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| A Monitoring Visit to Flores - NTA
written by Barabra Lynn
In April this year I took two weeks leave from work to accompany Colin Barlow and Ria Gondowarsito on a monitoring visit of the NTA projects in Flores. We met in Bali and travelled together to the seaport town of Maumere on the north coast of eastern Flores.
Flying from Bali to Flores is a sight to remember with spectacular views of volcanic islands rising steeply out of the blue seas. There are 24 active volcanoes in the chain of islands east of Bali and a dozen or so dormant ones. Minor eruptions are common.
Mt Egon, 30 kilometres south east of Maumere, erupted earlier this year and thousands of villagers had to be evacuated. Although many of the locations we work in are within sight of Mt Egon, none of our focus groups were affected.
In Flores, the NTA provides financial and technical assistance to selected village groups in three sub-districts (Kewapante, Waigete and Nita) in the regency of Sikka. The main town in the Sikka district is Maumere and was our base for the monitoring visit. Here we met up with Ruth Radja, the NTA Regional Director, who had joined us from Kupang. Following the visit to Flores, Ruth would return to West Timor with Colin and Ria and begin a monitoring visit of the NTA projects there.
We travelled out from Maumere to visit projects and returned at night
to our hotel. Staying in town meant we were able to use the internet connection
provided by the one internet service centre in town. Also, unlike in the
villages, where there is no guarantee of electricity, Colin was able to
use his laptop computer at the hotel each night to write his reports.
And our hotel had air conditioning!
On our first evening in Maumere we met with members of our main partner agency, Yayasan Pengembangan Masyarakat Flores (YPMF) in their little office in town. The YPMF is a local development organisation, their name in Indonesian means 'Foundation for the Development of the People of Flores'. Present at the meeting that evening were Gaudensius Gego, Alfonso Rodriquez, Christina Rita, Yohanes Berchmans, Alfred Wempy, Kanisius Pili, Eusebius Tony, Maria Theresia Dolorosa and Servasius Bero. They are all local people from the region around Maumere and are in regular contact with the communities. Through them we established contact with our focus groups and in partnership with YPMF, we provide help to the communities.
I was made to feel very welcome by the folk from the YPMF. While they have few material resources, they show a commitment and resilience which is inspiring. They are using their tertiary education and technical expertise to help their people to improve their lives. I spent the next 10 days getting to know many of the YPMF members better. We travelled together into the surrounding hills or out to coastal settlements to meet with farmer groups, women's groups, and school staff and to inspect livestock, crops, seedlings, wells, tanks, fences, buildings and school facilities. Crammed into a hired van we joked together and shared our perceptions of the world. It was clear to me that over the last three years, the NTA has formed a good working relationship with this group and many personal friendships have developed.
George Miller, our NTA Secretary in Canberra and the leader of the School Libraries Project, had asked me to pay special attention to the schools on this monitoring trip. He would be unable to visit Flores or West Timor for another 12 months. He said that in order to do this successfully, I would be helped by Alfonso Rodriquez, a former teacher with a particular interest in school development strategies. Over the next few days, Alfonso and I met with library staff and teachers from all the schools where the NTA has been assisting. We checked to see that the NTA consignments of books had been received and inspected their little collections of books, making notes of future needs. I often consulted Alfonso to ask his advice and learned to respect his insight and judgement.
The day after we arrived in Maumere, we also visited the regional offices of Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan Pertanian (Agency for Research and Agricultural Development). The Director Ben Derosari and Deputy Gunarto were very hospitable and discussed recent climatic conditions in the region and the agency's current agricultural research and approach to plant disease. Colin spoke about the NTA projects that we were undertaking in the Sikka region and in West Timor. He explained that a major objective of our agricultural and livestock programs was to assist farmers to increase their opportunities for cash income. Colin had been asking about plant varieties and especially about the main staple of the region, which is corn. As we left our hosts pressed onto us several bags of varieties of corn to distribute and trial in some of our NTA project localities.
Thursday 22 April was the day of the general meeting
or musyawarah. When Colin, Ria, Ruth and I arrived at the meeting
hall, there were 180 people enthusiastically assembled to greet us. With
the assistance of the YPMF who had organised the program and transport,
they had come from their mountain or coastal villages into Maumere for
the musyawarah. They were representing their focus groups and had
come to report on the progress of their projects and to share their ideas
with similar groups from the region. The NTA supports 40 focus groups
with a combined membership of 578 persons. If you include the dependants
of these groups, the NTA is able to assist a total of 1705 people in the
three sub-districts of Sikka.
Among those who attended the meeting were Falentinus Pogon, YPMF founder and mentor, and Father Philipus Tule, Rector of the Catholic seminary in Ledalero, from Society of the Divine Word. Father Philip became associated with the NTA from his time at the Australian National University. Alfonso acted as Master of Ceremonies and the gathering was entertained and enlivened by the energetic music of musicians and dancers from the village of Watudenak. (NTA had provided some of the musical instruments for the group). Colin and Yohanes Berchmans recorded everything that was said and asked for clarification, especially from the agricultural groups, so that they could follow up with field visits or note points for future development strategies.
I was amazed at the energy and enthusiasm that Colin displayed for the whole monitoring visit. Ruth, our Director, was also undaunted by the long hot days in the field and I found her to be remarkably perceptive about situations and people. Ria who holds a Phd in gender issues and social development is a perfect match for Colin. She seemed to be able to second guess him and was a great support for him, not just in supplementing his Indonesian. She was also able to remind him about things he tended to forget - like the need to eat and sleep!
At the musyawarah, I had the rather pleasant task of giving out some books that George Miller and I had collected for my visit. I made a little speech and handed some little packages of books as prizes to the representatives to schools that we wished to recognise for their enthusiasm in organising and developing their libraries. The schools that received prizes were SDI Damar Bima, SDI Baomekot, SDI Liwubao and SDI Watuwitir and SDK Ohe.
Evidently everyone seemed to enjoy themselves at the all-day event and the crowd was particularly amused when Colin, Ria, Ruth and I were persuaded to get up at the end of the meeting and dance with the dancers of the Watudenak music group! Later that week we were to enjoy more dancing when visiting the group at Watudenak village. We were greeted by men strumming instruments and beating drums and dancing women wearing bells on their ankles and twirling sticks with horse hair decorations. We were invited to join in a traditional blessing ceremony for the instruments and the naming of the new music group.
Heading up into the surrounding hills to Watublapi which is about 20 kilometers south east of Maumere is a beautiful trip through lush forests. At 400 meters above sea level is considerably cooler than down on the coast and has fine views across the coast. From the next settlement of Ohe, you can see both the south coast and north coast of Flores.
On Saturday 24 April, Father Philip and Brother Hilarius collected us from our hotel in town with their van provided by the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). They accompanied us to some of the localities of our projects in Magepanda that we mutually support in the area to the west of Maumere. This hot and dry coastal area does not seem well suited for the breed of pigs that we are trialling and there was evident disappointment with the progress of the livestock projects there. Many of the animals had died and those that survived evidently were suffering from skin diseases. The wells are not able to provide anything other than drinking water during the dry season, so for many months of the year, water is too precious to waste on bathing pigs.
Later on Saturday afternoon we visited the Catholic SVD mission and agricultural station at Pati Ahu 35 kilometers east of Maumere. The NTA has sourced some pigs from the station to trial at a number of project sites. Here I witnessed the excellent condition of pigs and cattle with a young woman who has recently qualified in veterinary science and who has agreed to work with the folk of the YPMF to monitor and assist with the breeding of pigs. Ibu Evi gave me a half hour crash course in the basics of pig reproduction and health care of pigs!
On Sunday morning we attended Mass at the Ledalero Church seminary. I was really stunned at how beautiful the singing was from the all male choir. Father Philip and some of the Catholic priests and brothers invited us to share breakfast with them. It was the first time I had milk (powdered) in my tea for over a week. Ah lovely! They were very hospitable and the Head of the library at the Catholic seminary, Stephanus Meo, who also provides teacher training to selected schools on behalf of the NTA, gave us a tour of the Library. He has agreed to continue library training for the teachers of selected schools and Father Philip offered the seminary as venue for this. We also thought the teachers would gain a good appreciation of library organisation if they had a chance to visit the library at the seminary.
The field visits were very interesting but perhaps too hurried for a first time visitor to the region. My notes record meetings with groups in the localities of Magepanda, Kopang, Watublapi, Nangahale Doi, Woloangbliran, Kajowair, Riidetut, Tadat, Botang, Wegok, Watudenak, Ohe and Magetanda. If you find a good map, you will hopefully be able to locate some of these places, but while I was there, I found it very hard not to feel lost. The further you go through the mountains, the narrower the roads become. Travelling relatively short distances takes time with steep inclines, fallen trees and soil erosion. Sometimes we walked as the van was not able to traverse some of the roads. In the van, I had trouble orientating myself to the directions with all the twists and turns of the roads, and there were times that I caught glimpses of the sea and had to ask one of the YPMF folk if it was the south or the north coast that I was looking at!
Similarly, I had trouble remembering the names and details of all the schools I visited. (My note taking left something to be desired! And I kept losing my pen until Ria gave me a wonderful pen holder to wear around my neck). In order to complete our monitoring program of all the schools assisted by the NTA, we had cover as many schools as possible during school hours. The school day starts early before the heat, many of the schools close early in the afternoon. I found that I did not have as much time as I would have liked for the school visits. My notes record visits to the primary schools of SDK Ohe, SDK Maget Baomekot, SDI Damar Bima, SDI Liwubao, SDK Botang, SDK Watublapi, SDI Wolomapa, SDK Kewagunung, SDK Hewokloang, SDK Magepanda and one private junior high school, SLTP St Maria Immaculate, Magepande. We also visited the two kindergartens that NTA supports.
Apart from the relatively well resourced junior high school in Magepanda, the primary school, SDI Baomekot, was the only school I visited with a dedicated room as a library. Ibu Walburger, one of the grade teachers at this school has taken a particular interest in the library and is dedicated enough to open the room for the students half an hour before school each morning. In many of the schools, I was dismayed with the attention paid to securing books behind locked cupboard doors, but was told that without this, books would quickly disappear. However, some schools had open shelves and the books seemed to be far more accessible for students. I was impressed with the Headmistress, Ibu Sabina Agripina, of the Catholic primary school, SDK Maget Baomekot, who had shown her trust in Year Six children and given them some responsibility for the running of the library. They helped to record books and assist her in the loan process. Both kindergartens we visited were doing their very best with the resources that were available and were obviously run by very dedicated young Catholic nuns.
In relation to the assistance the NTA provides to schools, Alfonso and I checked that the books and teaching aids, including sports equipment, was received by schools and that the books for libraries were catalogued. In all cases, we found the consignments of goods had arrived, but the cataloguing of books was not always completed as this required teachers working outside school hours to achieve. Alfonso told me that many teachers needed to find a second job or part time work to supplement their meagre teacher's salary, so time was not always available for extra curricula work at school. However, I did witness teachers of one school working overtime with extra curricula activities, rehearsing with their students for a school performance of traditional dancing. I was privileged to see part of a rehearsal one Sunday morning by the students of SDI Liwubao primary school. They were putting on a performance for National Education Day and hoping to raise some funds for the school. And there was Alfonso! He had obviously been giving up his Sundays to assist the teachers and school committee with the performance.
Another memorable school visit was to the Catholic school of SDK Watuwitir. It was here, while talking to the teachers, that I felt a strange rolling and rocking sensation which lasted quite a few minutes. The teachers cried 'Gempa Bumi!' and urged us to leave the building and we all gathered outside. We later learned that the earthquake had measured 5.5 on the Richter scale and was centred in the Sawu sea. The earthquake had been experienced as far as Kupang in West Timor. Apart from some cracking in walls of buildings, there had been no significant damage. People in eastern Flores still have bad memories of the large earthquake that occurred in December 1992.
In conclusion, I learnt a lot from my short visit to Flores and I would urge others to take the opportunity to visit our NTA projects. It is clear by visiting the schools how poorly resourced they are and I am convinced that George's School Library Project is very worthwhile. The YPMF have some ideas about how to encourage schools to continue to develop their libraries in a self-sustaining way, but I thought that considering the economic circumstances of most families, this would be difficult to achieve. Despite this, school committees and parents were obviously supportive of their schools. The schools have few books and writing materials and I rarely saw a drawing on the wall. If NTA members plan to visit any of the schools in Flores or West Timor, I can assure you that any gifts of books, particularly books with pictures will be appreciated.