Dawn has not yet broken in Hawir Hamlet in Nggilat Village, Manggarai Barat District in East Nusa Tenggara, that July morning. But Patria Helena “Helen” Delasmi, 9, and her brother Yanuarius Theodata Giarto or Gian, 6, were all set to go to school. While waiting for breakfast to be served, the siblings were playing with their three-months-old sister held by their grandmother. They have to wake up early every morning because the school is quite a distance away and getting there is almost like a cross-country adventure – a thirty-minute to one-hour walk through dirt and gravel road, passing through a forest, meadow and a river stream. But they have no choice as there is only one elementary school in Nggilat, SDI Hawir, which serves three hamlets and a neighboring village, Singkul. The school has been selected to take part in the KIAT Guru program to improve education service delivery in remote villages by empowering communities and tying payment of the remote area allowance with either teacher presence or teacher service quality.
The pilot is a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and Culture, the National Team for Acceleration of Poverty Reduction and five district governments with disadvantaged villages, including Manggarai Barat. It is implemented by Yayasan BaKTI, with technical support from the World Bank and funding from the Government of Australia and USAID.
As trails of sunlight broke into the kitchen, Helen and Gian were having breakfast of rice mixed with noodle. They were accompanied by their mother Veronica Sulastri, 27. Like many children in this village, Helen is shy toward strangers and she is not yet fluent in Indonesian as she is more accustomed to speaking local dialects. “She actually likes to read and she likes Mathematics, but she has difficulties in understanding Indonesian language,” Veronica says. She tries to help Helen with her study and homework every night, which is included in KIAT Guru's set of community service agreement.
KIAT Guru empowers communities to hold teachers accountable by agreeing to prioritize five to eight bottom-up service performance indicators to improve the student learning environment. In turn, communities, in this case parents, must also do their part at home, such as providing what children need, like a uniform and desk to study at home, and helping with homework. “But I can only help so much because I’m only a junior high school graduate,” Veronica said.
Helen’s father, Maksimus Sunardi, 31, helped her tie her shoes before going to school. Sunardi welcomes the KIAT Guru program in his children’s school and he actively takes part in the meetings between teachers and the Education User Committee (Kelompok Pengguna Layanan, KPL), which comprises parents and community figures. He hopes the government fix the village road as it worries him that his small children must go through such physical adventure to reach their school. “Some children in this village don’t want to go to school as it is too tiring,” he says.
As a farmer, the harsh terrain also limits market access. Sunardi sells different commodities, from candlenut to rice and coffee bean, which are collectively sent with trucks to traders in Reo sub-district in the neighboring district of Manggarai. The commodities prices are fluctuating, Sunardi says, in the mercy of the traders.
Helen climbed down the stairs in front of her house, which is divided into living area that is made of brick and a wooden kitchen in the back. A toilet and bathroom are built outside. A couple of friends were already waiting for the siblings to go to the school together. Some of the students live in the neighboring village of Singkul, even further away from the school. They would pass Helen’s house every morning and the sound of them running and talking will be her cue to leave the house.
More students joined Helen and other kids to walk to school. The students seem to have gotten used to the rocky and hilly road, as they walk fast and bounce in joy, even though some of them are still very young and some wear flip flops as they cannot afford shoes. During KIAT Guru’s initial meeting with the children, where they were asked for their recommendations for parents and schools. They wished for basic necessities that children in more developed areas take for granted. Some of them want shoes, food and a good uniform. Others wished for not having to look for firewood in the forest.
Helen and other students drew water from Turvale River into the jerry cans. Dry season makes the school’s front yard arid and dusty, so children are asked to bring water to dampen the ground and moisten the plants, as there is no water source available at school. During dry season, the river is only an ankle deep. But in times of heavy rains, it will overflow up to two-meters high and the children are sometimes forced to stay home. When the water subsides, Helen’s father, Sunardi says, he and other fathers would carry their children on their shoulders to pass the river.
Students walked up the rocky path in the forest and each carried their jerry cans of water to school. SDI Hawir Elementary School occupies a three-hectares area, but is in poor conditions, with cracked floors and ceilings, dirty walls and broken blackboards. There is no available water source, and there is only one toilet, a rickety bamboo stall with a hole in the ground that is used by 116 students and their 11 teachers.
A truck passed the students who walked to the school. The rocky village road makes it impossible for regular cars to pass through, so trucks serve as public transportation between villages. The back of the truck is modified so it accommodates benches for passengers to sit on and they put a canopy above the truck. People can usually hear the truck long before it is seen, as the drivers play loud house music to entertain passengers, and themselves.
Helen passed a meadow on her way to school. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she said, as translated by her father, “midwife.” Perhaps she learns from the hardship her mother had to endure when delivering her children. There is no clinic and midwife in remote Hawir; the closest health center is in Rego Village, some 7 kilometers away. Veronica had a traumatic experience with a traditional midwife when giving birth to Helen. So for Gian’s delivery, she opted to go to Rego, which meant walking for one hour carrying her huge midsection as the rocky road makes it difficult for regular cars and ambulance to go through. Maternal mortality cases are rare now, but the harsh terrain creates medical complications, such as bleeding. For her youngest child, Veronica chose to stay with her sister in the district’s capital city of Labuan Bajo for two months until she gave birth.
It was 7.15 a.m. and the students finally arrived at SDI Hawir. All of the teachers have also come. While waiting for the class, some of the students played with their friends outside while others went straight to their classrooms to do their cleaning task. Fifteen minutes later, the bell rang and everyone ran inside the classes to start the day’s lesson. Helen sat in the back of the room along with other third graders. In the baseline study of KIAT Guru pilot, Helen was “not meeting the basic ability” for Bahasa Indonesia and Mathematic. Nevertheless, she is eager to study and very active in class, carrying her parents’ high hopes that she would graduate from university.
Photo: Fauzan Ijazah