Dozens of barefoot children squatted or sat in a circle in a field in Taronggo village.
They ranged in age from 6 to 13 years old.
Some were armed with shabby books and pencils. Others came empty-handed. One child used a stick to write in the dirt as his peers watched.
All these children from the Tau Taa Wana tribe, who live in an isolated corner of Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, had assembled in this outdoors classroom with no walls but with one purpose in mind: to learn to read and write as they took instruction from two female teachers.
“I’m so excited to learn how to write,” 10-year-old Ugo told BenarNews.
Surrounded by hills, their village is so remote it is only accessible by foot. The nearest elementary school to Taronggo is 15 km (9 miles) away, and the nearest high school is twice as far off.
The students were taking part in a class at their Skola Lipu (village school), which is part of a program offered by a local NGO, Yayasan Merah Putih (Red White Foundation). The goal is to provide basic education focusing on reading and writing, as well as Bahasa Indonesia language instruction for children from the Tau Taa Tana who live in North Morawali, a regency of Central Sulawesi.
Since 2007, Yayasan has established such open-air schools in nine villages across the regency. The program also offers instruction for adults.
“With the presence of the school we hope to bring knowledge to the villagers,” Yayasan coordinator Abdul Ghofur told BenarNews.
“We also want to help them to be more self-reliant and to implement their local wisdom in community development.”
North Morowali Deputy Regent Mohd. Ashrar Abd Samad expressed his appreciation for the foundation’s effort and vowed to propose that the school get support from the Ministry of National Education.
Tools of learning
Ugo and his classmates mostly study outdoors, but sometimes they are allowed to receive instruction in a banua bae, a traditional stage house that has no walls.
When harvest time arrives, the children are allowed to skip classes so they can help their parents on their farms.
Their parents will ask their kids to pass on to them the knowledge they have acquired in the open-air classrooms.
The teachers provided by the foundation prefer to be called tau mampatundek, or learning facilitators. Some of them went to formal schools, but did not complete all levels.
Facilitators start by teaching the children how to spell and write letters on a board. If they run out of chalk, they use dried cassava. Early on, children used young banana leaves for paper, and lidi – sticks from dried coconut leaves – for pencils.
The school now has a library which is called a banua baca, or reading house. Most of the books were donated.
‘No deadline here’
“We used to see more students participating, but now only few are left,” foundation information and campaign manager Kiki Rizki Amelia told BenarNews.
Fewer students does not mean that children neglect their education. Many of them have prolonged their study in formal schools because their parents have to appreciate the importance of education for their children’s future.
“There is no deadline here. If the kids and their parents think they are able to send them to formal schools, we support them all the way,” Kiki said.
Tau Taa Wana children study in the open at Taronggo Village, June 29, 2016. [Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews]