It all started with my friend Gina’s search for an orphanage to celebrate her daughter’s second birthday.
She was tipped by a friend to go to one in Gading Serpong, Tangerang, which houses about 40 children. The friend told her that unlike more established homes, this particular orphanage did not seem to get enough donations.
Gina googled the place, found that it was run by a pastor and his wife, and went to check it out for herself.
The house that she found looked completely run down. Its gate was open, a dirty diaper and other trash were scattered on the front porch by a swing, and dogs were barking in locked cages on the side.
Inside she met Caroline, Naomi, Filia, Kasia, Dela, and Icha – aged ranging from 3 months to 14 years old. They also met six boys under 5 years old and a 60-year-old woman who was apparently the only adult caretaker in the house. She had to feed, bathe and watch the children, as well as clean, wash and cook.
It was no surprise that the house was absolutely filthy. The children sleep and play on unsheeted mattresses stained with vomit and God knows what else, or on the equally dirty floor.
The woman told her that there were more girls who lived in the house but they were at school. There were also more than a dozen boys who lived in a new house. The pastor and his wife did not live in either home.
Having heard what Gina told us, five of us decided to visit the next week after browsing for more information on the orphanage. We suspected that its problem was not that it needed more donations, but that the owners were simply not using them for the children.
We contacted the owner, a Pentecostal pastor named Chemuel Watulingas. We told him we were coming with lunch, and asked how many children we had to provide for. Per his advise, we brought 40.
The moment we met, he greeted us with, “Are you the one who texted me and said you’d bring lunch? Where is it? I’m hungry.” Not a great start, but we moved on to find out more about the self-described man of God and his operation.
He told us he opened the orphanage 15 years ago. In the beginning it was difficult to find children, he said, but “by the grace of God people started coming and bringing their babies.”
One mother came with a dead baby. He prayed to Jesus Christ and the baby was alive, he continued. In recent years, a nearby hospital would call him anytime they had a woman giving birth to a baby she did not want.
We asked whether he would welcome families to adopt the children. He said no. “I haven’t got the calling to do that mission,” he said. “God is telling me to take care of these children for now.”
When pressed further to speak in less heavenly terms, he claimed that while his operation had been properly registered, to be an orphanage that gave children out for adoption he would need a special license that was very difficult to obtain.
Pastor Chemuel went on to boast that God’s blessings had allowed him to build two more homes for the children, own an apartment and a car, and travel to the United States. His main occupation, meanwhile, is running the orphanage.
We also saw visitors from church groups bringing in ready-to-eat and non-perishable food, toys and daily supplies. We started to believe the abundance of blessings that he received, but questioned why he had not hired more staff, for a start.
In between conversing, I took some time to play with 4-year-old Dela. She was a little Energizer Bunny who could not stop talking and laughing while jumping around and climbing things.
As she tried to climb a wall in the front yard, she fell and hit her head on a rocky pavement. Blood quickly ran down her face and shirt as she was wailing in pain. I asked for a first-aid kit but everyone said there was none at the house.
Chemuel did not go to Dela to have a look.
“Let her head bleed, she’s a tomboy and can’t stay still,” he said.
My friends and I went out to get some dressings, bandages and Betadine. I tried to clean Dela’s wounds and found that she had a 3 to 4 cm gash on her head, so we told Chemuel that she needed stitches.
He responded seemingly half-jokingly, “Just stitch her with a guitar string.”
So we took Dela to the nearest clinic, where Dela received five stitches. The doctor who cared for her pointed to an old scar on Dela’s head and told me it was a similar wound that was never treated.
Less than two weeks later, 3-month-old baby Caroline died. A teenager in the house told us he saw Chemuel bit her, and never called a doctor when she had a high fever the night before or after she died in the morning. She was just promptly buried. Chemuel claimed she fell ill.
No one will ever know exactly how Caroline died. But if she has gone to heaven Pastor Chemuel’s life has since been turning into hell.
The National Commission for Children Protection, acting on a tip from concerned citizens, went to visit the orphanage with the police last month. Seeing the poor condition, the Commission decided to evacuate the children. One by one the children went on the news telling how for years they had been deprived of proper food and nutrition, physically abused, and sexually assaulted.
Since then the social affairs ministry has called for the Samuel Orphanage to close, while Chemuel Watulingas has been detained and named suspect for child neglect, abuse, and molestation.
We wish we had acted sooner to save Caroline. We hope that justice will be served, and no one else can sell God’s name to satisfy their greed and perversion, especially at the expense of children.
About Alice B
Alice is a news junkie and does what she loves. When she's not watching TV or browsing the Internet, she tries to burn at least 600 calories a day from running, cycling or swimming. Most of the time she fails.