Anto Baret: Finding strength in numbers

Anto Baret: Finding strength in numbers
January 29, 2008
Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Malang

Many people look down on street children, but Anto Trisno, 50, treats them like they are his own flesh and blood.

"I want people to regard street children as their own family. They are our children; the children of the nation. They also want to lead regular lives. Unfortunately they don’t have the resources we do," he said

Instead of avoiding street children, people should give them the chance to express themselves, Anto told a discussion on the book A Note on 25 Years with Street Children, Jakarta 1982-2007 at the Malang Public Library in East Java.

"The street is not their home, the street is not their refuge, the street is their life. They only need a space to survive," said the musician, who is nicknamed Anto Baret because he likes wearing berets.

Anto is the founder of the Street Musicians Group (KPJ) in Bulungan, South Jakarta.

It all began in 1980, when Anto left his hometown of Malang for Jakarta, after dropping out of the National Institute of Technology in his eighth semester.

He saw street musicians singing on buses — passing the bucket — and quickly made friends with them. Anto said the youngsters in the KPJ were both resilient and self-reliant.

"I had nothing when I came to Jakarta. But I survived. Why? Because Jakarta’s homeless are resilient. They have developed their own coping strategies based on honesty and sincerity.

"But my feeling is street children, buskers in particular, are being treated unfairly," Anto said.

According to him, there used to be just two places in Jakarta for street musicians to perform: in Pasar Kaget (it was located next to Martha Tiahahu Park) and in Pecenongan. But there were many thugs in the area and they demanded Rp 4,000 from each of the musicians daily.

"Rp 4,000 was not a small amount of money for buskers at that time," Anto said.

In an effort to protect the musicians from the thugs, in 1982 Anto asked them to establish the KPJ. Finding strength in numbers, the KPJ members refuse to keep paying the thugs.

A fight broke out between the two groups, with the street musicians emerging victorious.

They again showed their fighting spirit before they held a performance, the 82 Street Singing Action, in 1982. It was their first performance, but they had failed to obtain a permit from the authorities.

Inevitably, the police showed up to shut down the concert. But, led by singer Neno Warisman, the members of the organizing committee, jumped up onto the stage and burst into a boisterous rendition of the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.

The police felt they had no other choice but to join in. After they had finished singing the song, Neno announced the show was over.

When the police questioned them, Anto said they had held the performance to celebrate the establishment of the KPJ. There were no arrests that day

Unfortunately, the legendary singer Iwan Fals, who was scheduled to perform, arrived late.

"Living on the street teaches us to be brave. If we are brave, we will win. There is no room for arrogance. We need to focus our efforts on staying on the straight and narrow," Anto said.

The KPJ was established to help street children because they are often excluded, due to a lack of access to birth certificates and other forms of identification

"It is those without a clear identity who need the most help. Even children who live with their parents are naughty, so what happens to children who lack adult supervision?" Anto said.

Therefore the KPJ also teaches youngsters living on the streets good manners: how to behave and to speak softly when adults are present.

According to Anto, who is married to Diah Anggraini and has three children — Sulih Savitri Anggunsari, Suluh Gembyeng Ciptadi, and Diah Puspa Jingga — street children must live in harmony because they share the same fortune. They are encouraged to shake hands to maintain their good relations and to show their thankfulness.

The children also learn that the older ones should be ready to protect the younger ones.

Members with musical skills should teach those who do not know about music. All members are also told to read the newspaper. If they do not understand the content, they should discuss it among themselves.

In order to make the community stronger, Anto has introduced the "three don’ts": don’t do crime, don’t fight against each other, and don’t do drugs.

The KPJ has also branched out to other cities including Bogor and Bandung in West Java; Yogyakarta; Surabaya, East Java; Banda Aceh; and Palu, Central Sulawesi.

There are more than 100,000 KPJ members, a fact that politicians may find interesting in election years.

The youngsters, however, are aware of their rights and not easily influenced, Anto said.

He is in the process of producing a cassette of his music. "The proceeds will go to the KPJ," Anto said.

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