Graduate Students Sponsor Indonesian

33 Foster Parents, One Child

Underprivileged Indonesian children need all the love they can get, say the leaflets. But are 33 foster parents for one child too much of a good thing?

Thirty-three Harvard graduate students living in Conant Hall don't think so. Since last November they have been sponsoring six-year-old Wakidi Frisnoumoto through Foster Parents Plan, a Rhode Island-based agency.

"It's not a big thing--just a little something that helps out," Louise Ryan, a graduate student in statistics who pulled together the original group of foster parents last year, said. "A lot of people were fired up then" because of the war and famine in Cambodia, she explained, adding, "I guess we could just have sent money, but this way you get some feedback and a continuing interest."

Wakidi's family according to literature sent by the agency and tacked on the dorm's bulletin board earns about $12.80 a month by growing and selling spinach and other produce; the family's monthly expenses come to $14.41. Each parent in the Conant Hall group contributes $7 a year towards the difference.

Since the group began sponsoring Wakidi, the agency has started him at school and helped the family with "all the things that make living possible," Frank J. Lhota, a graduate student in math, said.


Lhota, who is coordinating the project this year, writes Wakidi on behalf of the group every two months; more frequent letters would cause administrative problems, the agency says. Wakidi has written several times. The six-year-old dictates to an uncle who can write, and local workers translate correspondence.

Wakidi writes about his school and siblings and says he wants to become a schoolteacher, Lhota said, adding that he tries to tell Wakidi something about the students fostering him.

Participants agree fostering Wakidi has helped create a family feeling in Conant. Last year Lhota bought cards saying "Congratulations--it's a boy!" and sent them to each foster parent. Developing community spirit tends to be harder in graduate dorms than in undergraduate because people spend less time in their rooms, he said.

The Conant Hall group is not unique Gerry Kass, a representative of Foster Parents Plan, said. Many college-age groups -- particularly fraternities and sororities -- sponsor children, often until the child turns eighteen.

Kass said 75 per cent of the money foster parents send goes directly to helping the child and his family; the rest is used for administrative costs within the agency.