Giving Disadvantaged Kids a Chance to Dream Through ‘Indonesia Mengajar’
Bayu Adi Persada
[Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesia Teaches) is a volunteer-based educational program that was started by Anies Baswedan, the rector at Paramadina University in Jakarta, to send top graduates from around the country to teach in rural areas. This is the story of a Pengajar Muda (Young Teacher) in finding his passion]
Click here to read “A Teacher’s Pride Lies on His Students’ Accomplishment,” the second part of “Journal of a Young Teacher” series.
I was stationed in Bibinoi village, a population of 1300, in North Maluku’s Bacan Island. When my feet first touched Bibinoi’s sand and my eyes landed sight on local people’s faces, my worries of not getting electricity were washed out. Although I could not find a single bar on my cell phone signal and electricity had been installed but hasn’t been stable, I was grateful to be there.
My mission is not to find comfort and luxury; it’s to give these disadvantaged kids dream. A dream that they can hold onto their entire life.
Surrounded by Brilliant Students, What More Could a Teacher Ask?
Genius kids are everywhere. Every kid has potential. Every kid is smart. But we cannot deny the fact that some kids are better than the others. Bibinoi has these genius kids, albeit only few. And I was lucky to meet them.
Olan (whom I told you about in last week’s post) is not the only brilliant kid in Bibinoi. Munarsi and Dila are the other two. Munarsi, who just turned 9 last May, is a math enthusiast. I didn’t know when his interest in the subject started growing but when I gave him exercises, he always finished ahead of his peers – and rarely made mistake.
Munarsi, son of a local tailor, is lucky to be in school. Even though his father did not get proper education, Munarsi’s family prioritized education above everything. Everyday his father constantly reminded him to finish his homework before allowing him to go out playing with his friends. The way Munarsi’s father showed much care about him is something to appreciate – not all parents in Bibinoi were attentive toward their children.
Meanwhile, Dila liked to read encyclopedia and story books. He spent his leisure time in the school’s library. Sometimes he told me everything he just finished reading.
There’s this one time where he posed me a question, “Sir, do you know which nation bears Garuda as its symbol?”
“Of course it’s Indonesia, my dear,” I said.
“What about the bald eagle?” he asked again.
It was a moment of silence before I answered, “Tell you the truth, I do not know the answer.”
“It’s the United States of America, Sir!” He laughed and ran off.
It wasn’t a surprise when the three kids – Olan, Munarsi and Dila – won an academic competition in middle east Bacan subdistrict. Competing against teams from other schools, their hard work paid off as they answered the judges’ questions correctly. With their ability, I have full faith they can compete in other competitions where the participants come from another island – Java for instance.
Olan excelling in Science, Munarsi solving math problems and Dila answering general knowledge questions, what could a teacher ask for more?
The Losing Sense of Nationalism
On my first day of teaching, I tried to teach them national songs as I hadn’t prepared any curriculum to teach. Surprisingly, most of the kids in the fourth grade didn’t know – and haven’t heard – about the national anthem “Indonesia Raya.”
Then came this: “Kids, what’s the name of our nation?” I asked.
To which they replied in joy, “Bibinoi, Sir!”
Oh, dear. I stood frozen in front of the classroom.
I didn’t want to put blame on their limited access to knowledge, their isolation from modernity and their state of poverty, but surely the school teachers must have taught them about Indonesia. This was a serious matter and real actions need to be done, immediately.
For the first three months of teaching, I taught them about their country. I encouraged the kids to gain more knowledge about Indonesia, to have a sense of nationalism. After then I could proceed to teach mathematics, science, English and other units.
Unlike most schools in big cities, there was no weekly flag ceremony in Bibinoi. I would like to change the routine, so I initiated the flag ceremony every Monday. I also taught them how to sing the national anthem and other national songs, told stories about national heroes, and encouraged the students to speak Bahasa Indonesia properly.
It was an indescribable feeling when I heard some kids humming “Indonesia Pusaka” (Indonesia, the Heritage) on the way home after school ended, “Indonesia, tanah air beta/Pusaka abadi nan jaya”.
Despite Diverse Religious Backgrounds, the People of Bibinoi Live in Harmony
South Halmahera was deeply affected by religious conflicts a decade ago. Even today, although there is peace among the people, it can’t be denied the horrible tragedy still lives in people’s hearts.
And Bibinoi is not an exception.
Although Bibinoi is a home for more than one thousand people with different religious backgrounds, they live in an undisturbed peace and mutual respect.
As a teacher, I ought to guide my students, not only to be good with others, but also to maintain close relationships with God. I tried to impart the importance of praying and having faith in their Creator.
As a Muslim, I taught Islam in class. Although half of the students are Muslim and the other half are Christian, I didn’t treat them differently.
Every Monday, I checked up on which Christian students did not go to church on Sunday and gave them warning for neglecting it. Same treatment also applied to Muslim students who didn’t go to mosque on Friday. I believe such behavior enforcement was necessary because many parents do not take this matter seriously.
I believe, with constant reminder, the students would alter their behavior and gain more understanding about religion as they grow older.
[Next week: Celebrating Independence Day, learning more about local cultures and arts]