Making reading fun in Kaliamok Village, North Kalimantan

By Fadlansyah, Field Officer, Litara-OPOB

In September 2018, INOVASI commenced 27 grant-funded pilots, with 18 new grant partners. This grants initiative is a key part of our approach to expanding and strengthening engagement with Indonesia’s non-governmental education sector. One of these grant partners is Litara – OPOB, working to strengthen early grade reading and literacy in Malinau, an INOVASI partner district in North Kalimantan. Working with schools and communities in remote areas of Malinau, the Litara – OPOB program focuses on increasing community access to quality books and enhancing community participation in Malinau’s reading culture. In this story, we hear from Fadlansyah from Litara – OPOB.

 When you visit Kaliamok Village, it is clear to see that many primary school aged children have difficulty reading. Usually, the issue of reading and literacy is left only to the school. But now, the community has come together to find new solutions – one of these being the establishment of a community reading park.

I first came to Kaliamok Village, in North Kalimantan’s Malinau district, on September 25 2018. Malinau is the northern tip of Indonesia and lies directly across from Sabah, Malaysia. Located near the remote border region, the district experiences several challenges when it comes to basic education, including a high number of primary students (and even secondary) lacking adequate reading skills. In Kaliamok Village, many villagers work as farmers and have low levels of education. Leading busy lives in the fields and during harvest season, they often don’t have time to help their children with homework or place high value on their education.

After seeing the conditions in the village, it made me think. It is quite concerning that parents do not realize the importance of education to their children’s future. I want to see the children of Kaliamok improve their standard of living, and prepare for the 21st century.

Also in 2018, I joined the Litara – OPOB organisation. My role is to work as a Field Officer, helping villages develop a stronger reading culture. Together with the village community, myself and 3 other field officers from Litara – OPOB try to make reading fun. If reading is enjoyable for children, they can better develop their skills.

A first step that I took after visiting Kaliamok Village, was to meet with the Village Leader (Kades). I asked him for permission to work in the village and sought his support for what I was doing as part of the pilot activities. We wanted to involve as many villagers as possible, so his support was essential. Pak Kadesh knows the conditions of the residents the most, as this is his village. After speaking with him in greater depth, he explained that the process of changing the mindset and patterns of the Kaliamok villagers would be a long and complex one. Nevertheless, he encouraged me to remain optimistic, and offered strong support for the growing reading culture.

After meeting with the Village Leader, I then met with some village residents – Olipe, Paulina and Natanel. With an interest in reading and literacy, they also offered their support and I explained the objectives of the Litara – OPOB – INOVASI education pilot to them.

Olipe said that they had been waiting for this kind of literacy initiative for a long time. Without any guidance around how to improve literacy, children have just spent time playing. Now with the community reading corner for example, children can spend more time reading books and improving their literacy skills. Even children who are slower readers can benefit from the community reading corner.

We worked together with the three residents or or literacy ‘activists’ to build the community reading corner. The corner that we made is still semi-permanent because it is still in the PKK village building. Using the reading corner, we started using and socializing fun reading methods, including choosing child friendly books for early grade students, and teaching students how to read properly. We ordered some books for the corner.

While we wait for the 60 book titles to arrive from Litara headquarters in Bandung, we developed different games and activities that children could participate in. We decided to call the reading corner Ruma Mileh, which means ‘Smart House’ in the local Dayek language.

As the months went on, and we entered 2019, visitors to the Ruma Mileh continued to grow. Children now come and read books or listen to their friends read stories aloud to each other. At least 60 children have visited since the corner opened, often spending up to 3 hours at a time reading and exploring the books. We can now see that children actually love to read books, if they can access appropriate and enjoyable reading material.

We have also seen young people from Kaliamok Village, including those who recently graduated from college, return to help strengthen the community reading corner. Two of these young people were Rina and Fitri, who wanted to help build a literacy movement and help teach children in their home village. It is wonderful to see the increasing number of literacy activists in the village.

Thanks to the presence of the reading corner, reading is also now boosted in the nearby primary school. Children used to just go home after school and continue playing, but now children are encouraged by teachers to visit the Ruma Mileh instead. Paulina, Rina and Fitri are excited to see the changes, and to see Kaliamok children be more productive with their reading.

To help children who are slow readers, the literacy activists run small classes of up to 15 children, tailoring reading activities to their learning level. This way, children get the attention they need and feel less ashamed in front of their siblings or friends who are faster readers.

Importantly, parents have now shown a more active interest in the reading culture, and admit to feeling the positive influence of the community reading corner.

Moving forward, Ruma Mileh reading corner will continue to serve the village children of Kaliamok. As children’s reading interest grows, so too does the need for enjoyable and age appropriate reading books. The original batch of 60 books is not enough, and more will be needed as the reading culture continues to strengthen and grow. Through the village budget, there may be funds to support book procurement for the reading corner. By working together, we can solve these problems as they arise.

Making reading fun in Kaliamok Village, North Kalimantan