Taman Bacaan Pelangi (TBP) was founded in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2011 when I started to get involved in the organization. At the time I happened to be interning for an Indonesian news outlet that’s just recently launched their CSR program. Luckily, I was placed in that program & was assigned to write feature articles of many great Indonesian social initiatives on their weekly column.
One of the organizations that stood out the most was TBP. Each organization we’ve covered at the time all had inspirational and unique missions but most of them were located in the Java island. At the time, I only knew very few organizations that were extending aid to the more secluded regions of Indonesia. TBP was one of the few organizations that focuses on improving childrens’ literature in East Indonesia, most notably in Flores.
In spite of being one of Indonesias’ most popular tourist destination, Flores seemed so “foreign” to me. It felt so out of my reach for me to go and volunteer on their sites. So I got involved with their fundraising activities in Jakarta. I promised myself that one day I’ll go visit their sites. That was in 2011.
Fast forward to 4 years later, I found myself in a small fishing boat, crammed among 16 other passengers, making our way to the Messah island. Messah is a tiny island, just an hour & a half boat ride away from Labuan Bajo. It’s so tiny, it took me only 10 minutes to get from one edge to the other. This was my second time being in Messah. But we’ll get to that later..
2 days prior to my solo trip, I had the chance to be part of a group of 9 volunteers, visiting 3 of TBP’s libraries located in the Messah island, Rinca island, & Kukusan island. I was lucky to be escorted by TBP founder Nila Tanzil and meet the two new volunteers who’ve just recently flown in from Germany, Henrik & Leon.
They are volunteers from World Horizon, a volunteering organization based in Germany, that has been partnered with TBP from the past 2 years. Each year, they send out volunteers to complete a one year volunteering program for TBP. I believe they’re the second or maybe third batch.
Our first stop was Messah island. From afar it looked like a small speck of land crowded with a lot of housings. Approaching the dock, we saw a lot of small children running around naked pointing at our boat with shrills of excitement. We also spotted a man who was bathing in the sea, who made no remark of our arrival and continued to finish his bath. The water was so clear you could spot schools of small fishes so easily but luckily for us the man had pants on.
As we made our way to the TBP library located at the school, the students, which I assume were on their recess break, spotted us & ran out to greet us. Seeing Nila, they immediately assumed we were bringing new books. They were correct. In less than 5 minutes, the TBP library was filled with children. After introducing all the volunteers, the children each grabbed a book and started to read out loud. Some shy but curious students went to ask Henrik & Leon about Germany. Unlike me, they weren’t surprised by the fluency of their Indonesian speaking, as the last volunteers from Germany also spoke Indonesian pretty well.
Turns out that prior to their deployment to the Flores island, all volunteers take a mandatory Indonesian course in Jogjakarta. As all the other volunteers were settling with the kids, I took the opportunity to speak with the teachers.
One of the reasons of me going to Flores was to conduct a research for TBPs new program. TBP is hoping to launch a girls scholarship program starting next year. The girls scholarship program will be extended to junior high school girls from around the Komodo islands. Messah will be a focus area for its’ pilot program.
Initially the plan was to provide high school girls with a scholarship to continue to go to college, but as I was speaking to Pak Kamsin, the vice principal of SMP ATAP Messah, he informed me that many girls don’t make it to high school. Due to financial constraints, most drop out in just a few months after the first year. Last year, only 5 girls graduated and continued to high school. It’s truly unsettling to see that such eager young minds are unable to reach their potential due to their situation.
The kids in Messah are so full of energy. I couldn’t understand. It must’ve been at least 40 degrees out there. The land is so dry there are barely any trees or any shading area. For some volunteers, including me, it was the first time being exposed to the prickling Flores heat. But seeing the kids’ enthusiasm & joy of having new friends around, we didn’t let the heat stand in our us. We pushed ourselves to stay active and lively just like the kids.
We stayed in Messah for at least an hour and a half. Even though the kids were staying longer than they should in school, the parents didn’t look for them. According Pak Kamsin, a few of the parents saw the TBP group going to the school so they weren’t expecting kids to be home at least until late afternoon.
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay too long because the kids of Rinca island were already waiting for us. We went back to the boat with a parade of kids holding each volunteers’ hand. We promised to go back to read with them again. Luckily, a few days after the visit I came back. But this time I was alone. Initially, I was worried whether they’d take one volunteer seriously. But I was greeted with same respect and excitement just like I was with my group.
Mustika L. Hapsoro