Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Helping impoverished children through scholarship programs

Sudibyo M. Wiradji, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As the number of poor families has been on the rise due to the prolonged economic crisis in Indonesia, several companies have beefed up efforts to provide deprived children with access to education.

While ad hoc programs like mass circumcision and free medical treatment continue, the companies focus more on long-term educational programs, in the form of scholarships and formal or informal training for particular skills.

"More children have lost the opportunity to go to school, not only because they cannot afford to pay tuition fees, but also because they need to work to supplement their family income. The threat of having unskilled human resources in the long run has put education high on the priority list," said PT Coca-Cola Indonesia's corporate affairs director Titie Sadarini.

Four years after the worst-ever economic crisis started to hit Indonesia in late 1997, PT Coca-Cola Indonesia, through its main social arm, Coca-Cola Foundation Indonesia (CCFI), launched the Learning Center Program in 2001 to provide alternative learning resources for school-age children and youngsters by taking advantage of the existing public libraries in several provinces in the country.

As many as 16 public libraries in several provinces in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi have been transformed into learning centers by supporting them with sufficient programs, including skill development and improvement of facilities to meet the needs of the community, Titie said.

The learning centers allow school-age children and youngsters to be actively engaged in various educational activities, such as group discussion, story-telling, book reading and computer training.

Like Coca-Cola, PT Aqua Golden Mississippi, PT Indofood Sukses Makmur and PT HM Sampoerno have also launched educational programs designed to prepare destitute children for a better future, even though they differ in their approach to the issue.

Aqua and Indofood equally award scholarships for poor children considering that financial constraints are the primary reason behind their parents' inability to send their children to continue their studies.

Aqua, which started its scholarship program in 1999, targeted its program to 76 poor children selected from elementary schools located in the areas surrounding the company's factory and mountain spring water resources in Mekarsari, Sukabumi, West Java.

Scholarship funds have been collected from the contributions regularly made by the company's board of directors, employees and its affiliated company, France-based Danone, according to Yayasan Sahabat Aqua's director Eka Budianta.

He said that the scholarship program was aimed at helping to lessen the burden on parents hit hard by the prolonged economic crisis. "Through the program, we also want to prop up compulsory education endeavors as well as prepare manpower when the company needs employees in the future," Eka said.

Due to the growing number of poor children in need of education, Aqua awarded scholarships to over 600 and 350 deprived children in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

The company also plans to establish a library and distribute books to poor elementary students living in surrounding areas of its factories throughout the country.

Meanwhile, Indofood started its scholarship programs for junior and senior high school students long before the economic crisis but it increased the number of scholarship recipients following the crisis.

Indofood's vice head of its public relation division Sri Bugo Suratmo said that under Indofood's Chiki Scholarship Program that kicked off in 1988, the company has awarded scholarships to 300 junior school students in Java annually. In the following years, the company has provided scholarships to 800 students from different junior high schools and 900 from senior high schools throughout the country annually under its Indomie Scholarship Program.

PT H.M. Sampoerna also cares for children as the future generation by offering informal training in the area of arts through its sustainable programs, Karya Kita (Our Work).

Karya Kita has been held under the auspices of the Sampoerna Children Guidance Program since 2001. The program allows both poor and fortunate children to work together to produce various works of art, such as theater, music, choir and film.

According to the company's head of corporate communications Nicken Rachmad, the program involved an art group, Sanggar Anak Akar, whose members are street artists living in a slum area in Kalimalang, Bekasi.

Under the guidance of street artists, the poor and fortunate children learn various skills, such as how to play several musical instruments, stage a theater or opera performance and how to produce handicraft items using recycled materials.

"Hopefully, with the variety of activities, the participating children can have the opportunity not only to learn many arts skills, to explore their talents and to produce works of art but also to make them accustomed to working in a team and increase their sense of tolerance and discipline," Nicken said.

PT Semen Gresik is among the publicly listed companies that are concerned about the future of poor children, especially with the increase in the number of destitute families.

Through its Environment Development Division, whose funds are collected from the company's board of directors and employees, the company has launched several social programs, including one designed to help poor children face a better future by awarding scholarships for elementary, junior and senior high school students in the area surrounding its factory in Tuban, East Java.

The company also provides training on how to utilize factory equipment for students of technical schools in the area. "Students participating in the training are expected to be ready for work when they complete their studies," PT Semen Gresik's president director Satriyo said.