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Indonesians in Focus: Indo Deleng

A self-confident young woman strolls along in Lengkasa village deep in the forest in Tojo Una-Una regency, Central Sulawesi. Her age is 24. She voluntarily runs a traditional community school. The Lipu village school was set up by local people and the Red and White Palu Foundation to serve the children of the isolated Tau Taa Wana Bulang community, which follows traditional customs. The teacher is called Indo Deleng, after the name of her eldest child. Or she can use her mother’s name. But never her own.

She looks competent and organized as she goes about school business. Although her voluntary services are not paid by the government she divides her time and attention responsibly between her family, the Lipu School and her horticultural garden according to Ruslan Sangadji.

Her husband Jide and two children never protest about Indo Deleng’s school work. They understood what she does is a contribution to help community youngsters face the future.

“I have only one aim, that is to teach reading and writing to the children of Tau Taa Wana Bulang,” said the strong-willed Indo Deleng, a community activist and leader.

Indo Deleng became a teacher, but she never learned teaching skills at teacher training school at university. In fact she only studied at junior high school.

But every Monday to Friday she has to be patient and determined, teaching children in the Banu Bae meeting hall. Showing persistence and understanding she teaches the children their letters and numbers, and how to write and draw.

Occasionally Indo Deleng takes the children on a trip. She chooses destinations such as rivers, agricultural locations or places in the forest. The children are then asked to draw what they see, for example, rocks, trees and mountains.

“We always take the children to learn directly in a natural setting. Apart from being able to read, count and write, they have to be able to read the unwritten letters of the alphabet of life that can be found in nature,” she said enthusiastically.

Indo Deleng purposefully follows this philosophy. She wants to raise the children’s awareness of the forests and hills where the Tau Taa community live. She says teaching children to experience their natural surroundings is character-forming and helps them appreciate their environment.

For Indo Deleng the children of Lipu School have to be as hard as the stones in the local Bulang River, and as strong as the nearby Sinara Mountain to ensure that in the future they don’t weaken under the pressures facing their community.

Although she only attended junior high school, Indo Deleng is not poorly educated. She keeps studying to become a good teacher for the village children. Every month she holds meetings with Agus Basuni, coordinator of the Red and White Palu Foundation. This is an NGO which works with the Tau Taa Wana Bulang Community and promotes their interests.

She frequently organizes people to take part in a mogomboa group dicussion and to engage in community consultations.

Indo Deleng said that in these discussions she is able to get reactions from the community on ideas for the development of Lipu School, including on teaching methods.

From discussion Indo Deleng reached the conclusion that teaching children in an isolated traditional community which knows little of the outside world has to be done democratically. “There shouldn’t be a gap between the teacher and the students.”

The tone and atmosphere of the Lipu School is different from many other schools. Sometimes when Indo Deleng is teaching reading and writing, a student might put up her or his hand.
“Teacher.. I want to go to sleep, teacher. I want to smoke. Teacher.. I want to go home”.

Without waiting for permission from their teacher, the children do what they want. If Indo Deleng opposed their wishes the children would be certain to get angry. In situations like this, handling the problem could take a lot of time.

“Those children would not want to go to school again, and might decide to hide in the forest for weeks,” said Indo Deleng.

This makes school management difficult. But that’s the way of life in the Tau Taa Wana Bulang traditional society. Knowing there is no other way, Indo Deleng has to be able to understand the community charactar and makes an effort to adjust to local realities. “So the democratic way can become a solution,” said Indo Deleng.

Despite her busy activities as teacher for Tau Taa Wana Bulang‘s children, Indo Deleng never forgets she is also a housewife.

Every time she goes teaching in Banu Bae she takes her two children, Deleng and Keting. Her eldest child is eight years old, the second is five.

The teaching week only runs to Friday. So on Saturday and Sunday, Indo Deleng takes her two children to join their father in the fields where they work together. It’s really tiring for this mother of two to trek five hours through the forest to join her husband. That sort of spirit and attitude to life are reflected in her name. Indo Deleng means “mother helper”.

Community elders understand she is not paid as a teacher and feel responsible for her sacrifices so they agree that the parents of children who study in the Lipu School should volunteer to help Indo Deleng meet her family’s needs.

Every harvest the people are asked to give a bundle of rice plants for the school. The yields from these rice plants are stored in Konda Lipu (the village food store). The storekeepers give some rice to Indo Deleng and keep the rest for school needs.

Indo Deleng is an example to teachers everywhere. She never seems to get tired. She works hard in the rugged environment of Tau Taa Wana Bulang so that community children can learn the same things as other children.

Indo Deleng originally came from Tau Taa Wana Bulang. She not only understands the personalities of the children, she also understands where they are coming from and community customs.

Indo Deleng and Butet Manurung, a Batak women who has taught Rimba children in Jambi, work together at school, with a similar approach, but Indo Deleng always understands what is needed.

Indo Deleng’s ideal has been to eliminate illiteracy in the Tau Taa Wana Bulang traditional community. She sees this like guiding a raft full of passengers along the fast flowing Bongka river — the biggest river in Tojo Una-Una Regency.

“If the person in charge of the raft gets tired, all the passengers could drown in the fast-flowing river. I must not get careless; if I do, the passengers on my raft will be thrown to the bottom of Bongka river!” she said.

That’s why Indo Deleng is determined to do whatever she must to make sure her passengers are safe. She is willing to sacrifice whatever is required to acheive her ambition to eliminate illiteracy in the traditional community of Tau Taa Wana Bulang.

It’s an idea which should be supported by all parties including state leaders. But who really cares ? Indo Deleng still works in a remote village school, serving a traditional community, without facilities or resources and without a state salary.