Thousands of street children are emerging in the rampant growth of cities in Indonesia. Nurokhim, once a street child himself, is meeting the needs of marginalized children for basic food, parenting, education, healthcare and economic opportunities and through that, building a road to full citizenship.

This profile below was prepared when Nurokhim Nurokhim was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.


Thousands of street children are emerging in the rampant growth of cities in Indonesia. Nurokhim, once a street child himself, is meeting the needs of marginalized children for basic food, parenting, education, healthcare and economic opportunities and through that, building a road to full citizenship.


Based on his experience living in the street as a child, Rokhim has developed a holistic approach to meet street children’s needs and enable them to develop into balanced adults by having a substitute family structure, access to education, life skills, and vocational training to enter the job market. By mobilizing the wider society– volunteers, alumni, students, parents, schools, lawyers and other partners - Rokhim is raising awareness about a problem that affects the entire nation and is reactivating disappearing traditional cooperative values in society. He is bringing full citizenship to street children who have been systemically discriminated against by society and is empowering dysfunctional street families with parenting, education, healthcare and micro enterprise support. 

Rokhim involves the children’s families in the general welfare of street children, mixing fee-paying children with street children, and recruiting teachers with empathy for the children’s experience of school. His school is open every day of the year. He is also extending his work to children in prison who are mainly underfed and negotiates with the government for remission for children who attend classes. He is measuring the effectiveness of his strategy. 

His main school, called Master School, is already a showcase for imitators. The West Java Province has adopted part of Rokhim’s model as the Special Education Service for children with special needs who can now have access to life skills based education. It has also acknowledged that students from the School and related informal schools can participate in the national exams. The Master School approach has also become part of the rehabilitation program for prisons. In addition, Rokhim is advocating a national regulation to allow Isbat Marriage (marriage for couples already living together) for street children’s parents. With this, street children will automatically have their birth certificates and identity cards issued, which is currently a major obstacle to getting into school. 

His successful model has moved volunteers to replicate it. There are now five independent Schools using his model in Bekasi, Bogor, Bandung, and East Jakarta. International civil society organizations such as World Education and Hope for our Children have also replicated the model. Other countries such as Thailand, Japan, and South Korea and the United Nations have visited the School to learn about it. To expand his impact, Rokhim plans to set up a Master University and Business School dedicated to street and marginalized children.


An estimated 230,000 street children are spread across growing cities in Indonesia. Some may be living on the streets with their families or come from crowded homes in slums. Many parents of street children cannot afford to send their children to school. The situation worsened during Indonesia’s economic crisis in 1998. To support the family, or for their own survival, many poor and marginalized children are forced to go out on the streets to work.

Street children are often victims of marginalized families who are not able to manage their households. Although the government has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is committed to achieving the Education For All, street children are often excluded from basic government education programs, as they lack birth certificates and identity cards, and as such are not able to enroll in any formal schools. Furthermore, this conventional schooling system is not tailored to fit with street children’s needs and conditions. 

Society has traditionally seen street children as a public nuisance. In the name of enforcing the Public Order Law, street children are detained by the Civil Service Police Unit. Their means of making a living – guitars for busking, goods for sale, for example – are confiscated. They are also subjected to verbal and physical abuse by other marginalized adults. Street children participating in what is said to be illegal behavior are sent to jail and treated as criminals by the police. In jail, their rights to education are abandoned. 

There have been many attempts to address the problem of street children. But these attempts are mostly delivery of one time donations or scholarships that are not sustainable. None have been able to address the systemic problem faced by street children and their marginalized families.


The peer tutors mechanism is part of the leadership path applied at the School. Fifty percent of the 150 volunteer teachers are Master School graduates, and Rokhim also engages university students from the public University of Indonesia and the private university of Pancasila. He partners with lecturers in different subjects who run scientific research to support his policy advocacy but at the same time meet their own academic goals. He also partners with University’s organizations like Student Unions and Small and Medium Enterprise Cooperatives. 

Rokhim organizes clusters of children based on their background. The majority of the children miss a sense of family care and love. To keep them from turning to illegal drugs for comfort, Rokhim keeps them busy with different activities in school. 

There are also children who are in prison. Rokhim has convinced the Head of Depok Prison that these children should also have a right to education and advocated that they should not be treated as criminals but rather sent to rehabilitation centers. The School has now become part of the rehabilitation program inside the Prison. He identifies adult prisoners to teach the children in detention. Other adult prisoners then want to enter the education program. 

The School curriculum includes religious education in addition to traditional education and is based on joy and fun. The School also takes in children with special needs such as autistic, deaf, and disabled children from poor families. When they first join the school, Rokhim will map out their psychological and medical needs. For this, he has developed a partnership with different institutes and universities from whom medical doctors, nurses, criminologists, and psychologists are deployed. 

Having mobilized support from different institutions, the School has grown organically. Starting with only 330 children in 2007, it has 2,000 children enrolled in 2014, including 800 high school, 600 junior-high, 400 elementary and 200 kindergarten students. Students who would like to pursue their studies are supported to get scholarships. Today over 33 graduates from the School are studying in different universities. This year, three students have received scholarships from abroad. Many of these street students have also won different national and provincial scientific competitions. 

The school goes beyond basic education to teach vocational skills to prepare students to have independent sources of income from running their own small businesses. The students run these school-owned small businesses, such as food stalls, motorcycle washing and repair workshops, to learn how to run a business and generate revenue, which goes back to the school. Rokhim also created a job link with various companies. Hundreds of graduates are now working as security guards and employees in these businesses. Some other graduates are running their own small businesses such as motorcycle workshops, beauty salons or mobile phone outlets. 

Understanding that street children are victims of dysfunctional families, Rokhim is also working with their families. The School runs daily meetings with these parents to offer parenting programs through Qur’an reading. The School also provides a free Health Clinic for the families and modules on how to run a small business. The parents get financial support and business coaching from the Small and Medium Enterprise Cooperative. Under this program, the parents run collective businesses in garment and recycling products thanks to loans from the Provincial Cooperative Office. 

Rokhim has run different advocacy campaigns at provincial and national levels. Since most street and marginalized children have no birth certificates or identity cards, he is currently working with the renowned Nusantara Islam University to persuade the Ministry of Religion and the House Representative to allow Isbat marriage. Once the parents are legally registered in the State Civil Record, children of these marriages will automatically be registered and birth certificates and identity cards issued. 

Successful with the Master Partner Program, Rokhim has pushed through the Government development program for the allocation of funds from the Cooperative Office to support one million young entrepreneurs in West Java. Seizing this opportunity, he will partner with the Small and Medium Enterprise Cooperative to support the students of Master School running their small businesses. He is also planning to develop a Business and Management School where graduates will develop and manage collectively businesses in housing construction, education, and health.


Rokhim was born in 1971 in Tegal, Central Java as the only child of a business family. He moved with his family to Jakarta and spent most of his childhood in Tanah Abang, North Jakarta, Indonesia’s centre of garment and fabric wholesalers. The area is well known for its strong trading economy, but is also popular with criminals and gangsters who organize informal “security guards,” mobsters who extort businesses for “protection.” His father was a successful fabric merchant and his mother ran traditional food-court businesses. 

When he was young, Rokhim learned that his father’s success in business had broken the family apart. His parents got divorced and remarried - his father four times. Young Rokhim decided not to live with either of his parents but with his grandparents. Even though his family was well off and had two nannies to care for him, he lacked love from his family and made the choice to live as a street child. He earned money by selling food and snacks, stealing food, working as an informal parking attendant and doing other jobs available for street children. 

Rokhim was considered a child with problems for doing things differently than other children. He was kicked out of schools for his nonconformist behavior. Finally, he was sent to his hometown Tegal to study in an Islamic boarding school until graduating from high school. He continued his study in Ma’had az-Zaytun in South Jakarta, took an apprenticeship in the Jakarta Integrated Islam School Network, and secured his bachelor degree in education management from Indraprasta University Jakarta. 

With his inheritance from his late father, Rokhim bought shops to sell snacks in different bus terminals in different parts of Jakarta. His business was successful; however, it went down drastically in 1998 due to the economic crisis. This was when he started noticing more and more children working in the street and at the terminal. Moved by these children, he decided to close his shop in the Depok bus terminal and dedicate the space as a place for the children to keep their music instruments and rest. 

In 2000 Rokhim started to teach them basic reading and writing. Soon, more children joined and the house was not able to accommodate all of them, so he negotiated with the bus terminal and the nearby mosque to give him space for his school for street children. He convinced them that street children are also human beings who need friends, a family, and a place to stay. Nurokhim finally got the place and successfully mobilized full support from the wider community. Mirroring his own path in life, Rokhim believes that education can change people’s lives. It has moved him to set up the Master School as a non-formal school for street children and other marginalized children in 2007 and to establish the foundation of Bina Insan Mandiri (Assistance for Self-reliant People) to organize his endeavors.