Activist Fears Shutting Red-Light District Will Help Spread HIV/AIDS

Published: September 15, 2013

Sudarsono, the head of the Klakah Rejo red-light district working group, never thought he would one day become a social worker — but he also never expected to be the driver of an odong-odong, a three-wheeled motorcycle modified as a tour bus.

 
Born in Tuban, East Java, more than 45 years ago, Sudarsono was raised in a poor, uneducated family and moved to Klakah Rejo, just west of Surabaya, when he was in junior high school.
 
At the time, Klakah Rejo was still semi-rural, and empty lots and fields dotted his neighborhood. But as neighboring Surabaya expanded, more people came, bringing a wave of sex workers into the once sleepy neighborhood, later nicknamed “Dolly.”
 
Sudarsono became a carpenter, but what led him to where he is today — in the beginning at least — was a simple case of economics.
 
I meet Sudarsono at his modest home, and in the scorching hot sun he walks slowly to his odong-odong. Wrench in hand, he lies down, crawling under his makeshift bus. The odong-odong’s axle, he says, needs fixing.
 
“When I drove it this morning it felt like the nuts and bolts were loose. The wheels swayed a little bit. I will try and fix it myself,” he says, wiping his forehead with a hand smeared in grease.
 
Sudarsono operates the colorfully decorated cart in the morning from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., driving again in the afternoon from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. His customers are mostly mothers and children looking for a cheap way to tour the neighborhood, attracted to ride by the colorful cartoon characters on the sides of the vehicle and the speakers that blare out popular children’s songs.
 
But from time to time the odong-odong also receives passengers of a different kind. Klakah Rejo is infamous due to its red-light district, and one of Sudarsono’s main clientele is actually sex workers, whom he takes for health checks at the local puskesmas , or community health center, twice a week.
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