Building a school and managing waste. These two dreams brewed for a long time in the mind of Syalfitri, 50, a women’s rights activist from Palembang in South Sumatra. It was only in 2013 that she could realize her dreams through a school and health clinic funded by waste management, among others.
Kompas/RHAMA PURNA JATISosok Syalfitri
Syalfitri established the Junjung Birru kindergarten beside her house on Jl. Demak No. 3, Tuan Kentang sub-district, Seberang Ulu I district, Palembang. The kindergarten only has one room, measuring three meters by five meters. There is a garage measuring three meters by four meters that was also converted into a classroom.
The classrooms are adorned with a number of handicrafts made from inorganic wastes by the students. The wastes are turned into various handicrafts, including bags, accessories, pencil cases and a number of other things.
“All of these are made by our students. This is to teach them to get creative in using things from their surroundings,” said Syalfitri in an interview at her school on Wednesday (18/1/2017) morning.
The crafts can also be used as learning materials. For instance, used plastic bottles can be turned into pencil cases. The bottles’ colorful caps can be used to learn colors in English. Other crafts are on display on a gallery by the front yard.
That morning, around 35 students of the Junjung Birru kindergarten were drawing and coloring in the classroom. Firliya Firdaus, who was five years old, was coloring a picture of a merry-go-round on her book. Now and again, she stood up and walked to the window to see the yard outside or ran around the classroom with her friends.
And then, it was lunch time. “Before you eat your lunch, check below your desks first,” Syalfitri told her students. If they saw litter there, they should pick it up and throw it into the trash can. “Okay, ma’am,” the children said in unison.
Before they ate, they lined up and washed their hands. Firliya joined the queue with her friends. Once she got her turn, she washed her hands clean. All the kindergarten students are accustomed to washing their hands before eating.
Syalfitri said that all teachers at the Junjung Biru kindergarten shared a mission to teach the children about clean and healthy lifestyle. Before every lessons, they would lead the children in singing songs about hygiene.
Through such processes, Syalfitri said that she hoped good values would be instilled within the students, especially environmental awareness. “If you teach them to stay clean and love the environment since an early age, it will be much easier for them to apply those values once they grow up,” she said.
Trash as payment
Syalfitri urges her students to maintain health and cleanliness not only in school but also at home and in their neighborhood. She asks them to bring the trash from their home and store it at the kindergarten. These “trash savings” would then be accumulated and used to pay the children’s school fees.
“There will be discounts for every certain amount of trash that the students bring in. If they bring trash often enough, they can enjoy free education here,” she said.
Syalfitri explained that the school fee is used to pay for the teachers. However, despite the low fees, some of the parents cannot afford to pay it. “Well, what can we do about it? They can pay us any amount they can afford,” she said.
Ningsih, 27, a student’s parent, said that she paid a fee ofRp 60,000 (US$4.48)each month. However, she also routinely bring in trash to the school. From it, she can obtain a discount of up to Rp 20,000 per month. “Other than teaching my kid to keep clean, we can also enjoy lower school fee by bringing in trash to the school,” she said.
The trash saving program is also open for elderlies wishing to do monthly medical checkups at Syalfitri’s house. Through the program, the elderlies can enjoy healthcare services, health educational program and aerobic exercises.
That day, the front yard of Syalfitri’s house was packed with elderlies wanting to do medical checkups. A special healthcare program for elderlies was held, offering blood pressure and sugar level checks.
Elli Abas, 63, was one of these elderlies. Elli had participated in the special healthcare program for the last three years. “It is better to save the trash than to throw it away so I can enjoy routine health checks,” Elli said.
A dream since 2009
Syalfitri has dreamt to establish a school, trash bank, healthcare services for the elderlies and health centers since 2009. Back then, she was deeply concerned with her rundown neighborhood.
Having participated in several health and hygiene trainings, Syalfitri then created a scheme to clean up her neighborhood through education. The system turned out to be highly effective.
It was only in 2013 that Syalfitri could realize her dreams by opening a school and health center near her home. The two institutions were funded from trash savings, among other sources. The trash is managed and stored in a trash bank.
For the lady, maintaining cleanliness is a fundamental thing. All religion teaches about the importance of cleanliness. However, many have yet to apply these teachings in their everyday life. “Through the Jujung Birru Foundation, I hope people’s awareness on maintaining cleanliness will increase,” she said.
According to Syalfitri, Junjung Birru means that all good things must be campaigned for and spread widely, including preserving the environment through using garbage.
The foundation’s logo is the picture of a hand carrying a can, a bottle, a bottle cap and a paper with a fetus on its center. It means that, if we cannot preserve the environment, the next generations will not be able to enjoy it.
Due to her relentless social work, Syalfitri is often invited to talk in a number of seminars on the environment. She uses such occasions to spread values of cleanliness to the general public.
She said that she hoped the government would support her program. One way is by using the students’ recycled products in events, including as souvenirs. “This is a form of support for people who have managed trash,” she said.
Through the Junjung Birru Foundation, Syalfitri hopes to spread the awareness that people should love the environment and spread that love to everyone they know. With continuous campaigns, the impact will be bigger. “All of this starts from a small thing. If we keep doing our work, the impact will be big one day,” she said.
Learning to appreciate trash and the environment and develop education and health. Through her many social work, Syalfitri keeps on campaigning for these issues.