The making of a Pepe doll. (Courtesy of Tulisan)
With one pretty handmade doll at a time, Tulisan is providing a better and brighter tomorrow for street children.
Her lifelong profound admiration for children led Melissa Sunjaya to Kampus Diakonia Modern (KDM), a nonprofit foundation established in 1972 that works with street children in Jakarta.
In the middle of last year, Melissa and Tulisan’s creative team founded the Pepe Project as an inspirational, fun activity for KDM street kids.
“I’ve always wanted to do something that would give them hope,” said Melissa. “So when I met with KDM and found out how amazing they are in educating the kids to be responsible and self-reliant individuals, I immediately proposed the Pepe project to them.”
Prior to the art project, Melissa had longed to create the Pepe doll, of which she had already envisioned the look and shape.
“Before, Pepe was just a pretty handmade doll, but now it’s made by street kids and intended to support them. It’s exciting how Pepe can become a self-sustainable project for them,” said Melissa. “Finally, everything made perfect sense to me.”
The cold, harsh reality that these street kids had endured every day later inspired the Pepe short story, which Melissa wrote herself.
“I was thinking about the Pepe doll of being a savior for street children. I tried to put myself in these kids’ shoes, if I would have to constantly run from something and just live day by day, and suddenly, I meet this magical superhero.”
The project commenced with an intensive creative workshop by the Tulisan team for a group of five street children aged 12 to 16 years in KDM headquarters.
“After the workshop was finished, each of these kids underwent a one-day internship at Tulisan,” Melissa said. “They visited our store and workshop, and witnessed how simple things are made and get turned into miracles.”
The Pepe project is not only about raising money for the children but is most essentially to encourage the children to have the confidence to turn their lives around.
“And for the people who buy the doll, it’s about how a simple gesture can have a big impact on their environment, which I think we kind of need for this social issue.”
The Pepe project has gradually evolved into a highly meaningful experience for the children. “Now I can see these kids, especially the ones I keep in touch with, are quite passionate about what they do in the project,” told Melissa.
“When you’re from the street, you experience many abuses, be they emotional, physical or sexual. These children need a powerful switch in their mind to make them finally say, ‘I’m really happy with the way I am.’ And that is what I’m looking for. If I could have one kid say that, I’d be very happy.”
Tulisan does not make any specific target in producing the dolls, which are all made of leftover materials from other Tulisan’s products, except for the thread and the brand’s loop tag.
A Pepe doll is an artwork, and Tulisan is eager to send a clear message about it.
“There were several customers who wanted to order 500 to 1,000 Pepe dolls and I explained to them that it all depends on the kids. You cannot force them to produce a certain amount of dolls each day,” explained Melissa.
“They make these dolls because it’s fun for them and I’m only helping these kids so people notice what they’ve done.”
Currently, the Pepe dolls are sold only in the Tulisan store and at the KDM foundation. Nevertheless, in just six months, Tulisan has managed to donate Rp 50 million (US$5400) from the dolls sold at the store.
Melissa is already thinking of expanding the Pepe project in the near future, with careful consideration for the children as her top priority.
“It’s about working with emotions, in this case, very tough and complex emotions. They are kids who have been through a lot of trauma in their life. So I have to patiently wait for the right moment to expand the project and continue the journey of the Pepe character with them.”
— Dita Ajani