The CCI Global Impact series is a collection of digital stories that showcase the impact of the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program through alumni projects and contributions in their home communities. To create this series, a small team of filmmakers from StoryCenter traveled around the world to film the stories and projects of CCI alumni. In the Director’s Notes below, StoryCenter’s Allison Myers shares more about the alumni she filmed in Sumatra and Lombok Indonesia.
Allison Myers, StoryCenter
Jaya Gulo | The School Projects | Pematang Siantar, Sumatra, Indonesia
I was so bleary-eyed after over 48 hours of travel, I wasn’t sure I would recognize him.
Tatiana (cinematography) and I hoisted our fondly, and aptly, named “Frankenstein” – “Frankie” for short- off the oversize baggage carousel. I hadn’t heard from Marie (sound) in over 24 hours.
And then I heard that laugh. His distinct, light-hearted giggle, really.
I turned around and there was Gulo offering a hug and another giggle at our travel-weary condition.
Our Indonesian leg of the trip was off to a crazy start. A winter storm across the southern U.S. sent me, Tatiana and Marie scrambling to change flights and then flying completely different routes to Jakarta. We were already going to be island hopping as it was, featuring projects on the three very different islands of Sumatra, Halmahera and Lombok. Our passports (supposed to have arrived 2 weeks earlier!) had been hand-delivered late the night before, after some tangle in the Ghanaian Embassy, hours before the storm iced the roads down in Birmingham and New Orleans.
We were aiming to meet up in Medan, Sumatra at the airport, and look for Gulo there.
He’d spotted us, and then we found Marie and set off for the village where Gulo grew up, several hours away.
We passed miles of palm and rubber tree plantations, where locals eke out a living and the literacy rate is low. Education is not a priority when you need another hand to help in the rice paddies or for collecting sap to put enough food on the table.
As Gulo talked about his project and his vision to address the cycle of poverty through education, I was struck by the contrast of his light-heartedness that in no way makes him a lightweight.
He works a full-time job as a customs officer in the Ministry of Finance, is finishing his undergraduate degree in economic development, AND runs the School Projects. He learned how to write grants when he was in the CCI Program, and he has successfully been putting that into practice to expand the impact of his project on his community. He works PR for The School Projects like it’s another job. He’s confident and knows his audiences.
He makes things happen.
Gulo convinced his boss to let him pitch one of his projects- providing school supplies to 1000 children in rural villages- to his entire department. Each employee could elect to have a portion of their salary withheld as a donation to the project. Over 95% of his colleagues heartily supported the idea, and Gulo raised much of the money he needed for one of his first projects.
Many of them continue to support the School Projects and feel invested in its success. Gulo doesn’t take this support lightly. He’s very serious about being transparent and wise with the money people entrust to him. He wants to make every rupiah count!
I asked about the building where the only pre-school in the region is housed. It’s a small house- perfect for the school, and the library he is adding. And the computer lab he’s raising money for.
Gulo saved his own money to buy that house for The School Projects. And every time he saves enough, he buys a piece of used playground equipment for the children. They day we were there, the first two pieces arrived, and the kids gleefully swarmed all over them.
Friends and family at first thought he was foolish. Why not rent the house and make an income?
He laughed as he explained, “But I’m just one person, how much money do I actually need? I have enough food, a place to live, all the things I need. I remember when I was young boy, and didn’t care much about education. I was in another village where I saw kids whose families struggled even more than mine, and they were walking a very long way to school without shoes. Like, almost two hours away.”
“After that, I worked hard. I realized education could change my life.
And it has,” he said firmly.
“Now I have the ability and the resources to help others. I feel strongly that this is what human beings are created for. To help each other.”
Gulo laughed as he told us that his parents, who thought he was crazy, have now saved money and bought the house next to the one he uses for the school. And instead of renting it out, they’ve let him use it for his growing project.
After we visited the school, and met Ayu, one of the girls The School Projects is sponsoring through middle and high school, Gulo’s mom and aunt invited us into their home for an amazing meal. Gulo showed us his room, and some of his books.
I asked him what he was currently reading, and when did he even have time to read. He giggled, of course.
Then he showed me the open book on his desk, The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life.
And then, of course, I laughed. I’m pretty sure Gulo already knows about those unexpected benefits.
Allison Myers, StoryCenter
Ziadah | Backpacking Libraries | Kekeri, Lombok, Indonesia
On a very hot and muggy Sunday morning, we arrive in Z’s village on the island of Lombok where she lives with her mom and some of her siblings. Her team has set out a large tarp on the dirt, and at 8:00 a.m., it’s packed with over 60 kids and teens, seated patiently, some with pens and notebooks in hand.
Ziadah, or Z as she is called, and her volunteers stand in front introducing themselves, and the children greet them loudly in unison. After we are introduced, we greet them in our few Bahasa phrases we’ve learned, they cheer again, and soon the reading and learning games commence.
It’s mesmerizing, and fun to watch. In small groups, and pairs they read to each other, learn English words through songs, the little ones learn colors and numbers. This is a SUNDAY. And these kids are excited to sit here in the heat and direct sun for 4 hours to have a chance to read.
Z pops from group to group. Her volunteers are energetic, and patient, and the kids are engaged.
They run back to the suitcase when they’re finished reading and ask for another book.
I get pretty choked up watching this, because I’m amazed at how something seemingly so simple can have such an impact. Something many people take for granted every day back home…
Having access to books.
Z says many of the parents didn’t really value reading before, but they are proud of their children’s improvement in school, and newfound excitement about reading. Many parents sit around the edges and watch. Many have come to Z to thank her.
Afterwards, we share a lunch with all of the volunteers at Z’s mom’s home. She tells me that when she’s not traveling with the books, her mom has agreed to leave the front room of their house open, and she will keep all of the books there, for the local children to come and read after school.
“I want to show you something,” she says with giddy excitement.
We follow her into the room with a few belongings, a bed, and a desk with a sheet on top, covering whatever it’s protecting underneath.
She stands ready for the big reveal.
“This is my treasure!” she says as she slowly lifts the sheet to expose piles of books – Z’s shrine to the magic of reading, and all the worlds that reading has opened for her.
“When I was in the U.S. I discovered used bookstores! Can you imagine? And I could buy books for one or two dollars. I was in heaven!”
“When I was packing to come back home from CCI, I gave most of my clothes away. I brought home two suitcases filled with only books- fiction, non-fiction, everything.”
She runs her hands gently over the spines and points out a few of her favorites, tells us which ones she will read next. She savors them, not wanting to gobble them up, to make them last.
“Yeah, I brought home books, and lots of new ideas.”
Z didn’t have reading books, as she calls them, when she was growing up.
Her mother couldn’t afford them.
“When I was in high school, my friend had a bike and she loves reading as well. In Mataram (the big city near her village) there is a mall with one big bookstore. We rode my friend’s bike there and we just read what we can read, until the store is closing. Sometimes I think the staff noticed that we came there every weekend, and that we were there just for reading, not buying. But they let us stay.”
She talks about the places she’s traveled to in her reading, the histories she’s learned, the people and new ideas she’s met. She talks about how reading led her to the CCI, and has helped her career as a writer.
She knows many children throughout Indonesia will have a very small, limited world because books are not a reality for them.
Some remote Indonesian villages have a schoolteacher who only treks in once or twice a week, and a hundred kids of all ages sit on the floor and share textbooks. But there are no libraries, no stories to take them to other times and places.
And Z wants them to go places, learn things. To develop a passion for reading- so that they too can travel far and wide, at least through the stories, and know the world and themselves, better.
She knows if they get a taste, they will become “words eaters” and then maybe they can dream, maybe reading could change their lives, like it changed hers.
So every Saturday and Sunday, Z and her team of volunteers, made up of friends, teachers, and college students studying education head out to villages near, and often quite far.
They carry with them their backpacks, their deep commitment to making learning – and reading – joyful, and a treasure to share… a collection of books in a big, purple suitcase.
Prior to the publication of the CCI Global Impact series, the CCI Program shared a blog post about Gulo and Ziadah’s work.