Gregorius Hadiyanto Nitihardjo is a happy, loving and dedicated father of 1,101 children.
One is his biological daughter, Clarissa Nitihardjo, who just recently graduated from high school. The remaining 1,100 are scattered in eight cities in Indonesia, where they live in a housing complex run by SOS Children’s Village Indonesia (SCVI), a local subsidiary of an international organization that aims at assisting orphans and abandoned children.
The man has dedicated more than 20 years of his life to those children.
But 1,000 kids doesn’t seem like enough for Hadi, as the man is usually referred to. The 48-year-old expects he can still add some more.
The organization’s target is to take care of 32,000 children by the year 2020, and SCVI is almost halfway there, having nurtured more than 10,000 since 1972.
The fact that Indonesia is currently the home of 4.5 million abandoned kids may lead to even bigger numbers in the future, for the man acknowledges the figure is “huge homework” for him.
This obsession to “have” as many children as possible has arisen not because of his capacity as the national director of SCVI since 1997, but from something personal, Hadi revealed in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.
During the meeting that took place in SCVI’s spacious housing complex in Cibubur, East Jakarta, Hadi referred to his delightful childhood as the main foundation for all his good deeds.
The third child in a family of four from a Javanese army father and a Swiss mother reminisced how he enjoyed his childhood in a military housing complex in Bandung, West Java, remembering the place as a child-friendly environment.
Such a memorable experience inspired Hadi to create a similar atmosphere for unfortunate children who might not have the same privilege as him.
“I feel like I owe this country because I was raised in a child-friendly environment, while millions of other children are not as fortunate as I am. I think this is my chance to give back to my children,” he said.
This statement, according to the man, is the result of self contemplation for years. The astronomy graduate of the Bandung Institute of Technology said he was once a true rationalist, who extolled logic and science and cared less about social works.
“I always believed once you conquered mathematics you could be the best in the world,” said Hadi, who since he was little had an interest in tough subjects like math and physics.
In the end, it was love that changed his mind.
Hadi was on his way to building a career as a scientist, working as a research assistant in Boscha Observatorium in Lembang, Bandung, in the late 1980s when a rendezvous with his future wife, Indra Prawoto, the daughter of the late Agus Prawoto — the man who brought SOS Children’s Village operations to Indonesia — introduced him to another different world.
Hadi shyly admitted that what brought him first to SCVI was his crush, encouraging him to apply as a part-timer to the organization, who built its first complex next to Hadi’s office in Lembang.
Unexpectedly, his further engagement with Prawoto’s family and the foundation opened his eyes to other important aspects in life that were not necessarily related to science. In the end, after a couple of life-altering discussions with Agus, Hadi determined to ditch his career as a scientist to dedicate his life to children.
“He was amazing. He could motivate and encourage people incredibly and I changed my childhood goal because of him,” he said of Agus.
The chance to work with his conscience was another reason Hadi cited as his motive to join the organization.
Hadi might have abandoned his childhood dream of becoming a scientist, but the man still maintains several values that he clung to when he was young in his work at SCVI.
One of them is transmitting the spirit of curiosity and building a child-friendly environment for kids. Looking at all the facilities at the SCVI complex, people will understand how Hadi, through the organization, tries to create supporting surroundings for children.
Fifteen houses complete with devoted foster mothers in each are provided by SCVI in Cibubur to take care of almost 150 children 24 hours a day.
Additional facilities like a soccer field, a creativity room and computer rooms are also provided in the complex. Similar services and assistance can also be found in SCVI sites in seven other cities in Indonesia
Social experts have lauded the organization for its achievement in creating great individuals, recognizing the approach as the best parenting system for orphans.
Hadi’s close relations with the children can be seen from the way he treats the kids. The man fosters more than 1,000 children under his care but he seems to be able to remember all their names by heart. During a photo session, he called over a few boys, who were playing soccer, to join the shoot.
As SCVI celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, Hadi hopes his children are able to continue his goal of making Indonesia great.
The man said he once made small progress to made Indonesians proud through his scientific research, which is still a reference in astronomy up until now. Now, he hopes his children will make bigger steps to allow the country to garner respect in the international world.
With more than 1,000 children, it seems that the man has a huge chance to have his dream for Indonesia materialize.
However, his current challenge is to involve all Indonesians in taking care of these abandoned children of the country.
Currently, more than 80 percent of SCVI’s operations depend on foreign donations, Hadi elaborated, adding he was expecting bigger support from domestic donors at a time when Europe is suffering under a financial crisis
“We have been helped by people who never come to Indonesia ... For years, why is it always Europeans who show major concern for Indonesian children? It’s time Indonesians also share the same concern,” he said.