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April 29, 2021, 02.14 PM

JAKARTA, - Sanggar Seroja, a creative community of trans women in Jakarta, has been promoting not only social activities but also entrepreneurship programs to its members and other people in need to withstand the Covid-19 pandemic.   

The activities are mostly done in Kampung Duri, which is home to many trans women in Jakarta, under the leadership of Rikky Muhammad Fajar or known as Rikky. 

As the chief of Sanggar Seroja, Rikky has always aspired to develop the creative work of trans women so that they will be treated with equality and appreciated by others in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country.  

As someone who once suffered from bullying, Rikky has grown into a strong personality. Coming from a broadcasting background, Rikky wants to support trans women who don't have many opportunities in the entertainment and the arts sector.

“I want to use the power of media to create a positive image about trans women as a unique and beautiful creature, not scary and dangerous figures,” said Rikky on Thursday, April 22.

However, due to the pandemic, several performances had to be canceled. This affected Sanggar Seroja to earn money for its members. 

Staying at home may be the best option during this pandemic, but not for the people whose livelihoods are obtained solely thru street performances, including the trans women. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country last year, many trans people have been struggling to earn money. 

Many trans women, or locally known as waria, are found busking on the streets or working in beauty salons due to a lack of job opportunity in the formal sector. Over the past year, the income has significantly reduced. Those who engage in busking in a public space will only make around 20,000 rupiahs-50,000 rupiahs ($1.38-$3.44) a day due to the reduced numbers of people on the streets amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, before the pandemic as street performers, they could make at least 100,000 rupiahs ($6.92) a day.

Lack of access to essential health services

Another problematic situation is that when they are sick. Most of the transgender community does not have identity cards, while the cards will be required by many healthcare facilities and public service in the country. 

Rikky continues to strive for the waria of Kampung Duri to be registered with the Healthcare and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan) for getting free healthcare services. Unfortunately, most trans women who had been expelled from their families at their young age would face problems getting identity cards and BPJS. 

“They don’t have an identification card to access health insurance program and other public services because most of them have been expelled by their family. They are afraid of going back home to take their civil documents," said Rikky. 

“Also, being a waria, who has been marginalized by people, makes them afraid of visiting public service office.”

Entrepreneurship program 

During the pandemic, together with members of the Sanggar Seroja, Rikky raised funds on social media to lessen the economic burden among the trans women in Kampung Duri. The funds were already distributed to 80 trans women in Kampung Duri and other places.

Besides, Ricky also motivates trans women to start entrepreneurship. The assistance continues to be distributed to trans women who want to start a business. The aid comprises a cash loan of 500,000 rupiahs ($34) and non-financial support such as preparing logo design, promotional materials, and marketing-related training activities. 

“Seroja's activities, which were previously performed in theatre, have been moved to online talk show programs, social fundraising, digital performances, social gathering, dance performances, writing class, and entrepreneurship,” added Rikky.

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A post shared by Dani (@dapur.madamseroja)

So far, Sanggar Seroja has succeeded in producing six food products under Madam Seroja’s Kitchen in Jakarta. They are Bolu Mama Pandan, Cumi Pedas Indri, Klappertaart Madam Seroja, and many more.

“I plan to expand the Madam Seroja’s culinary business, so we can be more skillful in entrepreneurship and get more income,” said Rikky.

One of his efforts to introduce the trans women community to the public is by producing a film, which he directed in 2013. The film "Emak dari Jambi" or loosely translated as Mother of Jambi won the 2016 Best ASEAN Documentary at the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival in Thailand.

Sanggar Seroja has shown their creativity amid the Covid-19. They have led their community to provide social support to their fellow citizens despite being discriminated against in their everyday lives.

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