Many Indonesians dream of studying abroad. But unless they come from wealthy families or are one of the lucky few able to win a scholarship to cover their costs, those dreams are unlikely to become a reality.
This is the situation that three women in their thirties, Cecil Mariani, Lisabona Rahman and Felencia “Ellen” Hutabarat, are facing.
They had all been accepted at prestigious higher education institutions oversea, but the steep tuition fees and lack of financial aid means they needed to be enterprising to pursue their dream.
Rather than give up, however, they have come up with a plan that they believe will keep their hopes of studying abroad alive.
The three women have started a fund-raising project that they have dubbed tua tua sekolah , which literally means old and attending school. Through the sales of their own specially-designed notebooks and journals, they are hoping to raise Rp 2 billion ($232,000) over the next two years in order to meet their tuition requirements.
“It was Cecil who started the project,” said Lisa. “As a graphic designer, her work has a lot to do with books.”
Cecil, who is a freelance designer and a teacher at her alma matter, Pelita Harapan University, has been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It’s a prestigious program with only 20 students accepted each year. Cecil chose the program for its focus on interdisciplinary collaboration — she eventually wants to create a design laboratory for art organizations and businesses.
“When Cecil realized she wouldn’t be able to get a loan to fund her studies from her relatives, she decided she had to find an alternative source of funding because she couldn’t rely on scholarship possibilities alone,” Lisa said.
Cecil’s inspiration came from www.kickstarter.com, a “crowd-funding” Web site which focuses on helping people get their artistic and business projects off the ground through small individual donations. One of the incentives for people to donate is that they receive merchandise related to the project they chose to fund.
That’s what gave Cecil the idea of designing and selling her own notebooks and journals. At first, it was a solo project “Initially Ellen and I were just buyers,” Lisa said. “Like Cecil, we love stationery.”
Besides their passion for paper goods, the three friends also share a love for the arts and all have been recently accepted into highly-regarded programs at overseas institutions.
Lisa, who is a film critic and the program director of the Jakarta Arts Council’s cinema club, Kineforum, has been accepted into the Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image Professional Master’s program at the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It is a specialized program that is only offered by a few universities around the world. Lisa chose it because she wants to help preserve Indonesia’s film history for future generations.
“The condition of Indonesia’s classic works of cinema is very alarming at the moment,” she said. “If nothing is done, even the surviving 10 percent of the historical footage will vanish.”
Ellen, who is currently an art and culture program officer at a Dutch nongovernmental organization Hivos, has been accepted into the Creative Economics and Cultural Entrepreneurship at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
As close friends, the three women realized that they all had the same worries about being able to pay to continue their education. That’s when Lisa and Ellen decided to join forces with Cecil to create tua tua sekolah.
The notebooks and journals they sell come in three different sizes, ranging in price from Rp 30,000 to Rp 90,000. Each book’s colorful cover features a brief summation of their cause and stickers with various quotes and sayings. One of them reads, “This book sends people to graduate school.”
Cecil was able to secure a special deal from a manufacturer she had worked with previously to keep costs down. The women chose to make the books from imported paper because of its quality and because it is partly recycled and acid free.
The production costs are shared between the three of them, according to the relative amounts they need to fund their tuition. For marketing, they have been using word of mouth and, of course, the Internet. They spread the word about their project and take orders through their blog, tuatuasekolah.com, and their Twitter account, @tuatuasekolah.
They have partnered with stores such as MP Resto & Gallery in Cipete, South Jakarta, and ToBuCil bookstore in Bandung to sell their wares. They have also set up tables and stalls at various art events around town to sell to their customers face to face.
“We take turns manning the stall because we’re still working and we have other business to attend to,” Ellen said. “At most of the events where we’ve set up the stall, people are enthusiastic. Other than the colorful notebooks, they are also drawn by our cause.
The project was only started in May, but as of mid-June, they had already sold 1,500 units. It’s a good start, but the women admit that they still have a long way to go to meet their goals. Although they say they already have their travel and living expenses covered, covering their tuition will take a lot of effort.
According to Lisa, although there is a lot of scholarship money available to people who work for government institutions, universities, and NGOs, those scholarships are mostly aimed at people studying subjects that donors are interested in.
“The trend right is more towards human rights law, development studies, good governance, Islamic and environmental studies,” she said.
“The art and culture sector is a field that Indonesia as a nation is clearly excelling at,” Lisa said. “A lot of the most important work in arts and culture in Indonesia is being done by people working outside of government agencies, but unfortunately the scholarships aren’t really accessible to people like Cecil, Ellen and I.”
Ellen said the three of them are planning to leave for their programs in August, while they hire others to run the tua tua sekolah program in their stead.
“If this project works for us, I believe it can work for others,” she said. “We just have to work and prove it.”
Lisa added that even after they met their goals they planned to keep the project going to help others facing similar dilemmas.