Sun, 11 Jun 2000

Training shows a living can be made from seashells

By Kosasih Derajat

CIREBON, West Java (JP): A workshop and vocational training exploring seashell handicrafts may not pique the interest of seasoned urbanites.

Yet they are important for people living in coastal areas with an abundance of clams and oysters, but who have not been able to exploit them as materials for artistic creations.

The training has been jointly conducted by local non- governmental organization Yayasan Ketrampilan Indonesia and Land Lease Foundation Australian for 60 unemployed young people in Cirebon regency, about 300 kilometers east of Jakarta.

Cooperation between peoples from the two countries was mostly unaffected by the strained ties between Jakarta and Canberra after an Australian-led peacekeeping force was sent into ravaged East Timor.

Land Lease Foundation Australia -- a member of the Indonesia- Australia Business Council -- provided some Rp 60 million (US$7,500) for two workshops conducted in the coastal regency's village of Gebang in October 1999 and last month.

"The aim of the workshops is to help the local people to increase their meager income by artistically exploiting things around them," the NGO's general manager, Ramadhan HA, told The Jakarta Post during a recent site visit.

The workshops, which are free to participants, focus on crafting the ubiquitous white, flat seashells of the area, locally known as Kerang Simping, for use as ornaments on lampshades, cake platters and screens. A daily transportation allowance of Rp 5,000 is provided to each participant.

After completing the two-week training, participants are employed by a local handicrafts firm, CV JR, which manufactures and exports the merchandise.

The firm's director, Jimmy Romeo, said that he exported two containers of handicraft products worth US$40,000, including items made by ex-trainees, to European countries such as France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary.

"The prospects for the business are good and there is an abundance of the raw materials here," said Jimmy, who was already involved in the handicrafts business before he moved to Cirebon from Palembang, South Sumatra, several years ago.

With his optimism about the business, he said he was planning to hire 500 more workers for the handicraft center from the present 100. He said the training and its provision of workers ready for hire was a great help to him because it saved his firm from spending on costly training fees.

Gebang village chief Moch. Sulam also thanked the NGO and Jimmy's firm for the training and employing job seekers from his village.

"I am proud if our village and people can become known abroad because of the good quality seashell products."

He said there should be more training and the provision of better quality production tools to ensure high-quality products.

"To be able to accommodate more participants in the training programs that eventually provide more job seekers to the shell center, we need more space and infrastructure," Ramadhan said of Sulam's demand.

He also asked the village chief to be more active in ensuring the provision of the necessary land and road to support the training program.

Seventeen-year-old Yanti said the training was a turning point in her life.

"I had been jobless since I finished junior high school in 1998," said Yanti, who now receives a daily wage of Rp 4,000 as a worker at the firm.

Yudi, 25, said he and 25 other natives of Palembang were recruited to the center as trainees and workers.

"We came here for a better life because in Palembang we worked on an off due to the lack of raw materials. Besides, the wages offered here are better," said Yudi.

The coastal regency, known as the "The Town of Shrimp" due to its abundant shellfish, has not fully developed its economic potential. The economic crisis, which first struck in mid-1997, hit the regency particularly hard.

Statistical data from the regency reveal that 123 villages, or 29 percent, from the total of 424 are categorized as poorly developed.

Some 270,000 families, equivalent to about one million people or 55 percent of the regency's population, are also classified as poor. The unemployment rate of the regency is 8.4 percent, higher than the West Java provincial level of 5.98 percent.

Although dozens of export-oriented industries and star-rated hotels are operating in the adjacent mayoralty of Cirebon, the regency's annual per capita income is Rp 1.8 million (US$225).

The young and child beggars, one visible gauge of the poverty of an area, roam many streets in the area.

Traditional jobs which are available are seasonal farming, manual fishing and retail trading.

Many jobless men have resorted to becoming drivers of becak (pedicab). There is a glut of drivers, who aggressively compete to get as many passengers as possible. Most of the pedicabs belong to the drivers.

The NGO's executives acknowledge the vocational training is a small effort toward stopping the cycle of poverty and putting people on the road to a better life.

They argue that every little helps.

"What we do here is like a drop of water in the desert," foundation secretary Basuki Pramadio said.