The Jakarta Post
Simple joys: Books are considered a luxury in the remote area of Bukit Rimbang Bukit Baling Wildlife Sanctuary in Riau. (JP/Syafrizaldi)
In villages adjacent to the Bukit Rimbang Bukit Baling Wildlife Sanctuary in Riau, books are still considered a luxury.
Therefore, children in the villages crave reading. Luckily, one family is striving to respond to their dire need by going on ‘literacy expeditions.’
Elnesti, 10, was relieved when at the end of her school vacation, Azzura, 12, and Arung, 9, arrived in her village of Kotolamo, Kampar Kiri Hulu district, Kampar regency.
“We’re pleased to have them here,” said Elnesti.
The sixth grader heard about the visit from her father, Elvis, and was thrilled when it came true.
The parents of the three children are good friends and they have often met in Pekanbaru, the Riau capital, to discuss the children’s literacy situation in Kotolamo.
After dinner, Elnesti, Azzura and Arung prepared posters and laid books out around the room, while their parents planned the room’s layout and prepared painting equipment for a children’s activity the following morning.
Elnesti’s house was already packed with children from two hamlets by 8 a.m., two hours earlier than scheduled. The first day began with the children reading the books brought by Azzura and Arung. Those still unable to read were helped by the older children.
Elnesti read a tale from an old magazine for a younger child. Azzura and Arung helped the younger children understand the stories they were reading. They stopped the reading session after an hour so that the children would not get bored.
Little artists: Children from villages near Bukit Rimbang Bukit Baling Wildlife Sanctuary in Riau participate in an art activity. (JP/Syafrizaldi)
The mother of Azzura and Arung, Elfa, introduced the functions of body parts through a game of movement, from the head to the feet. The children looked amused as they had to coordinate actions and sounds.
The literacy course livened up when the children still learning to read were taught to pronounce vowels by singing A-I-U-E-O. Five of them were told to stand at the front and sing out the vowels. Elnesti, Azzura and Arung also helped them to sing.
“It’s a simpler way of making them read vowels. Later they’ll find it easy to combine vowels with consonants,” said Azzura. The children kept chanting the A-I-U-E-O song even after three days. According to Elfa, singing helps them to remember it.
The next activity was watercolor painting on canvas. Arung seemed very enthusiastic about this activity, mixing the blue and yellow paints to make green. Actually there was already a green paint, but Arung wanted to create another shade of green.
“Everything is OK, don’t be afraid of getting dirty. You can wash your hands,” Arung encouraged his peers, who were getting stained by the watercolors. Some even spilt paint on the floor. Elnesti’s parents just smiled and watched the children happily engaged in the activity.
By the end,12 canvases had been painted with various pictures such as flowers, wildlife, natural panoramas and some more abstract images.
Transporting knowledge: In this remote area in Riau, books can only be distributed with small boats. (JP/Syafrizaldi)
“Their bold attempts to paint are a skill that the children will have for their lives. Parents should further encourage their children,” said Elfa.
Ekspedisi Literasi (Literacy Expedition), or Eksperasi for short, also includes informal talks with families on the issue because Elfa deems it necessary for children to benefit from support from their homes.
Arung said he would take his paintings home to be framed in Pekanbaru and then sold.
“We’ll use the money from the pictures to buy books to be taken to other remote villages,” he added. Elfa hoped her efforts could inspire many people to at least contribute some books for children.
Azzura and Arung frequently go on trips to isolated areas with their family, which they call Eksperasi, for the main purpose of promoting reading interest. In 2015, the two children, both students of the Indonesian Creative School in Pekanbaru, visited the Anak Dalam ethnic group in Jambi, after a previous journey to Banyak Islands in Aceh.
This family emphasizes the importance of access to education and literacy for children. “We prefer touring villages to visiting malls,” said Arung. Azzura added that as he had no TV at home and he was only permitted to play with gadgets on weekends, he had come to love books even more.
“Besides our private collection, we receive book donations from friends in Jakarta and Aceh for distribution. We promote directly and through social media at our own expense, although some of our friends also make contributions,” revealed Elfa, a lecturer at Abulyatama University, Aceh.
Kotolamo is located hundreds of kilometers away from Pekanbaru. Through the village flows Batang Bio River, which combines with Batang Subayang River before becoming Kampar River, which meets the sea on the eastern coast of Sumatra.
Pristine: A view of Kotolamo, the heart of the Bukit Rimbang Bukit Baling Wildlife Sanctuary in Riau. (JP/Syafrizaldi)
Azzura and Arung had to travel three hours over land from Pekanbaru, then almost two hours by boat from Gema village to reach Kotolamo, which is located right in the Bukit Rimbang Bukit Baling Wildlife Sanctuary, the habitat of various animals including Sumatran tigers.
Eksperasi also involves discussions with children about the importance of forests, which has made Elnesti convinced of the function of forests to maintain natural balance. “If deforestation continues, where will tigers live? They will even pounce on us,” Elnesti pointed out.
In his home, Elnesti’s father has dedicated a room for children to read donated books. Azzura and Arung spent five days with Elnesti and the hospitable Kotolamo community. The three still cherish the dream of sharing literacy through books beyond Eksperasi.