While statistics on street children are difficult to verify, according to this UNICEF report, there are an estimated 230,000 in Indonesia alone. This is mostly the result of lack of free public education for children, so families living below the poverty line cannot afford to send their kids to school and have little choice but for them to end up on the street, taking on dangerous and unhealthful work to survive or help support the family. Street children live and work under unthinkable conditions, suffering from high rates of malnutrition, sexual abuse, physical violence and disease, not to mention the detriment to their emotional and social development.
This is where the Learning Farm steps in. With funding from a private donor, Learning Farm was founded in 2005 by World Education, a private voluntary organization that aims to provide training and technical assistance to the educationally disadvantaged. Groups of 50 boys at a time work and live on a 6,000 square meter farm for a five month program. The goal is to give children the tools and confidence needed to take on future jobs, agricultural and non-agricultural, that will allow them to lead healthy, economically self-sufficient lives and become productive members of their community.
Not only do the boys learn how to grow and sell organic produce, but the Learning Farm also offers classes in basic math, literacy, English, computer and other life skills. In addition, the children make and sell handicrafts made with recycled materials, teaching them the importance of environmental impact. Students can also choose to stay on longer as mentors or apprentices to learn advanced entrepreneurial skills.
Dedi Sudhandi, a 22 year old participating at Learning Farm told World Education, "I used to hang around on the streets, getting a little money by singing and performing for people. I was lazy. This place, the Learning Farm, has changed my life. I am learning how to save money and plan for my future…I had no rules and when I got money I spent it immediately. Now, I appreciate the structure here. I have to get up early and work hard, but I am learning too. There is discipline here and I am realizing that discipline is important for my future. I am optimistic that what I am learning here will enable me to become a consultant in organic farming."
Executive Director Johan Purnama is currently in conversations with the Four Seasons Hotel and major supermarkets, in hopes of creating relationships that will ensure a consistent market for Learning Farm’s produce and therefore allow the important work with the children to continue into the future. Purnama recently told Fast Company, "Organic farming is just the learning medium, so everyone can follow the model. It can be masonry or other trades. For us farming is about showing respect for other creatures, like worms." Their website boasts that 60% of graduates from the residential training program have gone on to careers in organic farming and 90% of graduates are engaged in what they consider “positive” activity, whether that be working, returning to school, or helping their family.
To learn more about the lives of street children in Indonesia, watch the documentary “Little Treasures of Lombok” and check out what other organizations like Peduli Anak Foundation and Indonesian Street Children Organization are doing to address this issue.
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Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.