high flood in 2008 was the disaster that forced her to take Paket A. She lost her elementary school certificate in the flood. She said she did not know that she could get a replacement for the certificate and instead decided to join a Paket A programme.

She learned about the school equivalent programme from her neighbour who introduced her to a privately run community learning centre (PKBM) Duta Bangsa in the area. She then enrolled herself in the programme for free because the institution told her that she could pay the fee of Rp 1 million (US$77) later after she got the certificate.

Utin, an orphan since she was 5, never entered junior high school. After her father died of tetanus and later her mother of breast cancer, Utin was taken care of by her older brother.

PKBM is an institution providing part-time study programs for those who did not finish elementary, junior high or senior high school.

Syamsinar, owner of Malacca PKBM in Jakarta, said some privately owned PKBM institutions may charge fees to students. Her own institution, for example, charges Rp 500,000 for a student to sit in a Paket A national exam.

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