The Way They Bounce Back

"Once you label me, you negate me" Søren Kierkegaard

Today is quite a day for Ratih. She and her friends will be performing a unique musical performance in Taman Pintar; plainly but in creative sense called Musik Kaleng Rombeng. Ratih joins the rehearsal at the back yard of her school SDK Mangunan –a school best known and praised for its different approach in educating school kids thanks to its founder Romo Mangunwijaya.

With great enthusiasm and bashful smile, Ratih recites their singing, Ondel-Ondel and Cublak Cublak Suweng. They say they will meet and on stage with Dik Doank in Taman Pintar and seeing a public figure in real version is a lot for Ratih. The teacher interrupts and asks them to sing and gyrate to the music –only to make Ratih and her friends go blushing. Nothing, not even a slightest clue leads one to infer that Ratih was a street girl a month or so before.

Ratih is not the only one there. Introducing, Adhi and Kido who are already back to school a year ago. The boys and Ratih are in their 5th grade this year. This might be meaningless for many of us who regard schooling is no challenging matter, so predictable it is we take for granted all the process one must gone through to pass a semester. But for Adhi and Kido, a year pass in a school is a remarkable story (though they still have so many years to complete compulsory education).

Kido for example had to live and move from street to street for years before met his life-changing opportunity that is back to school. Having lived years practically without education, Kido had to work out his lacking of knowledge compare to that of his other classmates. Not a brilliant student but he managed to prove himself and was able to rose to the middle rank of his class.

According to Adhi and Kido’s former teacher, Bu Rumei, the kids were by no means a trouble for her. Different from her expectation, the boys were far away from wild adjective, even at first they seemed to be timid and in a closet. When being asked, Adhi who once cried in the first week of school, answered simply that he was ashamed especially for his background on the street. He saw himself in a negative way, pretty much similar with those stigmas labeled by people –wild, unworthy, dirty, no future and whatsoever-. The longer you live with those stigmas stick to your face, the deeper you internalize them, and the more you believe you are what they say you are.

Not all the stories are heartwarming. Nesa, for example had gone through series of in and out schools and counsellings, only to return to the street –a place she said to be where she belongs-. She was yearning for freedom she experienced on the street. Could it be that the freedom she longed for is nothing but free from internalized stigma? “I am different. I don’t fit in the school. I was once free but in school they tried to put rules on me. In the street, the kids don’t care of what people said” she said. Sometimes the victims can turn the sense of labels upside down to become their own pride and justification.

So what can be done to make a successful school-comeback for street children? From her experience, Bu Rumei mentions several important points. The first is no other than self-will from the kid. Going back to school isn’t something we cannot force unto them. The initiative might come from outside but the kid has to believe that going back to school is their ticket for a better life. Bu Rumei finds it in Adhi and Kido. It is their self-will that would encourage them to survive the process. Next is the cooperation between the host or promoter (sanggar) and the school. School must be equipped with sensitivity to take into account the kid individual characteristic and be ready to give a comprehensive personal approach, equal with other children. While the host or promoter must be prepared to help the kids coping with the lost years that supposed to be spent in house not on the street. Good communication between the promoter and school and regular supervision are also a must.

The good news is their street background doesn’t necessarily bad. It turns out that other kids are attracted to them since they have musical ability such as playing guitar and singing, thanks to years of “mengamen”. The teacher also considers them to have more responsibility and independency, one step to great leadership. This might be the reason why all the three are selected to perform in Taman Pintar.

But as music plays both the major and the minor keys, school also brings the good and bad form of humanity. Although most of her friends in school are kind and friendly, some still keep speaking ill of Ratih and turning their back against her. “I don’t know why. I always try to be kind to them but they keep hissing ‘street kid’ behind my back” Ratih complains. It’s probably nothing more than kids’ rivalry or some kids acting drama queen, but somehow it is quite an issue for Ratih. Maybe time will tell why, or maybe Dik Doank has the answer in Taman Pintar... maybe.


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