US-INA Cooperative Work Project Sails with The Floating School

On July 3rd, twenty strangers disembarked planes coming from dozens of different hometowns and made their way to a hostel in Central Makassar. Some were American, some were Indonesian, and none knew quite what to expect.

The participants of the US-INA Cooperative Work Project were sourced from two places:

1)  YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative) members

2) The network of University of Puget Sound students and alumni with prior experience studying, living and/or traveling to Southeast Asia.

Our task? To work with a small education-oriented Indonesian NGO that has identified areas of need, outline a plan to address the need, implement the plan and in the end, provide tangible outcomes or recommendations for the NGOs going forward. Luckily for us, that NGO ended up being The Floating School in South Sulawesi.

The first two days of our project were spent in Makassar at Rumata Art Space. We worked tirelessly mapping out our vision of what our weeks together would look like: who went where, who did what, how, why…. you get the point.

Luisa Kennefick, Kyle Chong, Tiare Gill, Binar Lestari, and Dinda Ciptaviana prepare for the week in Rumata Art Space’ courtyard.

Our plan was to run workshops for the teenagers on two islands that The Floating School serves: Saugi and Satando in the Pangkep regency. These workshops would occur each day in everything from badminton to creative writing.  We wanted to simultaneously entertain the younger children on the islands and facilitate critical culture exchange conversations with the adults. (Oh, and did I mention there was a subset of us that intended to make trips back to the mainland to work on The Floating School’s annual report, communication strategy, and website?)

The workshops were designed with the following two goals in mind, provided by the founders of The Floating School:

  • Provide quality informal education and open up new opportunities to island youth
  • Improve the self-confidence of the youth and expand their occupational horizons

Ultimately, the Floating School addresses the need for an equal playing field regarding education in Indonesia. Despite countrywide education standards, rural and/or secluded areas often face educational difficulties that more connected regions of Indonesia do not. To quote one of the founders, Rahmat, “Life on the island is very isolated. Our workshops aim to help the kids to express their emotions, feelings, and expressions. The goal is to make them happy!”

In the days leading up to the project’s commencement, we communicated frequently over the web via Slack and Line; though none of us had fully anticipated the vast amount of planning left to be done. We started early and ended late, but by the time we left Rumata Art Space we had split into island groups, had tentative schedules, outlines for lessons to be taught, and lots of anticipation.

We had plenty of breaks of laughter and ice-breaking too, due in part because of a Theatre for Social Change workshop put on by Darmasiswa scholar Ryan Sutherland, and in part by a 4th of July (American Independence Day) celebration. We became fast friends over pizza and nasi goreng, sharing with each other our origin stories, thoughts, beliefs, and dreams for the future. And although it was only two days in the city, we made our way to the islands feeling as though we’d already spent weeks with one another.

On July 6th we boarded our bus to Pangkep, off to the dock where we launch to our final destinations: Satando Island and Saugi Island. Unfortunately, our group had to split up at this point. Twelve of us left for the larger Satando Island and the remaining eight were bound to Saugi where each group would live for ten days.

Our temporary home, Satando Island.

Initially on Satando, we focused on cultural exchange rather than our education workshops. We wanted to let the island get to know all of the new faces before we began teaching. If we spent time assimilating and breaking down the barriers between the locals and the nonlocals; we would reach more students and our impact would ultimately be greater. We lived in homestays with no more than 3 of us per house, and ate all of our meals together in a centrally located home. Our home-base became the place where we stored our supplies, held group meetings, played games, and sang songs too.

After a few days, we realized that we would have to scrap our entire schedule and start from scratch. We were lucky enough to be visiting Satando on an extended school break, which meant that we wouldn’t be competing with the local school for the teenagers’ attention, but also that the they would be helping their families more than usual with household tasks – be it cooking, cleaning, and/or fishing. Our initial schedule for classes had to be completely reinvented to accommodate the teenagers’ adjusted schedules. Instead of classes spread throughout the day with breaks included; we ran three classes in a three-hour block between 2-5pm. This change came with unanticipated challenges. On top of our initial tasks, we now had to wrestle with keeping kids who had been up all night engaged and wanting to come back for more.

Throughout the next week the twelve of us ran 15 workshops over 5 days. English workshops collaborated with creative writing to write and translate poems. Our facilitators led the teens throughout an immersive, field-guide making experience across the island. Afterwards, they mapped their houses on an island map and learned in English how to say where everything on the island is. The art workshop had kids design coloring pages that were later bound into a book, and a music class taught the kids the words to the songs “The Rainbow Troops” and “All You Need Is Love”.

Kunto Nurcahyoko and Harrison Rosenberg co-facilitate an English workshop in the courtyard outside of the schoolhouse.

The week flew past, and suddenly we were left only with Saturday night. We decided early on that we wanted to showcase the art, songs, and poems that the teenagers had been working on – though we had no idea just how big of an event it would become.  We met with the head of the village, the secretary, and parents of the island to discuss our plans, and they were eager to help. The community set up a stage, chairs, lights, and boards to display the children’s art for us, and a majority of the island’s 500 people sat in attendance as the youth danced, sang, and read their poems aloud, and afterwards we celebrated with fireworks and a dance party heard all the way to Saugi.

Since the goals of The Floating School are largely qualitative, we measured our successes by gauging the enthusiasm and passion that the teenagers have for learning. On the final day, we displayed a dream tree the group had worked on together. On the simple tree, teens wrote their goals on folded origami to hang. Some want to be teachers, some want to go to university, and two ambitious teen boys want to be President. Even now that we’re post-program, we still get messages, calls, and updates from them on how they’re doing and what they’re learning.

The west dock on Satando Island.

Our group made a point to watch the sunset together every night before dinner, sometimes on the dock, sometimes swimming, and sometimes on a sandbar. We knew that our time together was temporary and longed to stretch the days out as much as possible. Our cohort hailed from Los Angeles, West Kalimantan, New York, Jakarta, and more. On July 17th, we parted ways without the guarantee that we would all ever be in the same place again. Our time in Sulawesi was brief, and it’s hard to know the concrete impact that the US-INA Cooperative Work Project had on the islands that we visited. Ultimately, I know this work will be continued by a Floating School team that works tirelessly to build relationships with and opportunities for everyone they meet, including me. For that I am endlessly grateful.


Written by: Margo Gislain, University of Puget Sound ’18

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