For as long as she could remember, Ara Kusuma had always loved cows. She collected cow stuffed animals and painted her room the white-black pattern of cow hide. At age 10 she wanted a real cow and the journey began. Ara and her family traveled to a privately-owned farm in Solo, Central Java. There she saw 1,500 cows living in a clean environment. The farm owners were using integrated farming methods and nothing was wasted—everything from the milk to the urine was processed. She was amazed.
Shortly after, Ara's family took her to villages in Boyolali, an area known for its milk production. There she witnessed the sickening smell of cow dung and flies swarming everywhere.
Each farmer typically has three to ten cows, and one village may have around 500 farmers. The total number of cows could reach up to 5,000. The conditions of the sheds piled with cow dung made her ask, “What if we bring integrated farming to this village?”
She began to build her dream, Project Moo. She worked with the community of Sukorejo Village, with the tagline “mulya sesarengan” (for the welfare of all). She finally got her own cow to serve as a sample for integrated farming management.
Building such a dream was not easy for a 10-year-old, but not impossible, especially with the support of her family. Ara, now age 20 reflected, “I really like the fact that my parents were willing to listen and appreciated their children’s opinions and ideas. They responded to my idea with seriousness and then they helped me think through an action plan.”
Ara's first team consisted of her family members. Her father was tasked with learning about integrated farming in a one-week training program conducted by the private farm they had visited in Solo earlier. He then shared the knowledge with village farmers.
Her mother, Ashoka Fellow Septi Peni, had the role of assisting farmer’s wives with processing the milk into dairy products. Her older sister Enes, who is an Ashoka Youth Venturer, and younger brother Elan, were tasked with a village education project for the children. Ara described her own role as an integrator, who made sure that the team, villagers, cow owners, experts, customers, and village administration were all aligned.
Ara introduced “Project Moo” as an effort to optimize what she described as the six golds of cow. First, the white gold (milk), not only as raw milk, but also as pudding, cake, ice cream, and other dairy products. Second, the red gold (meat), which was not the focus due to the fact that are only dealing with dairy cows.
Third and fourth, the black gold (cow dung) and yellow gold (cow urine) was treated separately to produce solid and liquid fertilizer. Fifth, green gold: greening the village to create agro-tourism. The village was later turned into “Moo’s Camp,” a gathering site where urban families can experience village life in a farmer’s home. The sixth gold, biogas, has not yet been introduced due to technical issues.
In 2008, this project introduced Ara to Ashoka Youth Venture at the age of 11. Ara says she learned a significant amount about the hardships and challenges from the villagers and the unrealized potential in the village. She also learned that change didn't happen until every villager bought in to the idea and started their own initiative.
“The villagers, for example, excitedly decorated their home, realizing how a minor improvement could bring visitors and generate income,” she recalled.
This experience led Ara to pursue a degree in marketing and management in Singapore. Later, back in Indonesia, Ara has repurposed her experience into a new venture, a travel-learning project URTravelearner (www.urtravelearner.com). Her early experience creating change gave her the confidence to know she could do it again and lead change. Ara said, “From 'Project Moo' I found my passion for being an integrator, aligning everyone’s interest for the benefit of all.”
Ara’s travel-learning experience also allowed her to get involved with Spedagi Bamboo Bike, a village revitalization movement. Bamboo, abundantly available and often overlooked, is a symbol of how resources are often overlooked and taken for granted by villagers. With a bit of design, bamboo bikes aim to transform poor villages into self-sufficient communities.
“Despite doing different things, I realize that basically I’m following the same process: how to communicate and encourage others, to understand the situation, to find solutions together, and to aim for the greater good," she said. "In principle, how to overcome challenges by developing local potential. And that’s what a changemaker does.”