I sat on the wooden floor of Fery Irawan’s humble home. I held my hands out in the receiving position to accept the water blessing from one of the village elders. I felt honoured to be part of this sacred rite and, as I was situated two degrees off the equator, it was a bonus to be showered with holy, blessed water – both spiritually and physically.
I was visiting Putuk Katimpun Village in Central Kalimantan and the children were eagerly awaiting my visit. I had come armed with 50 books – big, bright, colourful comics and picture books about the environment, sustainable farming practices and caring for our world in an eco-friendly way.
These books reflect the vision of Green-Books.org. Petr Hindrich, the founder of the organisation, was with me and explained how a donor had given USD$200. Petr used this money to purchase the 50 books. Green-Books.org is an organisation providing environmental education and books to schoolchildren across Indonesia. Schools and yayasan apply for the books, and Green-Books.org runs a crowdfunding campaign to make this happen.
Wheeling the airport pull-along bag on the rickety wooden stilted platform was a tricky act. The narrow, wooden slated jetty serves as the main thoroughfare of the village. Petr bought the books all the way from Bali, where Green-Books.org is based and was very excited to be meeting the children and handing the books over in person.
Putuk Katimpun is a Dayak Ngaju village located on the Rungan River, around 15 kilometres from Palangkaraya, the main town. The access road to the village is via a rough track. You have to negotiate your way for five kilometres down a bumpy, dusty, rock-strewn road to get to the village, which often floods in the rainy season. The other way to get to the village is by boat from Palangkaraya.
There are about 600 people living in the village and this wonderful project called Ransel Buku (meaning ‘books in a backpack’) has been helping the village for 15 months now. It was at the instigation of Aini Abdul, a local Ngaju Dayak, that this programme started. Abdul is a schoolteacher by profession and was working as a tour guide on riverboats. Abdul was really affected by the poverty she witnessed in the poor villages she passed and wanted to do more for the children.
Abdul completed a survey, which confirmed the poor literacy levels in the village and the economical realities of most of the children never making high school. It costs USD$250 to enrol a child in three years of high school plus ongoing costs for books, uniforms and transport. Those costs are unachievable for most of the villagers, as around 70% are fishermen and the average income is between USD$100 – $200 per month.
Abdul was determined to help the children reach a higher level of study. She held poetry nights in the town of Palangkaraya in coffee shops (a fashionable evening activity) and then would ask for donations from the group of poets and writers gathered. Sometimes she would collect USD$10 off each person, and this went a long way to funding the purchase of books and stationery. Abdul also purchased books with any extra tip money earned from her job as a tour guide and delivered them to the village on her weekends, in her backpack.
In the village of Katimpun, the Government provides elementary schooling, however due to some unseen circumstances, the education delivered and the teaching hours available are very limited.
The good news is the children are very enthusiastic and want to learn. About 18 months after Abdul started delivering books on weekends, she met a foreigner, David Metcalf, who changed all that quickly. He supported the setting up of Ransel Buku as a registered charity, donating his own money. Metcalf started a crowdfunding campaign and sought support for the project posted through Facebook, social media and networked through his extensive friendship network. The crowdfunding campaign raised enough money to hire a private teacher to work full-time in the village for one year.
“I am very committed to helping the children in this village and I want to see the programme grow and extend to other villages in Kalimantan,” said Metcalf. “These local people are on the edge of poverty,” he said. “Their land is feeling the impacts of palm oil production and the rivers are becoming more and more polluted from the acid run-off and toxic by-products of illegal gold mining. The village chief told me the cutting down of original forests in his local area is causing issues with flooding. The average income in the village has been drastically reduced because of these environmental factors, and impacts the local fishing industry. Often the first thing impacted is education, which is considered a luxury by many villagers.”
Ransel Buku is a grassroots project. It has an honorary treasurer, administrator, and Abdul at the helm. Ransel Buku now has a ‘Support a Child Programme’. Metcalf, like Abdul, has a passion and drive to spread the word about the yayasan. Metcalf is an author and a professional photographer and seized an opportunity in Jakarta in 2014. Together with Tugu Kunstkring Palais Restaurant and Gallery in Jakarta, Metcalf held a photography exhibition for one month, supported by his publisher. A generous donor came along on the opening night, contributing USD$2,000. This went towards hiring a second teacher in another local village, Bukit Rawi.
For this charity to continue and extend its work to benefit outlying poorer villages along the rivers in Central Kalimantan, more funds are needed. Every donation goes a long way, and if you wish to sponsor a child, for USD$35 a month, this is the greatest gift you can give. School reports are regularly sent, plus ongoing student contact via postal mail delivery (there is no internet in these remote villages).
Please contact Aini Abdul by email if you wish to arrange a visit to the village, as this is a wonderful way to show support. And remember to bring a backpack.
For more information on green-books.org, please visit www.green-books.org