Happy, Healthy Children


For our final song-writing unit, the children at SDKE Mangunan and I discussed the life of children in Indonesia. I began with a workshop in which children answered the questions: “What do children need to live happy and healthy lives?” and “What problems are faced by children in Indonesia today?” To make this a more fun activity than a discussion, I made posters with the questions, and each child made three paper hand cut-outs. They wrote two answers for the first question with their hands, and another answer with their third paper hand. Some decided to write their answers quickly and spend the rest of the workshop playing drums, while others thought carefully and colored in their hands.

The following week I brought in a synthesis of their answers on another poster. Both the older and younger groups emphasized eating healthily (fruits, especially bananas and rice; taking vitamins; and drinking milk, though most of the milk here is powdered or condensed) and exercising. The older group said for children to live happy lives it is important to have good friends, and to be happy playing and having fun. The younger group had more varied answers: take vacation, get presents, play, help friends, and create.

When answering the question “What problems are faced by Indonesian children,” the older group wrote: hunger, cannot attend school, “not able” (suffering from poverty), and being neglected. Likewise, the younger group wrote that issues included children being poor, but also mentioned street children, child begging, and being ill (six children mentioned this, two specifying fever and cough). I found it especially intriguing that while both groups answered similarly, the younger children had more specific answers, and about street children in particular.


SDKE Mangunan as an experimental school with an emphasis on children’s rights has admitted many former street children into their student body. Currently there are three in attendance, and three more recently graduated from the sixth grade and are currently enrolled in junior high school. These children are sponsored by and live at the Hope Shelter, a branch of the non-governmental grassroots organization The Dream House. This organization works to make frequent street contact with children who beg or find other work on the busy roads of Yogyakarta, and ultimately tries to bring the children from the street back to the classroom. (Find more information at http://www.thedreamhouse.org/en.)

The SDKE Mangunan campus is technically in Sleman, just outside of the city of Yogyakarta. The students live in an interesting gray area between a bustling and modern Indonesian city and more traditional Javanese rural culture. This infers that the children are witness to both urban and rural exploitations of children’s rights (from begging street children to children who cannot afford to go to school or pay for healthcare). With these discussions and song-writing workshops, the children are able to articulate the current situation of life for Indonesian children through music.

Applying these three themes (happy life, healthy life, and current issues), the children of Kelompok Besar broke-up into two groups of three, while those in Kelompok Kecil into groups of three, as well as one group of four and one boy working alone. Three boys in the older group each wrote one four-line verse about a single theme, creating the song “Hidup Sehat dan Senang” (“Healthy and Happy Life”); the older girls followed suit and titled their song “Sahat” (“Friendship”). The younger group had more variety in their organization. Two groups of three girls, all in second grade, divided so that each song would have one verse about each theme. They titled their songs like their songs about identity, in that the first letters of every girl’s name combined to “Naingga Song” and “Liwapris.” One group of three boys individually wrote a verse about each theme and called their song “Senang Bermain” (“Happy Playing”). Another group of four boys had two verses written by two boys, both about how children lead healthy lives. They titled online casino their song “Anak Sehat” (“Healthy Children”). This group differed from the others in that one boy sang his own verse, two boys sang the other verse, and one boy played bongo-like drums without singing. This group also stood out because two boys are in fourth grade, and two boys in third (usually the children work with others in the same class). Finally, one boy who was sick on the day the other groups recorded still wanted to participate and be featured on the album so he decided to sing alone. His four-line song illustrated the problems children face today in Indonesia. Its title, the first line, reads “Ada Anak Yang Miskin” (“There Are Poor Children”).

Of these seven songs, only the older boys and the boys’ group of four recorded with instrumentation. Even during practice before recording, the older group of girls and the younger group of three boys played instruments, but chose to feature the recordings with vocals only. Throughout this process, I have been recording two to ten times each group, uploading songs to my computer, and the following week asking the children which take they prefer for the album. I then attempt to produce the songs chosen, though it has proved difficult creating professional-quality recordings when we record at school! However it does add to the charm of the recordings, as you can hear children laughing in the background, the noon-time call to prayer from a nearby mosque, balls bouncing. It emphasizes, I think, the surroundings in which these children do play and practice their music at school and around their neighborhood.

I will be featuring clips from the album presentation at school so you readers can hear the children’s fantastic songs! In the meantime, these photos are from two different workshops. The first is from an afternoon when I had both groups attend to learn about and play Native American music. I brought in my computer for them to watch a slide-show illustrating various Native American cultures and musical instruments, listen to flute music, and see a short podcast about the importance of drumming and vocals in Native American music. We finished the workshop with our own drum circle, and I taught them two vocal melodies I remembered from middle school (my middle school music teacher was very proud of his Cherokee heritage and often featured Native American music in his lessons). The other two pictures are from two different days when children painted and drew their own album cover art. They thoroughly enjoyed a new mode of artistic expression, painting all afternoon while choosing song takes and titles. It has been a very eventful and productive month!

2 thoughts on “Happy, Healthy Children

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