In providing education to the poor, some donate their money, while a smaller number of people decide to become volunteer teachers. Now, try to envision an education advocate who actually built a school, and then a second one, all before he reached the age of 30.
My Jakarta spoke to Aan Rukmana, a lecturer at Paramadina University who does more than simply teach his students to do well in school. The philosophy professor instills in their minds a desire to become a living example of spreading kindness outside the walls of the classroom.
Aan feels that anyone can build a school, even an institution of learning complete with a mini zoo, a garden of edible fruits and a fish farm business to pay the bills. All it takes, he insists, is determination and hard work.
Tell us about your two schools, and how they differ from one another.
The first one is Al Hakim Foundation, and the other one is Mina Foundation. Al Hakim Foundation in Ciputat [South Jakarta] was built around three years ago to provide free kindergarten-level education to street children. It now has around 70 students and we like to call it The People’s School. But it is still an informal school.
Mina Foundation, on the other hand, manages a formal school called Sekolah Generasi Baru Indonesia (Indonesia’s New Generation School). It was built in early 2011 and is located in Sawangan, Bogor. We provide kindergarten-level education there and it has 30 students now. Although formal, the school is mainly for social purposes, so anyone with financial issues can still send their kids here.
Do you also teach there?
Yes, about once a week. But it’s not the students; I teach the teachers about curriculum development and teaching methods. The most important thing is to spread my vision to the teachers. The vision is not mine alone, it should be ours.
What is your education background?
I received my bachelor’s at Paramadina University with an Islamic philosophy major, and my master’s degree at the Islamic College for Advanced Studies. I now teach philosophy at Paramadina University.
How did you find your calling in building schools?
I was inspired by my father. Even though he had some financial issues, he still fought and worked very hard to make sure his family got a good education. I expanded his idea to not only fight for one’s own family, but also for those who are still living in poverty.
How do you fund the schools?
Me and the other helping founders used our own money to pay for the buildings and land lease. We also started a Big Brother program to provide scholarships for the students. And for maintenance, we have a fish farm business at the school.
We have eight fish ponds at the school. The fish vary from catfish to Japanese eel. We have investors to provide the funding for the fish farm, where around 20 to 40 percent of the profit is allocated to the school.
But for Al Hakim Foundation, we still only have permanent donors to help us. We’re planning several ideas to further support the foundation, like establishing an English course at the school where some of the profits can be allocated to the foundation.
Do the students also eat some of the fish?
Yes, and not only that. One of our school principles is ‘nature.’ With the fish farm, we can now teach students how to farm as well. We also have several trees, from coconut to rambutan, and yes, the students eat from them as well. Last, we even have our own mini zoo inside the school, where we keep a variety of animals such as monkeys, rabbits and birds. Students in Indonesia should learn and love more about their natural environment.
Do you have plans to expand?
We’ve already had some requests to build similar schools in other regions, but for now we would like to perfect our template. Only after the template has been proven sustainable and successful will we consider opening new schools with the same template elsewhere.
For the current schools, our dream is to one day have a high school. At the moment, we are planning to expand to primary education. We are considering whether we should look for a new building or just support the existing primary schools such as by providing scholarships for our students to continue their studies there.
For those who may feel inspired to do the same, how much is it to build a school?
I believe that the only thing you need if you want to build a school is strong mental preparation, because no matter how much or little money you have, you can build a school.
We spent Rp 8,000,000 [$900] to establish one foundation, including the licenses. The rest of the physical requirements are simply adjusted to the seed money you have. The school profit is pretty slim, so we need to think very hard if we want to take the school to another level.
Aan Rukmana was talking to Enricko Lukman.