Dina Lumbantobing seeks to restore the pride, self-confidence and economic independence of north Sumatra's Pakpak minority through a children's program that combines preschool and cultural education.
The New Idea
In Indonesia many ethnic minorities, including the group known as Pakpaks, are increasingly losing their cultural identity and their ability to work together to stave off the poverty that has been engulfing them in recent years. Dina Lumbantobing believes that community participation in the education of the youngest Pakpaks is the solution to reinstilling cultural pride and helping the group break free from poverty. She helps the parents in the community understand that education will lead, in the long run, to financial security. Not only have the Pakpaks suffered from poverty; they have also suffered from shame over their ethnic identity. Dina is helping to produce a new generation of Pakpaks who have a different attitude towards their culture and therefore, the pride and confidence to succeed socio-economically. By selecting preschool-aged children as her target group, Dina gains the attention and approval of the entire community: parents, teachers and elders, all of whom are being exposed to preschool education for the first time. She uses the mothers as a channel to build cultural awareness and spread basic health care knowledge, with the hope that this enabling approach will replicate elsewhere in ethnically diverse Indonesia.The mission of Dina's organization, Yayasan Sada Ahmo (YSA), is to assist the government's program on the development of marginalized ethnic groups; the work with the Pakpaks is a necessary but preliminary step in introducing a new model of indigenous education and empowerment to Indonesia. Through day care centers, credit unions and "Young Parents Groups", YSA-- meaning "Self Help Promotion Institution"-- is presenting an alternative future for many Pakpak people.
Pakpak people belong to one of five subgroups of the Batak minority in north Sumatra. (Dina belongs to another subgroup.) Even now, myths pervade that Pakpak people practice cannibalism and black magic. Prejudice is so great that many Pakpaks no longer use their own last names, lest people identify their ethnicity. Increasingly, they tend to follow the customs and traditions of other subgroups of the Batak minority, abandoning their own traditions and cultures. The lack of political representation of the Pakpak community is disturbing; leaders of the Pakpak people are not Pakpak themselves, not to mention political leaders at regional or even local levels. Aside from YSA, very little exists in the way of indigenous education for Indonesian tribal and ethnic groups. The only efforts being made are spearheaded by outside groups. Before, cultural education was passed down through the stories told by the elders; legends and stories explained important values and taught the young their people's history and customs. Now, despite the government's claim to incorporate history of minorities in the curriculum, Indonesian schools emphasize Pan-Indonesian unity, and not multicultural education. This is partly due to the Ministry of Education's lack of innovation and slowness to bring about change. Being imposed from above, government development plans typically lack adequate maintenance and implementation, resulting in few positive strides for indigenous groups such as the Pakpak.Pakpak families face more than educational problems. Not only do they lack kindergartens, but they do not even have the option of day care centers. Parents usually take their children to the rice fields and leave them in huts while they work. Without health care knowledge, parents generally cannot keep children healthy, and preventable illnesses abound. Especially in these still very isolated communities, many of the answers to these problems must be local.
In 1990 Dina began her work by establishing YSA, now made up of 19 staff members. She then began approaching Pakpak mothers in the villages. (Because many Pakpaks are Christian, Dina used examples from the Bible to convince them of the value of preschool education.) With the financial support of ten families, Dina set up the first preschool in 1991, which was staffed by local teachers who trained at a day care center. This preschool proved so popular that villagers nearby collected funds for another preschool, and the organization gained momentum. Dina hopes to spread the approach further through existing women's and mothers' groups.The playgroups enroll village children from two to six years old. The centers provide day care, education, and extensive exposure to Pakpak culture, all in a safe and comfortable setting while the parents are working in the fields. (The majority of Pakpak adults are farmers.) While setting up her preschools, Dina recorded oral histories about the Pakpak from elderly people in the villages, and then passed them on to the teachers working in the playgroups. In this way cultural identity as taught through stories becomes central to the preschool program. As of 1997, YSA had established six playgroups in six different villages, and one more is in the planning stages. Dina notices that the primary school children who have attended YSA's preschools are better prepared, bolder and more critical than children without preschool education.The caregivers are young women in their early twenties, and Dina believes that through their work and regular staff meetings, they are learning as much as the children. Besides providing educational stimulation, the caregivers also provide health care, measuring the children's weight and height, and feeding them supplemental food such as milk and eggs. As in much of the world, a teacher's career holds little prestige or status, and many women would rather work in the field of agriculture. Therefore, Dina has devised a replacement plan so that when teachers leave the preschools to marry or work on farms, they must find a replacement teacher.Aside from the preschools themselves, YSA's strategy incorporates other activities. To include the parents in their children's education, YSA holds monthly meetings for "Young Parents Groups" to maintain a continuity between the preschool education and the children's home experiences. Dina and her partner use these meetings to help the parents understand YSA's philosophy. Those parents who do understand act, in the wider communities, as ambassadors for the preschools. Additionally, YSA has recently established credit unions in eight villages to empower Pakpak women to save their money.
Dina was born in the late 1950's into a family of teachers. Her mother taught home economics and her father, a church activist, also taught, at a teacher training school. From her parents, Dina learned to serve others and be proud of her heritage. She belongs to the Toba ethnic group which is another subgroup of the Batak minority. After graduating from the Department of Sociology at the Gadjah Mada University, in Yogyakarta, Dina followed her parents' example of service. She worked in a Jakarta-based citizens' movement, Bina Swadaya, as a community organizer. She worked there for three years before she married a lawyer and moved to north Sumatra with him and their two children. Upon witnessing the shame, poverty, and disappearing traditions of the Pakpak community, Dina felt great compassion and began to devise her strategy to help them. For Dina, the perpetual challenge is to strike a balance in YSA's funding strategy. On one hand lies the desire to obtain funds from outside to improve the preschools as much as possible, but on the other hand lies the desire to encourage self-reliance in the community so that they develop self-supporting funds, even if more money could come faster from outside sources. Too often Dina has seen communities grow spoiled when they do not need to work to preserve that which is important to them.