SURABAYA, INDONESIA—They don't come much more dedicated than nine-year-old Sibu Sandakan. Unlike most boys his age, who would rather spend their free time skateboarding or hanging out at the mall, this generous youngster spends every chance he gets doing volunteer work.
Seven days a week, young Sibu helps out at the Nike athletic shoe factory in nearby Malang. Sewing tongues into the company's new Air Attack 4.0s for upwards of 15 hours a day, he receives almost no pay at all other than the satisfaction of helping others.
Ever since he was six, Sibu has dedicated himself to turning out the best athletic shoe he possibly can, getting just three cents an hour in return. A true rarity these days, this youngster doesn't mind putting in an honest day's work.
But doesn't the lack of money ever bother him at all? "I do not wish to lose my job," the modest Sibu said. "If I lose my job, my family may starve."
Though thousands of Surabayans pitch in at the massive, 12-acre shoe factory—including seven of Sibu's brothers and sisters—co-workers say Sibu stands head and shoulders above the rest.
"He never collapses at the machine," said Bandang Palopo, a Nike Air Attack sewing room supervisor. "That is very unusual for a child so young. Even many of the 12-year-olds break down from the stench and heat."
And it's not just Sibu's supervisors who are impressed by the youngster's tremendous effort. Sibu's parents are also extremely proud of their go-getter son.
"We have no choice but to make him work," his father, Kubong Sandakan, said. "If we do not, we would not have even a piece of bread."
Sibu's mother gushed as well. "The factory provides the only steady work in the entire area," she said. "If Sibu were to quit, there would be 3,000 children there the next morning, hoping to take his place."
"My son is like the walking dead," she added.
According to Sibu's shift supervisor, if he keeps up the good work, he may soon be transferred to the Ladies MaxxGel Cross Trainer room.
"That would be very nice," Sibu said. "There is a small fan in that room."
And unlike those in the Air Attack room, MaxxGel room workers are permitted to take an unpaid lunch break.
Though he's thousands of miles away, Sibu's good work hasn't gone unnoticed in America, either. Ron Ellis, 32, a Phoenix-area accountant and avid jogger, recently purchased a pair of Air Attacks whose tongues were sewn in by Sibu. While Ellis knew nothing of Sibu, he immediately sensed the young Indian boy's dedication and craftsmanship when he first tried on the shoes.
"They feel terrific," Ellis said. "I think I'll go for a run in them after work today."
Ellis added that he hopes to run at least three times a week this spring, though his busy schedule may make it difficult.
"It's just so hard to make time, you know?" he said. "You slave away all week in the office, and you'd think you could find a few hours after work to go jogging, or at least head down to the club for a swim."
Despite Ellis' high praise for his work, Sibu shouldn't get too cocky—there's competition on the way. Next year, his six-year-old brother Jambi begins work at the factory. And some say Jambi will be even better than his illustrious older brother.
"Jambi has a fine, sturdy frame," said Midan Lampung, a local Nike recruiter. "I believe he will grow into a productive worker, one with good resistance to injury and disease."
Until that time, though, Sibu is the star. "Sibu is a good worker. He is not a complainer," Palopo said. "We do not want children who complain."
When asked for comment on Sibu, Nike director of overseas operations Phillip Diedricks said he is "not familiar with the boy."