Sowing knowledge, reaping brotherhood in Tembok Bolong


The Eucharist celebration at Santo Bartolomeus church in Taman Galaxi, Bekasi has not been finished for too long. Theodora Karunia Masharini was rushing to the parking lot. She started her motorbike and left the church together with a friend. They drove to Tembok Bolong village, around 1.5 kilometers north of Santo Bartolomeus church. This high-density village is in the area of Pekayon Jaya, South Bekasi.

As soon as they arrived, Runi and her friend parked their motorbike in front of Al-Ikhlas mushalla. Tens of children greeted and kissed their hands. At that religious house, she and 20 other interfaith youngsters provide free lessons for 68 children from playgroup to 6th grade. This free lesson is given every Sunday from 10 AM to 11.30 AM.

Two Decades

This free lesson started in 2015. It was to welcome the 20th year of Taman Galaxi Parish, the Lead of Anniversary Committee requested the Youth Community of Santo Bartolomeus to carry out a meaningful social activity. They proposed to create a learning park in Tembok Bolong. The proposal was granted.

After the proposal was granted and approved, they started to collaborate with Organisasi Wanita Katolik Republik Indonesia (WKRI) – the Organisation of Women’s Catholic of Indonesia Santo Bartolomeus chapter. Fortunately, WKRI had already started a social activity in Tembok Bolong every second week of the month. They opened a health post for mothers and children together with Posyandu Kencana’s cadres and distributed additional nutritious intakes such as milk, mungbean porridge, and biscuits for 200 toddlers. 

The caretaker of Posyandu Kencana welcomes this idea from the youth group of Santo Bartolomeus. they even went to the houses in the area asking the parents to let their children join this free lesson. They also assisted the group in finding the place to carry out the activity.

The first activity was participated by 30 children. Most of them were elementary students, some had dropped out of school and some had never had the chance to taste education again.there were 8 facilitators to handle this group.

The lessons provided were drawing, colouring, reading, math, science, social science, and English.

Along the way, the number of children joining the free lesson was increasing. “Often when the older siblings join, the youngers will follow. Or their older siblings will take them,” Runi said in front of Santo Bartolomeus church last May.

Unfortunately, the children’s enthusiastic responses were not followed with equal commitment from the facilitators. Most of the time, half of them could not come regularly. The reason being was hectic church agenda, family matters, transportation issue, and some even just disappear without any words.

The composition between facilitators and students was unequal resulting in unoptimal learning. As the coordinator of facilitators, Runi was embarrassed. She felt guilty facing WKRI and people who have helped her, especially the enthusiastic children.

Lost and Replaced

In order to continue this programme, Runi and some of the remaining facilitators went on a volunteer hunting. Runi utilised the Catholic Youth Forum network in Bekasi.

This group is where the caretakers of the Youth Group from 7 parishes in Bekasi under Jakarta Archdiocese gathered. They are from St. Arnoldus Parish, St. Mikael Kranji Parish, St. Bartolomeus Taman Galaxi Parish, St. Clara North Bekasi Parish, St. Albertus Harapan Indah parish, St. Servatius Kampung Sawah Parish, Mother Theresa Cikarang Parish, Kalvari Lubang Buaya Parish, and St. Leo Agung Jatiwaringin Parish.

At one time, during the meeting at this forum, Runi told everyone about the activity at Tembok Bolong, including the lack of facilitators issue. She also shared this story with her friends at home and on campus.

Just like planting a tree, Runi could not reap what she sows immediately. She had to be patient while keep teaching the children in Tembok Bolong. Some of the WKRI members lent a hand to minimise the lack of facilitator issues. This predicament went on for almost two years.

In October 2017, Runi had an extraordinary moment. Many youngsters were interested in volunteer in Tembok Bolong. This happened after they heard the story and saw it with their own eyes what Runi and her friends had started. “Now we have 28 facilitators,” this student of Economy at the University of Krisnadwipayana, Jatiwaringin said.

The new volunteers came not only from Taman Galaxi Parish, but also from other parishes, reform churches, and some are even Moslem. “The presence of Moslem volunteers help us a great deal. Because there was one time, a child needed a tutor for Islamic lessons,” Runi said while smiling.

To simplify the communication and coordination between volunteers, Runi created a WhatsApp Group. She named it “Sahabat Tembok Bolong”. In this group, Runi regularly sends a teaching schedule for the volunteers. Every week there are 8 to 10 volunteers who take a turn to handle the free lessons. They also shared experiences in that group.

Indra, one of the volunteers, was moved to join as a facilitator after listening to Runi’s story. This was his first experience. Even though it was an unpaid job, Indra said he was happy to get involved in such activity. “I got new experience and apparently the knowledge that I have is useful for the children,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rizky was interested to be a volunteer when he saw his friend teach there. He was so touched that he decided to join. In the following week, Rizky had become a part of ‘Sahabat Tembok Bolong’, and he is the only Moslem volunteer then.

He lives in Cikarang which is 30 kilometers away from Tembok Bolong. “I left home at 8 AM and arrived here at 9 AM,” he said.

Now Runi can put a smile. The deficit of facilitator issues had been overcome. Lost volunteers are replaced with new faces. Even so, Runi still hopes the activity in Tembok Bolong will keep developing and more children in need will sow knowledge and reap brotherhood.

Enormous Support 

Many parties support the existence and activity of Sahabat Tembok Bolong. The leader of WKRI chapter Santo Bartolomeus, Fransisca Lenny Wikyanhadi said that WKRI immediately welcomes the offer made by the youth group to carry out the activity in Tembok Bolong. “Fortunately education is one of our programme,” Lenny said.

WKRI had become the communication bridge between the youth group of Santo Bartolomeus and the people in Tembok Bolong.

Yadi Sucipto and Sanih Suryani were the community leaders in Tembok Bolong who were very supportive. Yadi is an advisor for the Youth Group in RT 05 RW 26 Pekayon Jaya in South Bekasi, while Sanih is the leader of Posyandu Kencana.

Sanih assisted the group to obtain permission from the RT and RW. She also asked permission from the parents to use the mushalla as the learning area. The Al-Ikhlas mushalla belongs to Haji Misin, Sanih’s father. It is located next to Haji Misin’s house.

Sanih and her husband together with the local youth group (Karang Taruna) went around to ask permission from parents to let their children join the free lesson provided by WKRI and the youth group of Santo Bartolomeus. “So the children will be cleverer and less wandering,” Sanih mimics what the parents said.

Sanih and Yadi wanted the people of Tembok Bolong to be well. That is why they were open to any communities or groups who wanted to contribute to the betterment of the people there. “Lillahi ta’ala, I just leave everything in God’s hands. People with goodwill should be welcomed, no matter what religion they are,” Sanih said.

This noble mission has not always gone smoothly. According to them, some individual was trying to provoke the people to refuse to accept any kinds of aid from non-Moslem groups. Hate speeches were spread through mosques during praying time.

Yadi ignored all the negative narrations deliberately built around the activity. “I wanted the person to speak directly to me. He did not dare. He preached in such a way, I wonder if he ever donates? Can he help?” Yadi said rhetorically.

He did not deny that some of the people were influenced by the hate speech, but he is convinced the number is low, and the numbers of people who are willing to welcome social programmes are actually higher. “We have so many poor families here who need assistance. We want to be the bridge (between the society and the helping groups),” he said.

Haji Misin, the owner of Al-Ikhlas mushalla, had no issue that his mushalla was utilised as a learning area for the children. He also relaxedly responded when he was told most of the facilitators are non-Moslem. “Let the children learn so they will be clever. It doesn’t matter who teaches them, it’s okay. The most important thing is the children can learn,” he said while smiling.

The Majority Are Renting The Place

The leader of RT 01, Muhammad Abdul Rosyid, said that the children participating in the programme are from his RT and RT 05. The population in these 2 RTs are 180 – 300 families. The majority, 75 percent, came from outside of Bekasi, mostly from Cikarang and Karawang. They live in rented houses. At least four people in one house.

According to Rosyid, the level of economy of the people there is middle-low. Based on the report from the Centre of Statistical Bureau of Bekasi in the previous year, the majority of people in Tembok Bolong work as scavengers, domestic helpers, stone workers, construction workers, ride-hailing drivers, and casual factory workers. With such jobs, Rosyid is convinced that they are having difficulties enrolling their children in extra lessons outside of their formal school.

Currently, the cost to have extra lessons in Bekasi sits at around Rp. 120,000 – 150,000 per subject and 1.5 hours per lesson. If there are 4 classes in a month, parents must spend Rp. 480,000 – 600,000. “Obviously they cannot afford extra lessons, that is why I am so grateful that these facilitators are willing to help these children,” he said.

A similar opinion also came from Muhammad Tarsan Hidayat. The leader of RW 26 supports the free lessons initiated by the youth group of Santo Bartolomeus. He only has one message, that the lesson does not touch religion. “It is a bit sensitive. But if it is for education, go ahead,” Muhammad, husband of Yanti Linda Sari said.

Irmawati is one of the parents whose children join the free lesson. She admitted that she would not let her children join if there was a fee involved. This mother of five cannot afford it because her income as a domestic helper sits below Rp. 2 million per month. She basically lives hand-to-mouth.

She also felt assisted with this free lesson because all this time, she was the only one trying to assist her children with lessons at home. The presence of the volunteers eases her burdens as the main educators at home. “My husband doesn’t want to assist my children (to learn),” she said.

Dema Al Hidayah, Adam Armani, Rahel Tri Noviani, Nusa Nur Fatimah, and Asyanur Kolifah were happy to join the free lesson at the Al-Ikhlas mushalla very week. Facilitators were there to help them with school assignments and homework. They can also ask if they could not understand any lessons at school. “So happy. Mom said I will be a clever student,” Nisa said.

Not only the parents and the children who felt joyous, but similar feeling also felt by Sodikun. This Semarang guy is in charge of daily cleanliness of the mushalla. He received cleaning service money from the coordinator of the facilitator after each lesson.

A Huge Responsibility

The head of Santo Bartolomeus Parish, Father Thomas Bani SVD, appreciates the activity initiated by his congregation. According to him, some of the people in Bekasi, especially his congregation has a huge responsibility in contributing to scale-up education, welfare, and the health of society.

Appear as members of society, Father Thomas said, is the key factor that made the youth group and WKRI Santo Bartolomeus chapter was accepted. “If they brought the catholic flag, they would not be accepted,” he said.

Bekasi has the title as one of the ten most intolerant cities in Indonesia. Based on the research released by Setara Institute in 2015, Bekasi gained the second-lowest score after Bogor for intolerance. There were several religious conflicts that occurred in Bekasi.

These incidents limit some frictions between a number of individuals or groups who claimed as Islamic or Catholics groups. Apart from that, there was also an incident with other religions.

Several incidents with a religious background such as a rally by several Islamic organisations in front of the Mayor’s office in 2016. They rejected the development of the Santa Clara church in North Bekasi. The rally participants urged the Mayor of Bekasi to revoke the building license of the church. The scene of this rally was only 4.5 kilometers away from Tembok Bolong.

In December 2009, hundreds of people destroyed and burned Santo Albertus church Harapan Indah. The location was next to Tembok Bolong, only 12 kilometers away. Far prior to that, in September 1996, at 11 PM hundreds of people burned down Santo Leo Agung Church in Jatibening. This church was only 7 kilometers away from Tembok Bolong.

In the nineties, there was a disturbance against the catholic people in Queen Maria, block CC, Pondok Pekayon Indah. During the Rosary Prayer at one of the houses, some individuals threw rocks at them to stop the prayer. This is located only three kilometers away from Tembok Bolong.

With those bleak records, according to Father Thomas, these social acts hopefully can be a way to rebuild interfaith tolerance, especially at the grassroots level. This activity can also be a lesson for the youth group members that teach them how to live in society and contribute positively.

Not Only Teaching

The head of the Education Commission of the Jakarta Archdiocese, Brother Heribertus Sumarjo FIC, said that he was proud of the action initiated by the youth group for children of Tembok Bolong. For him, this action was a transformative movement to empower the less fortunate to be more independent and children are able to gain access to optimum education. Furthermore, this movement is rooted in diversity emphasizing inclusivity, cultural, and plural brotherhood. 

Brother Heri suggested that the intensity of the meeting is increased. “If they want to build a cultural meeting, communication, dialog, training, mentoring regularly it will have a great impact and meaningful changes,” said this monk from Congregatio Fratres Immaculatae Conceptionis Beatae Mariae Virginis/FIC.  

This movement, according to him, also trains the independence and responsibility of young people because it needs to be endorsed by everyone. But he reminds that supports given must not be exceeded the capacity because it will reduce their initiatives, creativity, and survival efforts.

Doni Koesoema Albertus, an education expert, thinks that such social movement can be an avenue for young people to nurture empathy towards the situation at their surroundings. Especially benefiting less fortunate children economically, socially, and culturally (education). Hopefully, through this education programme, the children of Tembok Bolong can free themselves from poverty.

The interfaith movement, according to Doni, can also be a model of mentoring in other places. If more areas in Indonesia apply similar movements, the relations between children of the nation will be built harmoniously.

In order to enable this programme runs firmly, the members of the National Education Standard Bureau period of 2019-2023 suggested a regular teaching schedule is created and evaluation of programme and curriculum is carried out. Good services need to be established systematically.

Apart from that, the facilitators need to create a database and a portfolio of students, so when they are applying for jobs the facilitators can assist through the network they established together. “So, not only the facilitating the lessons, but they also assist the children to reach their future,” he said.

A Developed City

The Municipal Government of Bekasi also appreciates this education programme. The Mayor of Bekasi, Rahmat Effendi, said that the volunteers have contributed immensely in maintaining the unity of the nation. “This is not only the responsibility as children of the nation, but faith or belief system of each religion also teaches the same values, living with compassion and giving benefits for others,” Pepen – Rahmat Effendi’s nickname, said.

In 2017, Bekasi the label of the most intolerant cities have dissolved. The National Commission on Human Rights awarded the Municipal Government of Bekasi for successfully guaranteed freedom of religious practices and faith. A year later, Setara Institute awarded Bekasi as one of the most tolerant cities in Indonesia. Bekasi ranked the 6th out of 10 cities.

Pepen mentioned that this award was the result of a long and winding process building the civilization within the heterogeneous society. This award, according to him, was eventually realized because of the society’s active involvement. “This city will not be developed if its society still eliminates certain faiths. Faith is between us and our Gods,” he said.

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Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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