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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Indonesia's Street Dreams

Yusuke Ota

Jun. 28, 2016

A non-profit organization is helping street children in Jakarta build a brighter future with a unique approach.

Tens of millions of children around the world are believed to be working or living in the street.

The problem of street children is also serious in Indonesia, one of the largest Southeast Asian economies, with nearly 5 percent annual growth.

A non-profit group has been undertaking a unique program to change their lives in the country's capital.

About 34,000 children are said to be on the street in Indonesia. One group of young people was once among them. But now they've seized on an opportunity for a better future -- from trash.

The non-profit organization helps them make new products from the things people throw away.

The NPO set up a workshop in a shelter 4 years ago.

Interested children can receive an 18-month training course on how to fashion interior goods from glass bottles and other materials. The NPO hopes the training will provide them with the skills to stand on their own.

Their products are on display at a hotel lobby and other places.

They include egg holders made from wine bottles. The necks of the bottles are turned into wine glasses. A type of vase is made from a fishing lamp.

"I think it's really good that we do recycling because of the global problems. It's nice, particularly nice that children are doing it," says one foreign shopper.

Sales of the things the children make have more than tripled over the past 2 years. The NPO pays each child between $12 and $24 per month.

"It's the happiest thing that many people buy our products. I'll try to improve my skills and make even better things," Elsama Lumallesil says.

Lumallesil joined the workshop in May. He likes to draw and says workshop's activities are good for learning design. He is thinking about becoming a photographer.

"I want to save enough money to buy a camera. I'll keep learning and trying to realize my dream," Lumallesil says.

"They have great potential. I want them to learn at this workshop and change their lives," says workshop manager Yoki Chandra.

One luxurious Jakarta hotel uses the workshop's products. The management appreciates the skills of the workshop members and hired one of them.

"Making bread is similar to what we do at the workshop. The experience of making products from glass and plastic is now helping me in my job," says Ismail Hardiansyah.

Learning skills gives street children a different future. The products they are making will help them realize their hopes and dreams.

NHK World's Jakarta Bureau Chief Yusuke Ota joined anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio via video linkup.

Shibuya: How are the benefits of this program spreading?

Ota: Fifteen children have joined the workshop since it started 4 years ago. Their products are getting popular because they are designed by famous Dutch and Indonesian designers. These goods are now sold not only in Indonesia but also in Australia and Europe. The Dutch airline KLM is supporting the workshop by delivering the products to the Netherlands free of charge. Gross sales reached almost $13,000 last year.

Some of the profits go to a project aimed at improving the working environment for children at the garbage collection sites.

Beppu: Indonesia has been making steady economic growth. Why are there so many street children?

Ota: Benefits of the rapid growth are not equally distributed to all people in Indonesia and the gap between rich and poor is widening. The index that shows income distribution inequality is called the Gini coefficient. In Indonesia, it has risen steadily since the year 2000. And what's more, the pace of the increase is faster than in many other East Asian countries. In the past, most street children were in Jakarta. But now they can be seen in other cities as well.

Beppu: What measures is the government taking to cope with the situation?

Ota: The Indonesian government says it's aiming to bring the number of street children to zero by 2017. The big plan to get kids off the street is through the creation of government run shelters. But the facilities and human resources are far from adequate. Also, a survey by a local non-profit organization found that about 70 percent of Indonesia's street children are still with their parents. Some parents won't allow their children to stay in the shelters because the families rely on money the children bring in.

The widening wealth gap jeopardizes stable economic growth. And worse, it could foster radicalization and extremism. There are worries that the Islamic State militants will try to recruit the street children. That's the challenge the government needs to tackle head-on.