One of the many things that I love from my job is that I have the opportunity to look down and see what is really going on out there in my beloved country. As I live in the biggest city in Indonesia, Jakarta which happens to be the capital city, access for everything you need is very easy, from transportation, market, entertainment, education and many many more. But do you ever think how easy was the access for those who live in remote area in Indonesia?
Oh well, I was never really able to imagine how hard to get this access could be until I experienced it in a mission to Gorontalo on November 2011 with a bunch of national journalists to portrait how struggling the kids are in Gorontalo to fulfill their needs of education. When I went to elementary school 23 years ago, it was only 10 minutes away walking on a nice asphalt road.
One roof school at Tenilo Village
My first destination in this mission was Tenilo Village in Boalemo district, Gorontalo. It is located on the coast of Tomini Bay and is surrounded by the steep hills with a very limited land access to reach here. Tenilo Village is not only having the limited access of transportation but also access for electricity, education, and not to mention the phone signal. I found a unique way to get a signal here called ‘hanging signal’. Made from a half cut mineral water plastic bottle tied on a 1,5 meter high house pole – believe it or not – if you are lucky, you will get the signal when the wind blows, and it only happens for a few seconds.
In order to capture the local activities, the team and I stayed in the village at the head of village’s house. It was a very long journey from Jakarta to reach here. We had a 6am flight to Makassar and had another flight to Gorontalo. From Gorontalo airport, we had to drive about 4 hours by car to our local office at Boalemo district to have a briefing meeting, then we continued crossing the sea with a traditional speed boat for 20 minutes until we finally arrived at the head of district’s residence at 9pm. But our day was not stopping there. We had a discussion with the head of village and the community until 10 pm and then I fell asleep just in seconds after touching a mattress in a simple wooden room.
In this small village with only about 100 people living in the area, the government built a one roof school of an elementary school (SD Tilamuta) and a junior high school (SMP 3 Tilamuta) about 50 meters away from the shore. So we woke up early in the morning to follow some students who cross the sea to get their schooling with two traditional fast boats provided by the government as part of the national program for poverty alleviation in Indonesia.
“I wait at the dock at 6 am with other 9 students to go to school. Using the boat, the journey only takes us around 20 minutes. The older students take charge, and take turn in steering the boat”, said Sofian Bahu, a fifth grader at SD 07 Tenilo. Before having these boats, they had to travel 4 kilometers by foot and it took about 2 hours. And they couldn’t go to the school when it rained hard because the road was too muddy or they couldn’t cross a small flooded river. It was almost impossible for these students to go to school everyday because of the road condition and the tiredness. Hadijah, an elementary teacher in SMP 3 Tilamuta who stays in at the teacher’s house at school during the week days, mentioned that having these boats have significantly increased the percentage of the attendance at school. “There were even students who only come once a week”, she added. When I asked about the safety using these boats, Junarjo Adam, head of Tenilo village said that the teachers have given them safety training in case there is any problem while they are in the middle of the sea.
I was touched when I saw many of them carrying those shoes and put them on only at school. When I asked why, they said they are intending to do this so that they can use their shoes longer. It was not surprised me knowing that the majority of the people here earning their living from fishing and sell the catch at the small local market within the area.
Our journey in Tenilo Village was ended by enjoying the nature and our time traveling back across the sea with boat. Despite of lack of access of a lot of things, the view is stunning and relaxing.
Long distance classes in Toyidito Village
Our journey continued to the next destination, Toyidito Village which located 3 hours away by car from Tenilo village. And this time, we had to walk climbing the hills for 2 hours to reach a long distance classes in Toyidito upper village and I found it was very hard and challenging tracking session. Despite of that, the scenery is amazing, it’s exactly like what you see in the picture of your windows computer background.
Before the long-distance class rooms first existed in 2007, the children were forced to travel 7 kilometers along steep rocky road built on the sides of steepy sloping hills in order to get to school at the parent institution, SDN 1 Toyidito downhill the village. “Most of the students couldn’t make it the full week to go to school”, recalled Syarifudding Umar, a youth leader in the hamlet.
The home of the people of the Toyidito upper village are spread over the area of hills and their fields, and some even live there full-time. “They only come down from their fields to sell their harvest and to buy their daily necessities”, said Umar. When they headed for the fields, all the parents used to bring their children along with them to help. Until finally several incidents prodded the farmers into striving for long-distance schooling.
Wisna Tipuo, a 26 year old teacher, welcomed us with a wide and friendly smile, and delicious spicy food too when the journalists and I got there right at the dawn. The owner of the house was very generous to allow us to stay the night at his wooden traditional house where Wisna Tipuo also lives in. I didn’t regret carrying my heavy backpack up the hills and I finally could make a use of my sleeping bag on the verandah and slept tight like a baby.
I woke up in the morning excited to see the sunrise but it didn’t happen because the morning fog always blanket the hills everyday. I took an advantage of the fog to wash myself at the river right down at the back of the house since there’s no bathroom available; the bathroom is this river and the fog. It’s not only lack of sanitation, there’s also no electricity. The only electricity source is a small solar power for limited use only.
When I went back to the house, Wisna was busy transforming the verandah into classrooms for 49 elementary students. This 28 years old teacher was about teaching 5 class rooms. Yes, 5 classrooms! She teaches the first, second and third grades in the morning, and the fifth and sixth grades in the afternoon.
She dedicated her life teaching here in the middle of nowhere since 2007 and she only receives IDR 200,000 per month. She admitted that she doesn’t have a heart to leave this children illiterate like their parents. “Teaching five classes is absolutely not an ideal circumstances to have a good education. But right now, I focus on teaching them reading, writing and counting”, she added. Considering the distance and difficult road path, she decided to stay in the school and going down to the main village in the week-end. “It is easier for me this way, and I do not need to spend my energy back and forth, up and down the hill, and give all my time to the children”, she said.
While Wisna was preparing her classes, some students are playing happily in front of the house. At the same time, I saw a girl who brought her parent’s cow passing her friends; and 30 minutes later, she was ready with her white and red uniform. “I do this every morning before going to school to help my parents”, she said. Then I saw another student, called Sam, was grabbing snack from a plastic bag, and handed it over to his friend. He said that he sells snacks to other students to get his pocket money. “I am happy here. I have more friends and I can read now”, admit Sam when I asked how does he feel studying here. “And we will study at the new building soon”, he added with his bright eyes.
The community put a big effort to have a better education facility, and the government gave funding assistance to build 3 permanent proper classrooms for the distance-class students on the upper Toyidito village, right just in front of the wooden house. The construction was empowering the local community which also built their sense of belonging for this school building. The building was ready to be used soon when I visited there.
In order to prepare the students for the national exams, Wisna plans to keep all her students boarding in the heart of the village. She is also determined to have them all take part in the preparatory training for the examinations at the Toyidito SDN 1 as the parent school. I was impressed by the spirit of the teacher who does her work with heart and hope nothing in return. She’s struggling to fulfill the needs of education for the community and she never gives up with lack of facilities provided. Learning from her, I realize that when you do what you love, and what you do could change someone else’s live, nothing else matter but a good feeling in your heart.
Last day in Gorontalo
After a long journey traveling around with car, boat and walking up and down the, we were finally back to the main city of Gorontalo and stayed at the best hotel in Gorontalo. Enjoying a hot shower was a very luxury thing at that time after having no proper bath and sanitation in the last 2 days. A good dinner with the rest of the team was closing the day and we had a long rest before flying back to Jakarta the next morning.
The journey was not over yet
In the next morning, I woke up with a new energy, ready to fly back to Jakarta and get home soon. Before going to the airport, we took sometimes to buy stationary and books for Wisna, the distance-class’ teacher. We were in rush having lunch to catch our flight, but unfortunately the airline announced that our flight was delayed because of technical reason. After waiting for one and a half hour, they finally get us in. But not more then 10 minutes later, we were back to the boarding room because it seemed that the technical problem has not totally fixed yet. We had to wait another one hour in the boarding room. One of the journalist in the team start posting an online news and we made a fun of it that the airline was unlucky because there were many journalists on the flight.
The next 30 minutes, we were informed that the flight was canceled and the passengers should wait for the next flight in the next day at the same schedule, since the flight with the airline was only once a day. With 7 people in the team and 5 of them were journalists, and one of them had a really really big camera, we already made the head of the airlines panic, afraid of bad publication. They tried to facilitate us as much as they could and sent us out of the airport to a guess house.
Well, we had to stay another night in Gorontalo and couldn’t do anything while two of the journalist should send their articles as soon as possible. They forced themselves to stay awake finishing their articles.
Until the next morning, we still have not got any information from the airline about our flight. I tried to contact the customer services in Jakarta and they couldn’t really give information. The benefit of traveling with the journalists is they have a lot of contacts. And one of them were getting upset and called the important person in the airline office in Jakarta. And you know what? Only in 15 minutes, the head of the airline called us and invited us for lunch. I believed that knowing that we were from a big organization with a bunch of journalists, he tried to put us away from the airport as far as he could, treat us, please us, and prevent negative publication on their service. The result, we had a VIP services directly from the big boss until we got in to the airplane.
My skin was getting much darker because of the sun, but it was paid off with the experience I had, the people I met and the beautiful scenery I saw. This journey has given me more value in life and how I am so grateful of everything I have now. It was absolutely one of the unforgettable journeys in my life.