Students at Madrasah Tsanawiyah 1 were saddened by a recent fire, which destroyed much of the school, but the introduction of the Sobat Borneo program has given the children a new reason to ensure community unity.  Photos courtesy of Keishkara Hanandhita Putri

Lessons for Young Green Thumbs in E. Kalimantan


MARCH 30, 2015

Students at Madrasah Tsanawiyah 1 were saddened by a recent fire, which destroyed much of the school, but the introduction of the Sobat Borneo program has given the children a new reason to ensure community unity.  Photos courtesy of Keishkara Hanandhita Putri

It wasn’t going to be an ordinary Monday for Sartika, a student club leader at Madrasah Tsanawiyah 1. While a major fire at her school had taken hold in classrooms and parts of the school’s laboratories –leaving them either destroyed or damaged — the newly built greenhouse has brought back their hopes to create a greener school.

That Monday in January, she was satisfied to see her hydroponic lettuce had successfully grown from seed to harvest, ready to go to the market.

Sartika is one of hundreds of students, volunteers and local communities taking part in the Sobat Borneo city-wide green movement.

Since launching in 2012, Sobat Borneo has carried a mission statement to connect and promote environmental awareness among students, organizations and local communities in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.

With their motto “Belajar, Bebagi wan Bagarak Baimbai” (“To learn, to share and to move forward together”) the youth activists apply local wisdom in advocating their mission. Regarded as one of the most important aspects of progress, the governor encouraged all schools to nurture a favorable environment for learning, which later emboldened Adiwiyata schools standards.

For Madrasah Tsanawiyah. 1 (Mtsn. 1), it is a battle to grow from the ashes of the fire. The school has set an aim of becoming a province-level Adiwiyata school, while continuing to educate the more than 1,000 students. “Last year, the fire brought damage to our building but we kept ourselves from being devastated,” said Zairita Rachman, a teacher at Mtsn.1. Classes were continued in the undamaged school hall. It was during this trying period that she realized the school had an obligation to educate its students in environmental issues. “Students participation is a crucial element, and we try to involve them both in the action plans and decision making process,” she said.


In addition to teaching about sustainable farming practices, Sobat Borneo’s Green School also suggest hydroponics as an important subject to be studied because it can utilize smaller space at Mtsn.1.

Earlier this year, they implemented similar farming systems at more schools in the Balikpapan area where the students were grouped and delegated with certain duties in order to plant their vegetables.

According to Hadi Susilo, member of “Balikpapan Berkebun” and Sobat Borneo mentor, the current crops at Mtsn. 1 has reported good progress. “Their hydroponic lettuce, bok choy, and tomatoes grow into a harvestable 200 to 300 gram head within just a few months,” he said.

The same sentiment came from Sartika, a student at Mtsn.1 who’s successfully harvested her hydroponic lettuce in January. “Different plants need different treatments. The bok choy were mostly big but we almost had a hydroponic failure with our tomatoes,” she excitedly told the Jakarta Globe about her farming experience and new skills.

But the bad days didn’t last long after these green troopers learned that the crop matures as the available light and day length changes. Hadi illustrated that there are several methods commonly used for hydroponics, which include nutrient film technique (NFT), wick system, drip irrigation, and the floating system. “In schools with green houses like Mtsn.1, we chose the popular system called NFT.”

“Besides easy to assemble, NFT encourages good root growth. It also greatly reduces time for our plants to reach maturity,” he said. Rachman further added that the green houses and seeds were donated by Pertamina, which founded the Sobat Borneo Green School program.

However, to keep the program sustainable in the long term, Sobat Borneo also equipped the students with the knowledge to manage the waste and market the produce. “In the upcoming days, we’re planning to fund our hydroponics with the profit we get from selling the vegetables and also from the trash bank,” Rachman said. She referred to the waste-management system that helps school boards and students to realize greater benefit from their waste and recycling programs. Rachman said that during February the school collected almost 200 kilograms of waste, to be stored at the trash bank.

For Sapta, a Sobat Borneo volunteer, it is not weird to spend his weekend going from school to school for doing the regular “green watch discussion.” Sapta and the other members were responsible in preparing the presentation, under the supervision of Sobat Borneo officers.

On another weekend you may find him, along with many other Sobat Borneo volunteers, strolling around Pasar Kebun Sayur to participate in a market cleaning day. “Volunteering at Sobat Borneo brings many positive impacts to me, my surroundings, and on top of all, the city’s wellbeing,” Sapta said. He also pointed out that being involved in volunteerism will sharpen beneficial soft skills like public speaking or event organizing. “After all, it is about choosing how we want to spend our time and energy.” “Giving back to the community is thing that I find the most rejuvenating,” he said.