Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Butet Manurung was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Butet is trying to change two basic and related patterns in society. The first is the exclusion of indigenous peoples from the benefits of education. The second is a paternalism that treats such peoples either as savages that must be civilized, or features of the natural environment that must be preserved. Butet simply wants to make it possible for people to make informed choices about how to cope with change, preserving when they wish, adapting when they see fit, but always enjoying their freedom to choose. She sees that working with young people is the most viable approach to solving these two systemic obstacles to full and equal citizenship.Butet is preparing young indigenous people to help their communities make informed and dignified choices about how they will cope with change. The first step is to provide basic education—literacy and comprehension of the wider world. Since the school system does not extend into remote areas, Butet is creating a national volunteer service to place teachers in remote communities. Based on her own experience teaching in the forests of Sumatra, Butet has developed a completely new method that allows people from pre-literate societies to quickly learn to read and write Indonesian. While Butet believes in the power of education in general, she is also scouting for young people who can begin building bridges between their communities and the many outside interests they now face. Her organization runs a program that brings youth from indigenous communities into national forums discussing natural resource use, forests, and forest communities. Butet has identified 700 communities nationwide that are facing pressure to change yet have no educational opportunities for their young people. So far, her organization Sokola has placed 18 volunteers and is growing quickly. At the same time, Sokola organizes study and exposure trips for indigenous youth, providing opportunities for their voices to be heard in citizen-sector and government forums.