Festival brings children off the streets

Festival brings children off the streets

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Laughter burst out among dozens of children as a clown played word games during a festival Sunday. Jumping and raising their hands, the children scrambled to receive colorful flags from the famous Ronald McDonald.

A joyous atmosphere welcomed more than 300 street children from across Jakarta gathered to express their talents and creativity in the 2007 Street Children Art and Technology Festival, which took place at the state junior high school SMPN 71 in Central Jakarta.

The inaugural festival, held by Melati Social Work Group in cooperation with PT Excelmindo, used dozens of rumah singgah (temporary shelters for street children) to perform plays and music shows, as well as to showcase a technology exhibition and a market.

Festival project officer R. Novian Kurniawan said the event was aimed at promoting street children’s activities to the public while also encouraging children to spend their time developing useful skills.

"In the long term, we aim to get the children off the streets by keeping them busy at the shelters," he said, adding the festival was also held to develop street children’s abilities and knowledge in art and technology.

Children performed 15 plays, acting out folk stories from across Indonesia as part of the festival’s focus on cultural education.

"This is the moment for us to learn moral values from folk stories by street children," Novian said.

One of the street children, Iskandar, told The Jakarta Post he was glad to meet many new friends in the festival.

"I’m also happy to promote my rumah singgah and our activities to other people," said the 17-year-old boy, who usually sings on buses to make money.

Iskandar has lived in Rumah Singgah Sekar the past three years, after leaving his home in Sunter, North Jakarta, and takes part in activities at the shelter such as paper-making and handicrafts.

"We even export our handicrafts to Singapore and Malaysia," he said.

Iskandar and many other street children also had the chance to take free computer and Internet courses during the festival.

"I want to master the technology even though I realize I’m not as lucky as other children," Iskandar said.

Another street child, Tri Hariyanti from Rumah Singgah Madani, shared her story on learning how to produce aluminum kitchenware.

"It was hard in the beginning, but I enjoy it," she said, adding that she felt lucky to be able to develop new skills.

Agusman, head of the Jakarta Temporary Shelter Forum, said his team hoped to provide more activities for street children, as the new bylaw on public order prohibits them from working on the street.

"There are still more job opportunities available to them, such as delivering newspapers and starting their own businesses," he said.

"There’s still a bright future for them, as long as they get support from all of us."

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