Roosie Setiawan, Nila Tanzil, Dan Roberts and Sigit Kusumawijaya. Chances are you have never heard of these people. They are not headline-grabbing politicians, government officials, celebrities or wealthy tycoons. They are just people who are making a small difference in this country, but the way they go about it is instructive.
In the course of hosting the talk show “Insight Indonesia” on BeritaSatu TV, I have had the pleasure of meeting all sorts of people who are involved in Indonesia, from government to entertainment and diplomacy. But one distinct group of guests that appear on the show are people who simply roll up their sleeves and get on with helping the country in some small way. They don’t wait for massive funding, government approval or complex project proposals.
Indeed, most of them are united by the fact that they find it easier to get things done without getting bogged down in the intricacies of dealing with a ministry or a local government.
Roosie Setiawan is a mom with grown kids who happened on the idea a few years ago that reading aloud to your children is a good idea. She was appalled to discover that the reading ability of most Indonesian children is far below the levels found in Thailand, Singapore and other countries in Asia. Armed with a well-known book from the United States, “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease, she and a few friends got organized. They met the author, got rights to translate the book into Indonesian and secured some funding to print the book and give it away for free. They work with teachers and parents throughout the country to distribute the book and get people reading.
Similarly, Nila Tanzil saw a need to get books into people’s hands when she was working in Flores. After she came back to Jakarta, she began the Rainbow Reading Gardens, a network of small village-based libraries in eastern Indonesia.
Dan Roberts found another way to get involved in a country that has become his adopted home. A graduate of the Jakarta International School, he went back home to the United States a few years ago to attend university, where he studied circus performance. After graduation, he accepted an offer to come to Indonesia as part of a group called Clowns Without Borders.
He ended up in a small community in North Jakarta one day where his clowning was so well received, the people asked him to come back again and again. He never left and eventually founded Yayasan Hidung Merah, the Red Nose Foundation, a group that teaches underprivileged and at-risk kids circus performance as a way to keep them learning.
Finally, young architect Sigit Kusumawijaya is part of a group called Jakarta Berkebun (Jakarta Gardening), a movement that sprang from the social media world and aims to use abandoned and vacant land for urban farming. Inspired by an idea hatched by architect Ridwan Kamil, Sigit and his cohorts find pieces of land, gain permission to use it on a temporary basis and then use Facebook and Twitter to organize like-minded people to clear the land and plant suitable crops. They are cultivating four areas now and the idea has spread to Bandung, Surabaya, Medan and elsewhere.
What unites these four people and the small movements they represent is their willingness to see a problem and then do something to make things better. We complain that Jakarta lacks parks and green spaces but most of us confine our efforts to improve the city to endless gripe sessions about the shortcomings of the government. These movements skip past the government, dealing directly with landowners, teachers and parents, raising small amounts of money and organizing volunteers.
For years I have heard various critics complain that journalists aren’t “positive” enough in what we report and to a certain extent that goes with the territory. News about corruption, abuse of power and tragedy drive the daily information agenda, which is as it should be. But there is always room to sit back and appreciate those who want to make a difference. And in the case of Indonesia, there seem to be a growing number of people who are tired of just complaining. They ignore the bureaucracy and do what needs to be done. Good for them.
Wriiten by: A. Lin Neumann, founding editor of the Jakarta Globe, is the host of BeritaSatu TV’s “Insight Indonesia” program.
Published by The Jakarta Globe on May 25th, 2012