Jakarta Post: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 1:38 AM
Plowing, growing rice and cooking with wood stoves are part of the daily routine for rural people. For students of Bandung International School (BIS), however, these tasks are a rare, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This not surprising, because most of the 45 BIS students following the nature and cultural tourism program in Sendangsari village of Kulonprogo, Yogyakarta, are foreign nationals with accustomed to a modern lifestylenot the life of hardship and toil in rural Indonesia.
“Enough, enough!” yelled Sabina, who had been driving a cattle-pulled plow for less than five minutes. The student from Denmark was shouting for help as she tried to get down from the plow. She was apparently disgusted at the sight of the cow peeing and emptying its bowels right in front of her.
“It’s all right, miss,natural manure, beneficial to plants,” said the plow driver while helping Sabina to descend.
But Sabina expressed her pleasure at taking a leisurely walk around the village and observing the cultivation process while familiarizing herself with local farmers’ traditions.
Forgetting the cow dung, Sabina joined her classmates to try her hand at planting rice. “It’s quite interesting. I once saw this in Sukabumi (West Java),” she said.
Tyler, a BIS student from Canada, looked at the muddy field intently, then plunged into the mire and gestured as though he was swimming.
“It feels like snow. The difference is that mud is warm and makes the body dirty,” he remarked.
“Help me, help me.!” still another student cried as his legs slid down into the mud to his knees. Some of his friends came near but instead of helping, they jostled each other before finally falling together into the sludge, laughing.
Apart from learning local crop planting methods, the students were also introduced to rural community traditions, such as the use of the bedug, a big drum, as a means of communication to signal the start of a village meeting.
“In the city, residents keep their money at banks and can withdraw it any time through an ATM. Villagers save their money by raising cows,” the students’ guide explained. “Cattle constitute a form of savings for rural people and will be sold when they have urgent needs, just like in a bank transaction.”
Greening and replanting various plants, as well as an introduction to different wildlife species of Indonesia in the Yogyakarta Wildlife Rescue Center (PPSJ), were also part of the BIS students’ village tour program.
They were taught how to feed animals, take care of them and release them back into their natural habitat. The animals were originally confiscated by authorized government agencies and placed under the PPSJ’s care.
Jonas, a BIS history teacher, said the stroll around the village was very conducive to building a close relationship between teachers and students. He said this helped teachers to better understand the students’ needs to create the best method of teaching.
“Such close association and awareness of what students want contribute to their learning process,” stressed Jonas, who has been in Bandung since 1998 and has two children with his wife, who is from the area.
Observing traditional activities, he added, made students conscious of what it really meant to struggle for life.
“So far, (the students) have lived in big cities and most of them come from established families, enjoying pleasant living conditions and never before knowing the toils of life,” he pointed out.
The village experience will increase their knowledge in addition to the science subjects they learned in class.
“After graduation, I hope they will have a broader perspective,” Jonas said.
The educational benefits of the village tour were deemed extremely valuable to the students’ education that it has been made into a regular activity.
“This program is part of the school curriculum and is regularly carried out to broaden students’ horizons,” Jonas said.
Meanwhile, PPSJ director Sugi Hartono revealed that the wildlife center, in cooperation with relevant agencies and local communities, was promoting cultural tourism in rural areas.
As we are in the hilly region of Menoreh, we call our cultural and nature tourism zone Menoreh Green Land,” he said.
According to Hartono, Menoreh Green Land offers genuine rural tourism covering crop planting methods and local traditions. Visitors are also served typical foods that are unique to the area. The land’s extensive hills and rapidly flowing rivers for rafting are also open to exploration in their natural conditions.
Since its founding in 2003, the PPSJ has accommodated 4,194 animals representing 54 species, of which 2,873 have been rehabilitated and released back to the wild. Among these animals are sea hawks (Haliatus leocogaster), pig-snout tortoises (Carettoscelis insculpta), bondol hawks (Haliastur Indus) and orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus).
Four hectares of the PPSJ’s 14-ha area are reserved for wildlife conservation and the remainder for a variety of outbound games.
“We also aim to nurture a love of wildlife among students at an early age so that they will become a succeeding generation that cares for the ecosystem, rather than one that only exploits nature as is the case today,” Hartono said.
He also hoped an increase in tourists to the area would help improve the community’s welfare.
“Local people can make extra income from their food stalls, homestays and the sale of handicrafts as souvenirs,” continued Hartono.
“Although not all villagers are aware of the importance of tourism, through dialogs on its direct economic benefits, we are sure they will come to fully support the effort,” he said.