Medan and BBJ


The Boys Home
About Medan


The Medan band (BBJ) is a brass band based on a Boys Home run by the Salvation Army in Medan (North Sumatra, Indonesia). I founded this band back in 1987. Currently (August 2012), there are about 24 active members. The band consists of a mixture of current and former boys home members, with ages ranging from 12 to about 33. There is also a 17-member junior band and a beginners band about the same size. 
I work in Singapore as a journalist with the Straits Times newspaper. I visit Medan at my own expense about four times a year. Each time, I stay about three days, giving the band intensive training. Sometimes well-wishers in Singapore and Australia also donate money for uniforms and second-had instruments.

The Boys Home

Here is a picture of the front of the Salvation Army Boys Home facing the street. It is located at the end of a small lorong (lane) in the Glugor district of Medan:


As you can see, the Panti Asuhan Putra William Booth (William Booth Home for Boys) is an unimposing building. Inside, it has none of the creature comforts we take for granted in the West, or even in neighbouring Singapore (the part I hate most is having to take a shower by throwing a bucket of cold water over my head!).  By Indonesian standards, though, the building is adequate. Life may be  hard for the boys, but  the Home has dedicated staff, and over the years I have found it to be a friendly place where friendships forged among the boys last well into adult life.

 Unemployment is a problem. 
A more serious problem is the lack of employment opportunities in Medan for the boys once they turn 18 - the age at which they have to leave the Home. Unemployment is a problem all over Indonesia, of course, but these boys find it especially difficult because they have few of the family and organisational "connections" that many other Indonesians use to get a job. Yet I know they are intelligent, honest and hardworking (I have seen this myself when training band members). If any Indonesian businessman or government official happens to visit this page of my website, I have an important message for them: Tolong berikanlah pekerjaan kepada anak-anak Panti Asuhan William Booth. Mereka semua jujur dan tidak malas. Saya menjaminnya!

 About Medan

Medan, a city of about 2.5 million people, is the capital of the Indonesian province of North Sumatra. The city does not get good write-ups in most tourist guide books, probably because until very recently it lacked good accommodation for tourists. It also lacked the nightlife and glitzy skyscrapers of other cities, including Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. Being situated not far from the equator, Medan has a hot and sticky tropical climate.The tourists who do arrive in Medan rarely miss the chance to visit the beautiful Lake Toba, an ancient volcanic lake about three hours drive from the city. The people of North Sumatra are justifiably proud of this lake, which is truly a sight to behold. It is 100 km long and 30 km wide with enormous cliffs and an island right smack in the middle. The gigantic volcanic eruption that resulted in the formation of the lake is believed to have taken place about 75,000 years ago.

 Medan is known for its large number of churches 
The first inhabitants of Medan came from the Batak Karo community, and even today the descendents of the various Batak tribes still dominate the city, as they do the area around Lake Toba. Most Bataks are Christians, and the city is known for the large number of churches - an unusual sight in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. However, there are also a number of imposing mosques, including the so-called Great Mosque.  About half of the boys in the Medan Boys Home (and therefore about half of the band members) are Bataks. Most of the others come from Nias, an island off the west coast of North Sumatra.

Medan did not enjoy much development until the 1860s, when Dutch colonialists began clearing land in the area for tobacco plantations. Many buildings in the city still retain their Dutch flavour, including the old City Hall and the Post Office. The main seaport is Belawan, about 20 km to the north, while the modest international airport is located close to the centre of the city.

Today, Medan is the marketing and distribution centre for an extensive agricultural area containing great tobacco, rubber, and palm oil estates. Coffee and tea are also grown in the vicinity. Industries include the production of machinery and tiles, as well as automobile assembly. The various ethnic and religious groups have long lived in harmony. However, in 1994, the city was the scene of labour riots that were rooted in long-standing tensions between ethnic Chinese business owners and indigenous workers. Even this did not stop band practice. But that is another story!

To see lots of pictures of band members and life in the Medan Boys Home, go to the BBJ Photo Album.