By Pungky Nanda Pratama
Translated from Bahasa Indonesia by Joshua Parfitt
When I first came to teach in one of the villages bordering the Kerinci Seblat National Park in the province of South Sumatra it was a shock. A large number of students [ages 10 to 11] could not read nor write. I had to brave myself to ask one of the heads of the school why these children couldn't read and write, when by their age they should be able to. I was soon to learn that the same issue was present in all other villages I would visit on the outskirts of the Kerinci Seblat National Park.
Though I came here to teach environmental education, I took the initiative to make a new program – the Mobile Library – to help cultivate a general interest in reading amongst the local children. Besides teaching the children to fall in love with books, the program would also open their minds and hearts to the natural world.
We received support fro this initiative from green-books.org, a non-profit organisation, who donated a wealth of environmental literature including comics, story books, and even encyclopaedias. The Borneo Nature Foundation donated 25 copies of their book The Little Gibbon Who Lost His Song, which is a bilingual book in English and Bahasa Indonesia. Besides these two NGOs, we also gained support from the Kerinci Seblat National Park Regional Office, who gave us an illustrated children's story book about the vulnerable Sunda clouded leopard, called The Clouded Leopard's Secret, which was also bilingual.
Besides being eco-literacy material, the books were also important learning aides for children who could not yet read and write. We are so grateful for the support to our ongoing education program.
With these books in tow, we travel every week to different villages on the border of the national park, and invite local children for reading and writing sessions. Our reading spaces are flexible, it often depends on what the children ask for so that they don't get bored! Sometimes we read on the banks of the river, sometimes in class, and sometimes beneath the shade of a tree. As much as we can, we always make efforts to put the children at ease. The transfer of knowledge is made so much better when the minds of the children are not under any pressure.
We want this program to continue because knowledge is a basic need that should be available to each person in our world. When societies act in a harmful way it shows a lack of awareness and understanding, and the lack of a solution to deal with a particular issue in a different way. We hope that our Mobile Library program can be a solution for the young generation. We hope that they will continue to grow and grow in knowledge until the sharing of diverse opinions and the transference of new ideas will solve the current environmental crisis and protect the future for the good of humanity.