Quality education is a pressing need in Indonesia, which has struggled with low standards, teacher absenteeism, and a host of other issues.
But hundreds of young people are addressing the problem, joining the Teach Indonesia Movement (Gerakan Indonesia Mengajar, or GIM), launched by Paramadina University Rector Anis Baswedan and colleagues in 2009.
GIM deploys young teachers (pengajar muda) to remote areas for one year, opening educational opportunities for people in need and giving the young volunteers invaluable experience.
Along the way, the programme fosters national unity and interfaith tolerance in participants and beneficiaries – to date, some 20,000 students in 126 elementary schools across Indonesia, from West Java to Papua.
An interesting journey
The number of young people who want to join GIM has grown each year, but the process is competitive. Candidates are screened for their ability, background and commitment. Since 2009, 40,194 applicants have applied to become pengajar muda; 367 have been accepted.
Dedi KusumaWijaya, 27, taught in the Tanimbar Islands, Maluku, West Nusa Tenggara in 2011-2012.
"I got a lot of experience during my time as a teacher in Indonesia Mengajar. The difficult part is that you have to stay in areas with no electricity. I almost got malaria and almost drowned in the sea on the way to Tanimbar Island," said Dedi, a native of Surabaya, West Java.
"But the happy parts are truly happy. I am glad my students were very excited when I invited them to conduct a flag ceremony and sing Indonesia's national anthem," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"We teach more about soft skills such as good character, honesty, nationalism, tolerance, and civility. I was placed in the Malukus, a region that has long suffered from conflict. This history has led to suspicion of any Muslims who live in the region," he explained.
"With a majority Christian population, society initially was shocked by the arrival of some young teachers who are Muslims. As time went by, however, local residents realized that the teachers are nice people and can blend in with them," Dedi said.
Andita Hadi, 25, a Jakarta native with a bachelor's degree from Padjajaran University in Bandung, taught in Rote Ndao Regency, East Nusa Tenggara in 2011-2012.
"I am the only Muslim who lived among the 2000 Christians in the region. Gladly, they are very respectful to us as Muslims. The local residents even made my Sahur meal during Ramadan."
Thousands of volunteers
Dedi and Andita spoke to Khabar at the GIM Festival, which took place at the convention hall in Ancol, North Jakarta from October 5th – 6th. The festival invites volunteers to help develop creative curriculum ideas and collect teaching materials in support of the programme.
Over two days, more than 9,000 volunteers of all ages came to the festival, willing to do social work to improve education in Indonesia. Many people who don't have an entire year to offer the programme still want to support it.
Festival participants collected 52,000 books, 1,386 sets of educational puzzles, 5,600 study cards, and thousands of other items including educational videos and fairy tales.
Risa Triandari, a 24-year-old geologist, attended the festival with her friends Afrizon Setiawan and Adhi Pramudito. They were uplifted by the event and the opportunity to donate their time.
"I want to provide a real contribution for Indonesian children. We expect that our help will be well received by Indonesian students who are in need of education. Salute to Indonesia Mengajar Team and the GIM Festival team!" she said.