Home with the Tattoos and Drugs

Bandung, Indonesia

Picture this scenario. An area where the word HIV still brings shudders to people’s bodies and forces many away. A community where many still judge those who fall under the influence of drugs. A place where there is little help for those who want to recover. Hospitals where physicians do not treat HIV+ patients right; where they are still discriminated against, especially in the medical community.

And tucked away in a building behind some steaming food carts is Rumah Cemara (RC). RC is a CBO that works with recovering injecting drug users (IDUs). RC provides a treatment center with different sessions: group discussions, spiritual counseling, sport programs, wellness program, etc. All these sessions are designed to push IDUs away from their addictions and towards the path of recovery. Every client has a different treatment plan designed to what he or she needs, and they stay at the treatment center for 6 months on average. RC also offers a way for clients to access medication treatment such as Methadone at the local hospitals. They integrate the community with the HIV+ population by providing different fitness classes and competing in soccer (football). Football, especially their participation in the Homeless World Cup, has brought a great amount of spotlight on the organization. RC aims to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that looms over IDUs and HIV+ people in the local community.

Even with this brief explanation I gave, I cannot fully explain their cause with justice. This is only what I’ve learned by spending a week with them, and they are more than just their amazing work. RC is made of a brotherhood of the most amazing group of people I have ever met. The guys are covered in tattoos and they are loud and extremely energetic. They are empowering individuals, but they are also just down-to-earth, goofy humans with the most golden hearts.

At a local hospital
At a local hospital

My team and I spent most of the first week lingering around the office speaking with different staff workers and meeting clients who had finished the treatment program. The office is filled with desks piled with paperwork, shelves cluttered with awards and future plans, couches and chairs in every corner, and a sense of companionship in the air. We’ve been here for only a week but they’ve welcomed us like family.

On one of the days, we found ourselves in a room tucked in the couches and chairs with one of the founders of RC, Ginan, sitting across from us. The room was slightly hot and sticky. I tugged on my loose long-sleeved shirt, but I paid little attention to the sweat. My eyes were fixated on the computer screen as I watched a couple brief videos about RC. The first video gave a brief introduction about RC and the workers, but the second video brought a couple tears to my eyes that I hid discreetly from everyone else. The second video depicted Ginan, a man with a troubled past, walking between Bandung and Jakarta (two major cities) to fulfill a promise he made. The promise was that he would walk that distance if someone sponsored his team of HIV+ recovering/recovered IDUs to attend the Homeless World Cup to compete. In the video, he leans over crying as he hugs his foster child, and that scene just shattered something in me.

With Ginan and our translator, A*, in the Rumah Cemara office
With Ginan and our translator, A*, in the Rumah Cemara office

After the videos, we sat there in contemplative silence as Ginan talked a little bit about his past. His stories barely scratched the surface of who he is, but it was enough for us to understand a fraction of him. The sweet indescribable smell of Indonesia mixed with the nearby fried foods lingered in the air. Ginan picked up his guitar and began to strum a tune. The music filled the space harmonizing with the content laughter and voices outside.

So thank you Rumah Cemara for welcoming us into your homes and your center with your warmth, your smiles, your stories, and your kindness. I hope in the next couple weeks we will be able to serve you well with the fullest of hearts.

My amazing team
My amazing team

I will be writing a series of blogs over the next few weeks and leaving many of the names anonymous[*] for privacy purposes. In no way do my words do the goals and the people of Rumah Cemara justice. So I invite you to watch these next two videos. They don’t tell the whole story but it will give you a picture into what this group of current and former drug addicts are like and the special work they do.

Start from Part 1


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