Andreas D. Arditya, The Jakarta Post | People | Sun, November 17 2013, 12:32 PM
A decade after opening a school to provide education for remote tribes deep in the jungles of Jambi, Butet Manurung and friends have spread their wings across the archipelago.
Butet and four friends — a group she calls family — set up Sokola Rimba back in 2003 with the aim of teaching remote tribal people in the jungles of Bukit Duabelas and Bukit Tigapuluh national parks.
“We now have five more schools across Indonesia. The mission is still the same: Working for people in remote areas of the archipelago. We will continue opening schools,” she said at a film launch this week.
Renowned producer Mira Lesmana and director Riri Riza adapted one her memoirs Sokola Rimba, which tells of her years in Jambi, into an inspiring feature film of the same title. Butet and friends’ organization, Sokola, gathered volunteers and funds to serve and assist education for indigenous and marginalized communities.
Together, they reach communities untouched by formal education and assist and share with them the knowledge or life skills to help them face their daily real-life problems.
“It’s a school for survival. We call it a ‘School for Life’,” said the 41-year-old, who encouraged everyone to support their cause and visit sokola.org. Sokola has reportedly initiated programs in eight provinces, benefiting over 10,000 children and adults in isolated indigenous communities.
The latest school the organization opened was in Mumugu Batas Batu village in Asmat regency in Papua in September.
“The village is 250 kilometers from Agats the capital of Asmat and accessing it requires tremendous effort,” said the activist, who was born and bred in the concrete jungle of Jakarta.
In all of the areas they work on, she said the organization employed similar methods but with different curriculums, depending on the needs and demands of the local community.
“The aim for the school is to help them adapt to pressure from outside the community. If the community wants to respond to the pressure by sending their members to formal school, we help prepare them,” she says.
“Most of my students, however, choose to stay in their communities and only learn skills that are useful for their community.”
She said the organization does not aim to direct the people they help, but rather give them enough knowledge to direct themselves.
In general, she explained, Sokola’s education method was comprised of three stages. The first two are basic literacy like reading, writing and counting; and applied literacy, such as using literacy skills to trade or read contracts.
“The final stage is advocacy on skills such as accessing government facilities. For example, if they know they can go to hospital to treat their disease, they can solve health problems instead of labeling them as curses or the work of the devil,” she says.
“Another form of advocacy is for them to know their rights and defend those rights. The indigenous Orang Rimba has been able to stop illegal logging in Bukit Duabelas jungles because they know the law and their rights.”
Butet has been accredited by many for her efforts. Among her international recognition is a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Award in 2001, TIME Magazine Hero of Asia award in 2004, Ashoka Fellow in 2006, Asia Young Leader in 2007, Young Global Leader in 2009 and most recently, Ernst and Young Indonesian Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2012.
Butet said she was living her childhood dream.
“As a child I always wanted to work in the jungles. I watched Indiana Jones and documentaries about the Papuan jungles. They lured me,” she says.
“But my dad forbade me from doing so and said I should wait until I graduated from high school,” added the nature lover, who now splits her time between Jakarta and Canberra after getting married in 2010.
Upon graduation, she studied anthropology and Indonesian literature at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java, and immediately joined one of its mountaineering clubs.
“I will continue to do the work and I’m focusing my life on it. I hope there are many others who will also do what we have been doing.”