Education is the best investment one can make. This saying is highly relevant to Indonesian society, as educational inequality is still a core problem that persists for years.
While I had never thought of it, I started to question my life: my living conditions, my family, and my personal background. As I grew up with filled bookshelves and a decent education, I began to realize that I am privileged enough to earn my place at a university. Noting this fact, I felt the need to give back to others who didn’t have the same privilege as I did – I yearn to share my privilege that I have with others, with less fortunate kids with big dreams and aspirations. I want them to know that their hopes and wishes can turn into reality. I want them to understand that despite our differences, their voices do matter and they can reach their goals in life.
With this intention, I volunteered in an educational project back then in 2016 to improve access to education for children. Together with my fellow local and international volunteers, we began our journey to teach less fortunate kids in Central Jakarta. What surprised me was that we didn’t teach in a formal school, but we taught the kids who lived in a slum area around railway tracks, who didn’t have full access to pursue education in a formal school.
When we first started our project, the kids were smiling so happily – they couldn’t contain their excitement as they first encountered bule (used word in Indonesia to describe a person who appears to be foreign, especially people of European descent or Caucasian). They were so happy to follow all the lessons and classes. Although they had limitations in the English language, but they tried very hard to communicate with the international volunteers, proving that these kids had high spirits and curiosity to always learn and explore new things. However, as our classes and lessons became more regular, some of the kids slowly stopped coming.
Soon, most of the kids stopped coming to classes as well.
My fellow volunteers and I started to track down their root problems to understand what had caused them to stop going to classes. While it’s very difficult for me as an ‘outsider’ to understand the core problems, but I realized that these kids are highly prone to boredom and distractions, especially since they also didn’t go to formal school. It caused the kids to prefer playing and going around rather than studying. Realizing this truth, I began to understand that educational inequality is not just about infrastructure and government support. More than that, it is also about the socio-cultural backgrounds, inner value, and mental well-being of the kids. While government support is highly necessary, it is also essential to address the cultural value and the complicated obstacles, as well as the deeper problems that these kids have.
Even though our project only last for two months, but it was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. However, I am not yet satisfied with that. Deep down, I know that I still haven’t made a big step to help these kids in need. I still had my limitations and challenges to face. I still wanted these kids to actualize their dreams in the future. I still wanted them to create better living conditions for themselves and for their families as well so that they can break the vicious cycle of the system.
The journey is still far and long, and it’s still hard for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But, I am convinced that the more people become more conscious to take actions and to help people in need, the more we can reach the light together. Until that day comes, we should keep progressing and moving forward; because I believe that by embracing people on our shoulders, the burden becomes a lot easier to take, and our contributions will create a positive impact for others.