Going the Distance to Teach

Gerakan Kendari Mengajar volunteers travel to remote villages in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, to help educate children. (JG Photo/Morgan Pettersson)

By : Morgan Pettersson | on 11:59 AM June 24, 2014
Category : Life & Style, Community

Arriving at Puulonggida village in a large convoy of motorbikes, we attempt to navigate the steep and rocky road safely. The sharp descent is given the added danger of cracks and potholes littered across the unsealed gravel.

It is hard to believe that we are only a 30-minute drive from the city center of Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi.

The village on the outskirts of Kendari is one of two locations where the local nonprofit organization Gerakan Kendari Mengajar (GKM), or Kendari Teaching Movement, operates.

Over 40 families live in the jungle-surrounded village, most in traditional wooden stilt houses.

Walking into a grass courtyard on the village’s school grounds, we see over 20 children gathered in small groups, each with a volunteer teacher giving them their weekly tutoring sessions.

These Sundays activities are a particular cause for celebration as it is “Cheerful Sunday.”

Held once a month, “Cheerful Sunday” is a chance for both the children and volunteers to play games and create art projects as a way of revising key lessons from the past month in a fun way.

Up to 30 children turn up every weekend for extra tutoring on a range of subjects, including math, science, social studies, English, Indonesian and Koran studies.

The children range in age from 6 to 14 years, and the vast majority are girls.

Tutoring takes place in small groups of not more than six students with the children placed into groups based on their skill level rather than their age, so that each tutor can focus on improving weak areas within the groups.

Asniwun Nopa, 24, who has been a volunteer with GKM from the organization’s very beginning, says it aims to inspire and offer an alternative future for Puulonggida’s children.

“We hope we can inspire them and open their eyes to future possibilities and career paths. To help them realize that they can go to university, they can travel, they can be whatever they want to be if they try seriously.”

The small village of Puulonggida does not have access to electricity and the water supply is far from clean, with several children suffering from rashes and other skin ailments as a result.

Its remote location and poor infrastructure have resulted in a lack of resources at the school and a shortage of reliable teachers.

“I can see from the circumstances surrounding Puulonggida that if no one cares for its people, especially their education, none of them would be able to reach high school, much less university,” Asni says.

GKM was founded in June 2013, modelled on the same idea as the nationwide educational nonprofit organization Indonesia Mengajar (Teach Indonesia).

The organization’s motto is: “ Mengajar, Mendidik, Menginspirasi ,” or “Teach, Educate, Inspire” and the volunteers that make up GKM aim to fill the educational gaps of villagers living in remote areas. One of the long-term aims of GKM is to have no children in the greater Kendari province drop out of school due to economic restrictions.

Asni believes the strategy of having young teachers catering to youths is the perfect recipe for change.

“The younger generation has so much power to create positive change in our communities. They can engage other young people to act, to make a difference and to contribute,” she says.

Fellow volunteer Rizki Warda Ayu is a 24-year-old university graduate who also believes that young, educated Indonesians have the power to initiate change.

“Young people are the most powerful agents of change and possess the intelligence, creativity, and courage necessary to make a difference,” she says.

“There is a saying: ‘Action speaks louder than words,’ and we believe that doing something is better than simply talking about it. That’s why we [GKM] have decided to take action.”

Kendari, the capital city of Southeast Sulawesi with a population of over 300,000 people, has seen a recent boom in its economy due to increased mining investment in the area. Although the Indonesian government has in the past attempted to boost the population of remote areas of the archipelago with its transmigration scheme, regions such as Southeast Sulawesi still remain under-populated and isolated.

This is reflected in the lack of quality education and high rates of school drop-outs.

“I think one of the key factors,” says Ayu, “is the unequal distribution of educational facilities and human resources. Schools in cities have better facilities than in Puulonggida; it affects the teacher’s performance and the impact falls onto to kids.

“Education is always important, whether it is in big cities or remote areas,” she adds. “But it is more important to focus on the country’s isolated areas because they have close to nothing in terms of facilities.”

Asni believes education is the key to driving Indonesia forward into the future.

“Today’s youth, if educated and able to participate in the market, will be a great asset to Indonesia. But if they do not receive education and training, it will become problematic.

“As a group of young, educated Indonesians, it is our obligation and our responsibility to educate our younger peers as this generation will become the foundation of our nation in the future.”

Having grown from strength to strength in its first year of operation, GKM now has 50 active volunteers, most of whom are university students or recent graduates, donating their time each week.

Upon forming the nonprofit cause, two key villages of Puulonggida and Nanga-Nanga were immediately identified as needing the most assistance in the greater Kendari area.

Access to Nanga-Nanga consists of one badly deteriorated road, making it extremely difficult for residents to attract teachers and resources.

GKM currently holds extra tutoring sessions there every Saturday for more than 100 children.

The organization’s most recent campaign, the “1,000 Books Program” aimed to collect at least 1,000 books to create libraries and supplement existing schools’ resources.

The campaign was such a success, GKM managed to collect over 2,000 books that have been distributed to libraries all around Southeast Sulawesi, including the city of Kendari and the islands of Muna, Kaledupa and Binongko.

Asni truly believes that “educating is the obligation of educated people.”

“People have to realize that education, especially in remote parts of Indonesia, is not only a government responsibility. I hope that all Indonesians, especially the county’s youth, will do something [to help educate others],” she says.

“Through education people living in remote areas would have the skills needed to improve their lives and raise their economic status. Better education leads to better lives.”

Ayu echoes Asni’s sentiments and believes that students in all areas of the country have the right to receive access to quality education.

“I hope for a better [quality of] education in the remote parts of Indonesia. [Villagers] have the right to receive the same treatment as other students [in cities].”

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