Untukmu, Indonesiaku: Raising the Spirit of Children Through Art

The performance at the Gedung Kesenian Jakarta or the prestigious Jakarta Playhouse on July 9 might not be classified as classic art but the show achieved a tremendous impact, particularly for the children on the stage. This was only so true when they ended the performance by singing “Aku Bisa” or “I Can”.

Organised by the Arsari Sanggar Anak Mandiri, under the auspices of the Wadah Titian Harapan Foundation, 142 children from 11 marginalized communities in Java and Bali gave a 70-minute non-stop Colossal Cultural Dance performance “UntukMu, IndonesiaKu” (For You, My Indonesia) for the public. This was the result of the idea first launched by Patron of the Foundation, Mrs. Anie Hashim Djojohadikusumo, in August last year. It was a search for talented children of elementary and junior high school levels from the underprivileged communities supervised by her foundation in partnership with SOS Children Villages of Indonesia.

The auditions were held in December 2009 by the coordinators in the areas, with parents and guardians being informed in advance and gaining their permission. Hundreds were auditioned, not just for artistic talent but, as said by Mr Sophan Ajie, the director, for their attitudes and characters which could be developed. “We could always teach them to dance and sing, but what we were looking for were their volition, disposition, good behavior at home and in school,” he said.

The aim of Mrs. Hashim was to raise the self-esteem of these children from these marginalized families, to instill in them the spirit and ambition to achieve a better future for themselves through this process in the performing arts. It would teach them discipline, communication with others and exposure to another world.

The Communities

Selected were 141 children from the Jakarta area: 9 from Kampung Beting, 12 from Penjaringan, 10 from Despuri Klender, 11 from Jati Bening, Bekasi and 10 from Bekasi Riverside - all slum areas. From West Java: 23 from Parung, Bogor; 14 from SOS Gema Taruna-Bogor; 18 from Arjasari Banjaran, Bandung and 10 from SOS-FSP Lembang. From SOS-FSP Bali, 11 children were flown and from SOS-FSP Yogyakarta, there were 13 including one from Sukoharjo, Central Java.

Among these children from marginalized families were those who had been raped and were rehabilitated by the love of the caring coordinators, a deaf mute and others. You wouldn't believe the trials they had been through at such a young age!

Since February, following the selection stage, Mr. Sophan drew up the programme and with his 8-member Creative Team and instructors set about teaching the children the elementaries of dance. In some cases, twice a week, some 4 times a week at different locations. He had drawn a blueprint of the programme, the choreography for the dances with Mr. Griny, piping in the music and how each child fitted in as he could not get them all together in one place as the communities were scattered from Jakarta to Bali..

“For instance, a girl would fit into a dance sequence which would include girls from other villages. She would train in her spot as though the others were there. It was only when all the participants gathered in Jakarta, on July 4 at the Wisma PHI in Cempaka Putih that she could practice with her full group from other parts of the country,” explained the choreographer/director. Mr. Sophan (aged 28) graduated with a degree in Literature and Russian Drama from the Padjadjaran University in Bandung. He had worked with children from schools in Bandung and was employed by Wadah initially for the dance performance at the Wadah Gathering in May 2009 and a Coffee Morning performance in January 2011.

“My team and I had travelled from location to location to oversee the training by the local instructors. It was amazing to see how the children could work together, considering the differences in culture and local languages, when we brought them all to Jakarta,” explained Mr. Sophan.

It was the first time they had been away from their parents and guardians. Some worried about the chores left behind for their families but all this was forgotten as they made new friends. Aside from the performance, given that many of them were first-time visitors to Jakarta, they were given the chance to go sight-seeing around the city before returning home on July 10.

The Performance

It was not just a delightful performance by the children, but it was as much fun for the audience as it was for the little performers on stage. It touched the hearts of many spectators who fumbled in their bags for tissues as tears sprang from their eyes. The 70 minutes of dancing, singing and music continued non-stop without a moment of boredom in the fast moving spectacle of colour and motion.

The performance opened with 15-year old Suryo from Yogyakarta, dancing and singing, holding aloft the Gunungan, a sacred symbolic introduction made of carved leather used in Wayang theatre. It was followed by snippets of traditional dances from different parts of Indonesia such as from West Java, Aceh, Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, West Sumatra, Yogyakarta, Central Java and the colossal dance drama from the Ramayana epic of Bali with a mixed cast. Unbeknown to the audience was that the monkey king, Hanoman, was enacted by a 13-year old deaf-mute, Senjang, from Yogya, during the fight scene with Rawana, the demon king.

The Red and White colours added dedication to the national identity, not just in waving them on stage but cleverly joining two long banners in these 2 colours to form the flag. The young voices were pure in chorus without individual microphones which were left to the 3 of the best singers: 12-year old Dea, 15-year old Pandu and 15-year old Fitri from Yogyakarta, the last who had reached the semi-finals in the Indonesia Mencari Bakat (Indonesia's Got Talent).

The live music was provided by Ririungan Chamber Music and Ethnic Music.

Rehearsal

What the audience on the performance night did not see was at the grand rehearsal on the previous day. Parents from the communities around Jakarta who were bussed in by Wadah filled half the hall, to see their children and grandchildren on stage.

One grandmother burst into tears as she saw her granddaughter perform, given a lifetime opportunity to be a normal child with a future, unlike her 3 daughters who were in the sex trade.

Yes, these were not professional artists, not even amateurs, with barely 6 months in training, who had been selected amongst the poor communities supported by the Wadah Foundation. On both nights, Mrs. Hashim climbed up to the stage to congratulate the children on their performance and sing “Aku Bisa” (I can) with them. Laughing, the children did not want to let go of the closing curtain, peeping out even up to the last moment.

As Mr. Hashim Djojohadikusumo said in his opening address on the official night: “This is the climax of my wife's work of 22 years to help children in the marginalized areas in Indonesia”. But for Mrs. Hashim, it does not end here. There are more challenges to come as she has set up a permanent organization for Arsari Sanggar Anak Mandiri with an even wider scope to educate children in these marginalized communities throughout Indonesia.

“This is my dedication to raise underprivileged children throughout Indonesia so that they may take their place in society for a better Indonesia,” concluded Mrs. Hashim who funded the entire process leading to the “Untukmu Indonesiaku” with all proceeds of the performance going to the new organization.