Indonesia to India: do you receive me? By Adrian Thirkell in Jakarta
It’s 8.30 in Jakarta. It’s the Hijriyah New Year break, and a small group of Yr 13 students, (Andre Sinaga, Anthony Tanudjaja, Daniel Loekman, Kelvin Wijaya and Kevin Ganiswarna) are now on their way to pick up the Indonesian children from the shanty. Students at Apeejaye Secondary School, New Delhi, India, and also preparing for the VC. And we’re nervous: not so much about the technology working, but about how well we facilitate, for marginalised, primary-age Indonesian children living in a shanty, a means to engage in ‘global talk’ on an advanced, technological platform.
We know the objective: it’s two-fold: to give children who have been extensively marginalised from society, due to poverty, a ‘sense of themselves’: as having a voice; as having a right to self expression and a means to ‘agitate’ for recognition. Secondly, it’s to allow students an opportunity to explore the degree to which technological development can be harnessed for the benefit of an underclass.
For children displaced from their kampong of birth, often with no formal record of citizenship, without an education, only ad-hoc access to medical care and facing imminent relocation as a result of the sale of the land on which their families squat, the VC with Apeejaye is an act of restitution: The children will no longer be entirely voiceless; they will discover they have valid stories to tell about their own lives as well as serious-minded and sympathetic advocates in Jakarta and India, who are able to use the very technology normally denied them to enable a dialogue with an interested audience. For some of the children, it will also be a respite from begging on the streets of Bintaro.
The VC is a good example of how our students wrestle with apparently intractable problems endemic in society’ a society in which globalization essentially means nothing to those outside the global ‘village’. It is also the means by which students ask themselves pertinent questions: What is my responsibility to the underclass? What is my capacity to effect positive change? And what role does my faith play in such issues?
The video conference is being transmitted during the Islamic New Year. It will affirm the students’ support of children with whom they may not share a faith, or, in some cases, a culture, but with whom they have identified a shared purpose.
Let’s find out?
A palpable excitement – a sense that technology, when contextualised well, can effect social change and also a sense of one self – that is, enable children who have a limited frame of reference to expand the ambit of their lives, and access mutually supportive communities. But of course, we don’t KNOW yet what the children will be willing to share: Do you give away that part of you that is humiliating? – Will they talk about begging on the streets? And will they talk about living on land which tomorrow may be taken from them? Where do the stabilities of the children lie? Does faith provide it: - the habits and routines of culture and belief?
9.10: We’ve just done the test call with Becky. All going well: good audio quality.
The VC screen blinks like a beholding eye. An aperture. A way into the world.
But also a sense that a dialogue beginning today is the means to an intermingling of culture and identity: threads woven; aspirations shared – even to mean that our OWN aspirations about what we want to achieve in life must be reduced, so children like our guests today can have a chance to share the pot of resources normally denied them.
I don’t want to overstate it, but I have a sense that this is an issue of destiny: there has been an intervention; things are already different. Lives may, from here, have a new aspect. But anxiety remains because the forces which prevent and exclude and diminish and obscure and damage are strong: and we have to find a way to determine how our lives have common purpose.
1041: The children arrive: not the same! All in Muslim dress. Breakfast on the terrace: sunny and cool, with a picnic atmosphere.
Something will happen in an hour. They will be uncomfortable for a while, and not necessarily communicate clearly. But the fusion of peoples and cultures and ways of thinking, even for an hour, will create some ‘incident’ in their lives. And we can build on that.
1308: Long and involved talks with the children: they are young; they have limited experiences – but one boy told us of how he watched his sister, age 13, die at home, in what seemed to be, as far as we could translate, from shame of having a boy jilt her. But of course they are from a community that has never experienced others asking them direct questions about how they live their lives -; but what emerges solid is although there is, as far as a 12 year old can communicate, a sense of exclusion and unfairness, the one aspect that unambiguously unites them, and provides a sense of assurance and meaning, is faith. It ‘sits on them’ like a cloak’. I hope this comes across in the VC. The moment when they recited to call to prayer was profound.
1400: Every child sound asleep in the common room!
1426: All in place. The children are focused. Good audio and video. Now it’s time for me to back off and allow the VC to run – without meddling! It’s a bold experiment happening on a school holiday, almost in secret, but for children who live lives almost in secret, and with whom we have formed an alliance – and with students in New Delhi.
1430: We can’t trace Jo! But we are going ahead.
Jo’s on! We’ve lost a bit of conference time, but I think it’s allowed us to settle nerves.
1434: Becoming aware of what a challenge this is! Managing the ‘sophistication’ of the Indian students – and the lack absence of experience of the Indonesian children. But we’re started: it’s momentous for Raju – to assume the right to a voice . He’s talking about his work. About going to the mosque. About his house being made out of wood.
The first question from India! About the English Premier League: a cross cultural clue! Indians and Indonesians united around Liverpool and MU. Is this the way to globalized harmony!
Raju and Karna stand together. It’s a significant affiliation. It reveals Karna’s responsibility at an early age to a friend. These boys have a lot against them but have incredible strength of character.
Anthony introduces Karna – the deaf and dumb boy. WE discover that the sign language is developed ONLY in the shanty: in other words the boys speak their own sign language.
1441: Sort of ‘starting over’: and here we go. Andre the CAS student, who acts as an advocate for the children, introduces. Raju will follow on – the boy that all the others look up to. Andre is facilitating well; Raju is invited to speak. A big moment for him. He begins with his name. His age. His school grade. Where he lives. That he ahs lots of friends. I think he’s doing marvellously: a boy being called out of obscurity to speak for his community. It’s significant: no one has ever paid an interest before! And now he points to his friends: it feels like a moment of solidarity: a simple name calling out. A calling into the world.
1453: Jo moves the question ON from soccer. Ujang gets up. Thoughtful boy: one of the lucky ones who goes to school. We’ve snagged a bit: I don’t feel that we are deepening just yet – but how to convey such a DIFFERENCE in cultural contexts? In fact, we need some accidental ‘trigger’ that will take the VC a little deeper – I think the need to get to a “meaty” issue.
1507: But now Anjar is at the mic: it’s important, again: a child with a voice. A child with something to say about his way of being.
1511: I’m not sure that this can come across well in India – but Anjar has just spoken about the informal umbrella rental service he runs at the plaza – when those ‘with’ pay the boys with umbrellas for the trip from the car to the mall. Imaginative and creative work – but usually drenched while the punters stay dry.
1515: Still to come – the mantra – the prayer. The meat of it, really.
1520: The mantra: all stand. It’s very good. Everyone is focused. The Indonesians naturally join in – amazing and spontaneous: this is what binds the VC – the children singing the mantra spontaneously. Andik asks a question – about death: this comes from HIS experience – his older sister died two years ago. What’s happens to the body? Ujang asks where Hindu’s worship. This is good: the questions are meaningful, and personal and genuine.
The answers are also amazing: the funeral pyre: the casting of the ashes – but still, we’ve lost something in the extensive length of comments in English: - I felt something quite profound was being communicated – but we needed to translate the answer straight away – to catch its immediacy.
1528: Focus on Islam: Raju as spokes person: a lot of responsibility on his shoulders! Karna will be included in the prayer also as a gesture of solidaity.
1530: The call to prayer from a skinny, tiny, malnourished boy: lyrical; solemn; meaningful; arresting; profound. Religion as a girder. A tiny child appealing to God.
1537: We time out! I think we’ve lost it at a crucial moment!
1541: That’s a cruel snag: - we’ve lost the link. The boys as a whole were about to pray, the moment the call to prayer ended – when, of course, you must pray: I understand it for the first time: living on a rubbish tap, in squalor, in mud; temporary and excluded – but at any moment you can go down on your knees and be exalted; rise. Be in paradise. The Allah of shanties. The Allah That’s faith.
Face to Faith is the Foundation's global schools programme, bringing 11 to 16 year olds together using digital technology so they can learn about each other, and about the attitude of different religions to global issues such as the environment, health, art, poverty and wealth.
Using a secure website which adheres to child-protection guidelines, video-conferencing, teacher training, bespoke curriculum materials and expert facilitation, the programme helps build understanding, break down stereotypes, and enhance dialogue and negotiation skills.
Find out more at www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/facetofaith