>Features – February 07, 2004 (The Jakarta Post)
Fathuddin Muchtar, Contributor, Yogyakarta
Compassion never turns a blind eye towards those who are in need. And compassion does not encourage one to wait until he or she prospers before they lend a hand.
Bambang Sudiro has set an example of what one can do to improve the welfare of poor people.
Bambang, or Beng-beng as he is fondly called, is not a rich man. He does not even have his own house. The long-haired 28-year-old born in Banda Aceh is a lapak, or broker, who collects junk and other recyclable waste from scavengers.
He manages a place on a 200-square-meter area in Balerejo, Umbulharjo, Yogyakarta, where he receives the recyclable waste from 35 scavengers.
The industrious young man also helps makes life worth living for others. Beng-beng is a foster parent of 13 street children. Most of them are children of the scavengers who sell their goods to him.
With the income he generates from the business, Beng-beng sends them to school. Seven of them study at the elementary school, three at the junior high school and three others at the senior high school.
Every month Beng-beng allocates Rp 595,000 (US$70) to pay their school fees. The elementary school children receive Rp 30,000, the junior high school students Rp 45,000, while the senior high school students get Rp 50,000.
“This program started in August last year. Next year, if there is good fortune, maybe there will be more (foster children) because there are still some other children who want to continue their studies but their parents can not afford it,” Beng-beng says.
Why does he have so much concern about these children? Beng-beng says it is a long story.
In February last year, he heard some scavengers complaining. One of their complaints was that they could not pay their children’s school fees. The scavengers, Beng-beng says, were hard workers and they wanted to set aside part of their income to finance their children’s education.
“It turned out that there was something wrong in their working relations with their boss. The boss bought the (waste) from the scavengers, but that’s it. There was no sort of partnership between the boss and the scavengers. This gave me an idea, how about if I helped them to market their goods? The revenue was divided into two, a part of it was for them, the rest was to pay the children’s school fees. They agreed,” Beng-beng said.
Therefore, in May 2003 Beng-beng started his program to improve the welfare of the scavengers and to enable their children to go to school. He asked the scavengers to work together and he became a lapak.
He raised funds to buy the items collected by the scavengers and he sold them to a pengepul (a businessman who buys recyclable items from brokers) in Yogyakarta.
In just a short time, there were many scavengers who sold their goods to him. With the scavengers he started a good working relationship.
“I told them that this business was not just to make money, but there were other benefits they would enjoy. The concept that we agreed upon is this: from the monthly profits, 20 percent is set aside for education, 20 percent for health, 10 percent for organization’s petty cash, 35 percent for (business) development, 10 percent for tactical funds, and 5 percent for the consolidation fund,” he said.
Beng-beng said that beside education, there are two other main problems facing the scavengers and their children: health and identity. Almost all of them could not afford to pay for their medication when they were sick. And most did not have ID cards.
Scavengers often become the victims of loan sharks. One of such victim is Tembong, 54.
“Before I joined mas (brother) Beng-beng, I could barely survive and had a lot of debts. But now I can save my money, even though only a little,” he said.
Beng-beng said that the daily turnover of his business was between Rp 800,000 and Rp 1 million. Asked about the monthly profits, however, he said he never really made an exact calculation.
But the situation speaks for itself — and it’s clear the business is profitable. Besides paying the school fees of 13 children, Beng-beng can also hire three employees and he often gives out allowances if someone is sick or gets married.
In truth, Beng-beng says, he was not interested in becoming a lapak. He was afraid people would accuse him of exploiting scavengers for his own interest. But he did it anyway as he was concerned with the scavengers’ fate.
“So, if you ask me about the benefits that I can make for myself, my answer is “social benefits”. Just look what I have other than my clothes and this old motorcycle. I am quite happy I can help them,” said the high school graduate.
Beng-beng is also a member of Taabah, an advocacy team for the poor. He established this independent organization with friends who were concerned about street children, scavengers and street musicians.
In this organization, one of his activities is securing ID cards for street people. Some street people now have the document they have wanted a long time for, thanks to his advocacy.
Beng-beng is now working to improve the image of scavengers. Many people have the wrong idea that scavengers are thieves, he says. This stigma is seen in the signboards erected at some housing estates, which say: “Scavengers are not allowed”. Such treatment really hurts the people, Beng-beng said.
“We are currently talking with the government about prohibiting scavengers from entering an area. We will try to urge (the government) to ban such signboards,” he said.