A craftsman producing wooden toys in Yogyakarta is bringing opportunities to some of the most disadvantaged people in the community: the disabled.
Two women, Sarinem, 37, and her confidante Samini, 35, work harmoniously while chatting about their lives. They are packing a table and a chair, to be sent off to their customer. At a glance their job seems quite simple, but don't be fooled. There are 50 sets that need to be packaged. One set alone is a table and two chairs. "This is an order from a kindergarten in Bali, all of it needs to be sent within this week," she told Tempo, Tuesday.
Sarinem works at the Independent Disability Foundation in Sewon, Bantul, around 6.5 kilometers south of Yogyakarta. She has had polio since she was 6 years old. Her main priority is the upkeep of the showroom and to serve the customers who come in to buy their products. "But some days no people come at all," she lamented.
Like her friend, Samini was diagnosed with polio when she was 4 years old. The difference is that Sarinem is in a wheelchair while Samini uses crutches to walk.
Apart from being decked out with chair and table orders, the showroom's shelves are also stacked with children's toys, all lined up impeccably. There is a huge variety on offer, from figurines, to toy cars, miniature buildings, animals, trains, boats, planes and puzzles. Most are made from wood. All of them are manufactured by disabled people.
The store was opened in April 2003 by a man named Tarjono Slamet along with five others, all disabled. Originally called Mandiri Craft, the organization became the Yayasan Penyandang Cacat Mandiri, the Independent Disability Foundation, in 2006. The aim was to generate job prospects for disabled people. Apart from producing creative and educative toys, they also make any ordered product, such as tables and chairs for the kindergarten.
Slamet said he hopes to invigorate some spirit into the disabled. Certain people feel they don't have a life because they have lost basic body functions. He hopes to change that common perception. "Your life needs to be better from the day before and tomorrow needs to be even better," he said
When marketing the Foundation's product he depends on a number of strategies. He relies on non-governmental organizations to promote his business. They advertise their goods at craft fairs. The Foundation also offers their merchandise online.
Their work has borne impressive results. With a turnover of as much as Rp30 million per month, their product has interest in the foreign market. People in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands and even Japan have bought products from the Foundation. In Indonesia, the toy products are also sold in Jakarta and Bali.
The business' turnover has reached Rp100 million per month. The gold strike happened after the earthquake struck Yogyakarta in 2006. The Indonesian Red Cross ordered thousands of toys for quake-affected children. "In the space of a month, we were overloaded with orders from morning until night." Sarinem recalled.
Slamet noted that the business began with a budget of Rp50 million. Forty per cent of this money was given from potential buyers in Australia; the rest was borrowed from a number of sources.
With that money, Slamet rented a block of land in the village of Gathak Desa Timbulharjo in Sewon. Equipped with basic tools, he began to produce toys with the assistance of the five other workers.
Before juggling the business in Mandiri Craft, Slamet worked in marketing at the Christian Foundation for Public Health, YAKKUM, in Yogyakarta. The Foundation was located at a rehabilitation building for disabled people. His experience while at YAKKUM influenced him to select toys as the premium product for Mandiri Craft.
He said between the years 1997-1999 he repeatedly visited Australia. Apart from seeing friends, he also did market research for YAKKUM products. In Australia he saw educational toys and puzzles made from wood. "With these puzzles the children learned patience," he said.
He gained his toy-making skills from YAKKUM. There were three-month classes that trained disabled people in the procedures involved. Up until 2006, Mandiri Craft's prosperity grew sharply. The number of workers exceeded 50, a large portion of whom were YAKKUM alumni.
However, when the earthquake occurred, their workshop was razed to the ground. Some people thought it would go bankrupt, and a number of the workers decided to stop work. "My dreams were in tatters, the building that stood for years was destroyed in a matter of seconds," he said.
Reluctant to drag the business down, he went into action, getting his friends from the Netherlands to help him out. "I know a lot of NGOs who are focused on the plight of the disabled," he said.
The business received a donation of around Rp100 million. With that money he rebuilt the business with bamboo walls. Machinery from Handicraft International was also donated. The business then went on with 16 people returning to work.
After Mandiri Craft changed its name, Slamet was appointed the head of the Foundation. He then had his hands full snatching potential clients and dealing with the business' finance.
A new three-month training program was also implemented. "After the completion of the course, if they wanted to work here they could, but if they wanted to work elsewhere that's fine also," he said.
In 2008, a Japanese Red Cross donation of Rp3 billion funded the construction of the Foundation's new building on Jl. Parangtritis Cabean in Sewon. The funds were also used to pay for machinery. This building is equipped with a dormitory for the disabled, an office, a kitchen and a dining room.
Tarjono Slamet was born in Batang on 31 December 1973. He worked in an electricity installation business until 1990, when an accident occurred while he was on the job.
Slamet was climbing a pole when he was electrocuted and fell. The accident made him hop from hospital to hospital getting a variety of treatment. Despite their efforts, he was unable to return to his former health, losing some function in his body. His second fingers on his hands couldn't move, while his left leg was amputated.
It was while he was bedridden in the hospitals that Slamet thought of YAKKUM. "Originally it was hard, going from working with electricity to wooden toys," he said.
Ngatijo, 43, has worked at the Foundation for nine years. He was one of the five people who helped Slamet open Mandiri Craft. His right leg had to be amputated after he fell victim to hit-and-run in 1992. The man from Wonosari Gunungkidul has known Slamet since he was at YAKKUM. "Before this we were taught to make wallets and skin bags," he said.
Every day, Ngatijo and scores of other employees work from 8am until 4pm. They work six days, Monday to Saturday.
Ngatijo's wage is Rp700,000 per month. This however is far from adequate. He doesn't get a lot of support either with no health insurance or financial care. Unfortunately for him, there are not a lot of other job opportunities available for the disabled.
Suparman, 35, is another worker at the Foundation. "My wage is only Rp400,000 per month," said the man from Imogiri.
Employed since 2008, he was also a victim of the 2006 quake. His house was completely destroyed. "I couldn't run," he said.
As he is in a wheelchair, making toys isn't easy. "Before this I never had any experience with wood," he said.
His salary can barely cover the cost of petrol to travel to and from his work. He also needs to pay for his two children's school fees. "We need to earn more, as right now it's clearly inadequate," he said, trying to stay calm.
By Josh Mitchell, Anang Zakaria, Syari Fani
No. 43/12, June 20, 2012
Tarjono Slamet, founder of the Cacat Mandiri Foundation.