by Lynne Stillings
I came to Rumah Impian as a Fulbright researcher studying children’s musical expression and identity in Java. I learned that some of the students at the school I was researching at had been street children. I learned about Rumah Impian and the mission to get children off the street and into school. As I began participating in street contact and meeting with the children at the Hope Shelter I learned that these street children were no different from any others. They had fallen into unfortunate lifestyles that kept them out of school and without proper care. But living in poverty does not change the children’s intellectual and creative potential.
The title, “I can too,” is an understatement. Not only can children do the same things, but each child is unique and has creative talents. Some of the children living at the Hope Shelter were the most musically and artistically talented that I had met throughout my stay. One boy drew with great precision and was taking comic-book style art lessons; another boy, who looked too small to even hold a guitar, progressed through chords with ease and maturity; these two children were not distinct from the group, or even from their peers that remained on the street. All children are blessed with different and multiple talents; it is up to their parents, guardians, teachers, governments, and community members to make sure their right to develop these talents is granted.
John Blacking in How Musical is Man? (1973) defines “Man the Music Maker,” asserting that all humans have the biological and psychological ability to hear, understand, reproduce, and create music. It is in that sense that all men, and all children, have musical abilities that can be developed into cultural talents. “People choose to invent and invoke music… because music-making offers an intensity of feeling and quality of experience that is more highly valued than some other social activities.” It is precisely this quality of experience, and quality of life that children have the right to. They are able to achieve these qualities by having the proper support to create music, art, perform, and participate in sports and other creative outlets.
Indonesia ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. The Convention states that:
– The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.
– The education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential
– States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
– States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
All children have the right to creative expression and participation. But beyond this all children have innate creativity and talent. Street children can often be misrepresented as simple or incapable of creative or intellectual talent because of their lack of support or resources to manifest and maintain these talents. However, as Blacking stated, it is their nature to be musical – to be creative, to have the intellectual capacity to do the same things all children can do.
Music and the arts are often thought of as effective tools for promotion or as critiques of current exploitations of children. Artists across the globe sing of children and poverty in hopes to raise awareness or affect political or social change. But what is also important is that music and art can be used as forms of empowerment when children use these creative methods to express themselves. The children become aware of their own situations and can improve their ability to think of alternative lifestyles. Participating in music and the arts is also a productive escape for children. In all walks of life children and youth can be exposed to violence and substance abuse. By offering alternative leisure activities children may avoid these situations. They may associate with different groups and spend their time productively creating portfolios of artwork or a collection of songs.
In providing street children with the opportunity to perform music or participate in other arts, the children are able to realize that“aku juga bisa.” The children will be able to realize their own potential and gain self-confidence. This can translate to further intellectual and creative development that would prove to outsiders, educators, and potential sponsors of their true talent.
Rumah Impian sees the potential in street children through initiating street contact, speaking directly to the children, getting to know them, playing a little bit of music or drawing pictures. The Hope Shelter provides the space and support the children need to develop their skills and talents. As these children have proven, street children have the equal capacity to perform their talents like all children. They have excelled academically, athletically, and creatively with music and art. The children are kind, thoughtful, smart, and driven. They are not unusual or different from all others. They have the same potential all children have, the same talent, and the same right to develop these talents.