Jakarta. Drugs do not only mess with people's mental and physical capacities, but also their futures.
That's what Lusia Efriani Kiroyan saw when she visited the women's ward of the Tanjung Pinang Penitentiary in Batam with her friends at the nongovernmental organization, Rumah Zakat, for a fast-breaking event during Ramadan in 2012.
"I was deeply moved," Lusia said during a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday (05/12). "The prison was full of young women, many of whom are single parents, who were incarcerated for drug abuse and drug dealing. Their sentences were long and without any proper drug-rehabilitation programs. I wonder what they would do with their lives once they are released."
Responding to Lusia's concerns, prison officials encouraged her to teach simple handicraft skills to the inmates, both to while away their time and prepare them for life outside prison.
"I came up with the idea of teaching them to make batik dresses for dolls," she said. "It is relatively easy and does not need a lot of capital to begin with. And then the dolls can perhaps be sold as souvenirs to international tourists."
Lusia, who is a successful coconut-shell charcoal entrepreneur in Batam, decided to buy dozens of female dolls from China and asked her friends to donate their old batik dresses.
She then taught about 30 female prison inmates how to create simple patterns and cut and sew the batik rags into pretty dresses for the dolls.
"The inmates were very enthusiastic," 37-year-old Lusia said. "Some of them said making dresses for the dolls helped temper their longing for their daughters at home."
Lusia next took some of the finished dolls when she traveled abroad and gave them as souvenirs to friends, who loved it and asked for more.
Prison officials and inmates also urged her to turn the dressmaking class into a regular program.
Shortly after that, Barelang, another penitentiary in Batam, also asked Lusia to start a similar class in their institution.
"As a result, my house and office became very full with batik dolls," Lusia said, with a laugh.
She then took some of the dolls to hospitals in Batam to give to terminally ill children.
"Many of the children have to endure painful treatments in the hospitals alone, because their parents have to work or take care of their siblings," said Lusia, who is a mother of two.
"These dolls can stay by their side and help comfort them in those bleak days," she added.
And that is how the Batik Girls Workshop program first started.
In 2013, Lusia established the Cinderella From Indonesia Foundation for her social work in prisons.
The name of the foundation was taken from the title of her first book, published in 2012. The book narrates the entrepreneur's life and career journey.
"I've been through a lot of difficult times in my life," said Lusia, who received The International Alliance for Women's World of Difference 100 Award in 2012. "Thankfully, a lot of people helped me to get back on my feet. Now, I feel obliged to also help others."
In 2014, Lusia expanded her Batik Girls Workshop program to Pondok Bambu Women's Penitentiary in Jakarta, where she also established a new goal, which was "1,000 Batik Girls for Indonesia."
This earned her the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Seeds of the Future grant from the United States Embassy in the same year.
"I was ecstatic," she said, with a big smile. "I was invited to the United States to receive the grant and also met with President Obama."
In the following year, the entrepreneur achieved her goal and distributed a thousand batik dolls to terminally ill children in 10 cities in Indonesia.
This year, Lusia started the Batik Girls Workshop program in Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison and set another goal, which is "1,000 Batik Girls for Asean."
"Together with the inmates [in Batam, Jakarta and Bali], we aim to make a thousand batik dolls to be distributed to terminally ill children in five countries in Asean, which are Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Myanmar," Lusia said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Lusia, who is an alumnus of the 2012 Muslim Exchange Program, won the Australian Embassy's Alumni Grant Scheme 2017 Round Two this year for this new initiative.
However, working with convicted criminals is not a simple feat.
"My team and I usually start our workshops with early morning yoga and motivational talks to get them in the mood for working," she said.
The inmates usually work on the dolls for two or three hours a day.
"We require that each doll should have a different dress," she said. "Thus, the inmates have to be creative and use their imagination when working."
For each dress, inmates receive Rp 10,000 (74 US cents), which they can accumulate until the end of their prison sentences.
And yet, some inmates are reluctant to participate in the program.
"The inmates in Kerobokan were especially difficult to work with," Lusia said.
Her friend, Australian pastor Christy Buckingham, who often works among the inmates of Kerobokan Prison, then introduced her to death-row inmate Lindsay June Sandiford, who is also incarcerated there.
"[Sandiford] is a respected figure in Kerobokan and was able to encourage her friends [in prison] to work with us," Lusia said.
The entrepreneur hopes to achieve her "1,000 Batik Girls for Asean" goal by February next year.
The entrepreneur currently funds her social programs with donations and grants. Besides that, she also goes on roadshows to share her vision and sell the dolls to business and religious communities in Australia and the United States every year.
Each doll is priced at $15.
"The dolls are always sold out [during these roadshows]," Lusia said. "But it's tiring to carry a lot of them during my travels. And my time is also very limited."
This prompted Lusia to visit Google's Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore on Wednesday (06/12) to learn how to use social media to market the dolls.
"With social media, I hope to be able to sell more dolls and expand my social work," she said.
There seems to be no slowing down with this entrepreneur.
"Many of my friends ask what I gain from all this [social] work," Lusia said. "Well, I gain nothing but happiness in knowing that I have made a bit of a difference in some people's lives."