Activist gives street children opportunity to flourish

Activist gives street children opportunity to flourish

City News – Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Facing the attitude that street children are no good for society, Ibe Karyanto took steps to build Sanggar Akar in South Jakarta in the mid 1990s.

It has become a home and a school for hundreds of underprivileged children, some of whom have already spread their wings and flown to better futures.

"People often regard street children as useless and dangerous … but they are not, they just haven’t had an opportunity to develop their skills," Ibe said.

Ibe, who is currently in Central Java building another facility similar to Sanggar Akar, first became involved with street children when he joined the Jakarta Social Institute (ISJ) in the early 1990s.

The institute, which focuses on social issues, was founded by Father Sandiawan, a priest and human rights activist who won a Yap Thiam Hien award in 1996.

Ibe became involved with the institute when he came from Semarang to Jakarta to study theology at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy. His friends introduced him to ISJ and he was asked to assist street children in criminal and harassment cases.

He soon decided to commit himself to working for abandoned children, giving up his first ambition to become a Catholic priest.

"Sanggar Akar was initially established as part of ISJ. In 2000 we decided to become independent," Ibe told The Jakarta Post during a recent phone interview.

Sanggar Akar is concerned that formal education fails to accommodate street children, he said.

"Street children mostly come from broken homes; some don’t even know who their parents are. They may also be victims of domestic violence."

Sanggar Akar, meaning literally "roots studio", gives children freedom to learn what they like. Children who like music spend their time playing musical instruments, while those interested in theater practice drama. Children also have the opportunity to study English speaking and writing.

Ivonne, the current coordinator of the Jakarta studio, said children adapted well to the flexible approach and had earned their own achievements.

"They frequently receive invitations to perform on national stages. Every year the kids are asked to perform at Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center," she said.

"Many schools also invite them to perform for Christmas or Idul Fitri celebrations. They tour to several cities including Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta and Surabaya."

From Sanggar Akar, some children have gone on to begin a career. Many run their own small businesses while several have become teachers at prestigious schools.

Andre, 26, for example, joined Sanggar in 1994 and now teaches music at Pangudi Luhur primary school in South Jakarta.

"A … mother who supports Sanggar asked me to compose the musical score for recycled instruments, like empty cans, for her daughter’s graduation ceremony performance."

He said the school principle was interested in his unique talents and later asked him to teach an extra-curricula music class for students.

Andre first came to Sanggar when Ivonne came to his house to invite him to learn music.

"At the time I had just graduated from junior high school," he said.

"I told my parents I didn’t want to go to school anymore because I hated it."

He said school only left him with bad memories. "I was beaten by my sport teacher when I didn’t pass a basketball to my classmate."

At Sanggar he got an opportunity to learn how to play the violin, guitar and many other instruments.

Andre, who still lives at Sanggar, also divided his time teaching music to his juniors at the studio.

"The school relies heavily on its alumni because we cannot afford to hire professional teachers," Ivonne said.

"Besides teaching here, they also donate their income, to keep Sanggar running."

She said Sanggar relies on donors known as Akar "friends". Besides donating money, they also give food and other basic items.

"Financial problems always exist. What we worry about most is when children can not afford to eat," Ivonne said.

Somehow, the lack of funds does not stop the children from developing their talents. Empty cans and water containers are used to make music.

"We play with these materials every day," Unang, 20, said while drumming on a set of used cans.

"We are practicing for a performance for Sanggar’s birthday on Nov. 22.

"We will combine tin music with traditional instruments, like jembe (traditional percussion). It may sound primitive to some people but we’re proud of our creativity, turning garbage into music," Unang said. (lln)

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