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Hand in hand: Villagers, students and a volunteers build a water tank in Pesanggrahan village.The creation of a good education system in Indonesia is one of the main challenges this country faces. The history of corruption, the geographical barriers and the human and economic resources have shaped this task as an impossible mission.
It all started in 2002, when Imam Prasodjo, sociologist at the University of Indonesia and chairman of Nurani Dunia Foundation, first went to Purwakarta, West Java, and decided to revive a local school which was falling apart.
A former student of this school, Ikhan Rosikah, said that going to school at the State Elementary School 04 in Cisarua, in the Tegalwaru Subdistrict of Purwakarta, was “like going to a dump”.
Rain transformed classrooms into pools, garbage in the area let off a powerful stench, and there was only one teacher for 250 students, forcing her to teach three classes simultaneously.
Using the principles of gotong royong (working together), Imam got the whole community of Cisarua involved in building a new school. When the buildings were complete, local teachers were recruited and trained.
The villagers began to dream of a better life for their children. They asked for support to build a junior high school as well.
Today, students no longer drop out of school after the elementary level, and enrollment has increased by a third. When talking to the students, they all agreed on one thing: “Our school is beautiful”. The smiles on their faces were proof of their pride. What made this school unique was that it is officially a state school, but the construction was fully initiated by the people in the community themselves.
However, education is not just confined to classrooms. The full development of an individual requires more than just infrastructure.
As the work of the Nurani Dunia Foundation shows, development must be understood as a holistic process that involves a whole community and focuses on the root of the problem.
Once residents of Tegalwaru sub-district discovered their power to change their own future, new hope arose and evolved into a number of ongoing projects, that for this last decade, haven’t stopped addressing people’s basic needs, always based on the principles of integrated participatory development.
One such basic need is water. Eight tanks have been built in different areas of Cisarua, providing clean water to the village and improving the irrigation system for hundreds of rice fields — the village’s main source of sustenance.
This is important, not only for avoiding water spills in an area of water shortage, but also to improve community health by avoiding water-borne diseases.
Regarding health, malnutrition is another key issue. Research by volunteer students from Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) revealed that 30 percent of elementary school students in Cisarua suffered from malnutrition.
To combat this problem, a nutrient-rich meal is being provided daily at the schools, which also increases awareness among community members.
Another major problem in this region was access. While the mountains and the beautiful lake are a breathtaking landscape, they also make accessibility a true challenge.
At the shore of the lake, there are several elementary schools, only accessible by boat. The boat used by the teachers was old and dangerous. After community discussions, Dr. Prasodjo suggested that the solution was an all-purpose boat, which could also serve as an ambulance for lake dwellers and a fishing boat for extra income.
Now teachers have a secure and colorful means of transportation, which serves other purposes as well.
From above, the mountaintops cast their own shadows. Some children have to walk for more than two hours in their daily trip to and from school. For this reason, in Cilele, a village at the highest elevation point of Tegalwaru subdistrict, Nurani Dunia supported the construction of an environmentally friendly library that runs on solar panel electricity.
While it is a place of increasing ones knowledge, it also provides a rest stop for children on their daily trek. Rosdiana, the librarian, says “children have improved their reading skills in just three months”. When asked about their preferences, she says “They like the bilingual books the best – English-Indonesian”, for education and pleasure can go well together.
Rest area: Students read books on the floor of a library in remote Pesanggrahan Village, Purwakarta, West Java. The students stop at the library before and after school in nearby Cisarua Village.These are just some pieces of the puzzle that, for ten years, have been supporting the dream of a higher quality of life for the people of Tegalwaru subdistrict.
The social richness of the bottom-up approach that characterizes participatory development has helped reduce economical costs and has strengthened social capital in the region.
With a good school, improved infrastructure and health, and an increase in income opportunities, new generations are gaining confidence regarding their future.
The positive developments in the Tegalwaru subdistrict stand in sharp contrast with the lack of opportunities in villages around it, where many are forced to migrate to over-populated Jakarta for work.
The strength to build Indonesia’s future remains in the hands of integrated participatory development. Anto, who participated in the school reconstruction in 2002, and is concluding his university studies in Bandung, stated: “I didn’t like it here, but since the rebuilding of the school, we have the best school in the Purwakarta region, and I hope to be a teacher here one day.”
— Photos Courtesy of Nurani Dunia Foundation