Reggae gives street kids sense of worth

Angga, 17, was chatting with his friends on a sunny afternoon, talking about their disappointment after losing the chance to perform with their reggae band at a bazaar parade held in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta.

The reggae band, consisting of six boys aged 16 to 18, was supposed to perform on stage but was prevented by a technical error of the event's organizer.

Angga and his friends, who spend most of their time under a bridge of the Tanjung Priok toll road, discovered their love for reggae music through their habit of playing and singing together.

"Reggae is cool. It needs only simple music equipment that we can afford to rent," Angga said, adding that the music helped him and his friends express their feelings.

The planned performance, if realised, would have been the second time they performed for a formal event. The bazaar was organised by the North Jakarta administration.

In mid-May, the reggae band, named D'TimesRoad, performed in front of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his officials at an event held by Jokowi's volunteers at the Cibubur Camping Ground in East Jakarta.

"We have also performed in several birthday and wedding parties in Tanjung Priok," band member Ega said.

Angga, who has been out of school since last year, said that instead of going to school, the boys gathered every day to play music and sell peanuts.

Every rush hour in the morning and afternoon, the boys climb up trees to reach toll roads and sell peanuts and mineral water to passengers of cars trapped in congestion.

"We used to be street musicians, singing from car to car. But now we prefer selling peanuts as it gives us more earnings," Angga said.

All of them actually still lived with their parents or other relatives in their houses in Warakas, but the six teenagers have all dropped out of school and have been fending for themselves since they were younger.

Jakarta Urban Poor Network (JRMK) coordinator Ujang said that Angga and his friends were among 30 teenagers in Warakas, North Jakarta, who spent most of their time in the streets of the capital to earn livings for themselves.

"Most of them have problems with their families. They come from broken homes with divorced parents and a few of them are orphans," Ujang told The Jakarta Post recently.

Among the band members is 18-year-old Hamzah, an orphan who has been out of school since 2011. He said he really wanted to go back to school, but his financial situation prevented him.

"Of course, we want to continue to study, but how can we pay?" Hamzah said.

The city administration frees students from tuition fees for state elementary to senior high schools, but some schools still request optional donations. Educational costs are also not limited to tuition fees, but include transportation, text books and other school necessities.

For children whose parents no longer support them, school expenses can be unaffordable.

Angga and his friends, however, have found that music makes their lives complete. They said they were very proud of their capability to play reggae.

"We are very proud to have music in our lives," Angga said, adding that he wanted to be a solo singer in the future. "Most of us here also want to be singers or, at least, have jobs that engage with music," he added.

Ujang said that he expected the 30 teenagers to take vocational programs to support themselves and become self-sufficient.

"They cannot afford to pay for formal schooling, but they deserve vocational programs for self-improvement," he said.

"I want to learn business knowledge so that I can work in offices," the 16-year-old Ega said.