Mr. Teacher's lessons beyond the classroom
By Emelina S. Almario
Hasanain is his real name and Juaini is the name of his father but both are often combined as one name. Thus explains the man known to his students and fellow residents of West Lombok simply as Mr. Teacher.
West Lombok in Indonesia is a region where conservative Islam is dominant. As the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia has over 50,000 Islamic schools which together make up a major stream of the national educational system. Mr. Teacher's first effort was to make changes in the pesantren, a boarding school which is the oldest type of school within the system. His father was a religious teacher who ran a pesantren, traditionally a boys' school. In 1996, after completing his university studies, Juaini opened a pesantren, but broke new by setting it up as a special college for girls in Nurul Haramain Islamic College which had been founded in 1992 for boys.
Juaini wanted Indonesian girls to develop self-confidence and a sense of dignity so that they could make use of their potential and take their rightful place in society. Towards this end, he invited successful Indonesia women to his college to meet with the students. Among them were the minister, governors, parliament members and businesswomen. His students also learned skills traditionally associated with boys, like scouting, tracking, and survival. He introduced them to subjects like acupuncture, banking, film making, and broadcasting. Soon his students were aspiring to continue their education even up to the doctorate level in countries such as Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United States, Japan, Australia, and Holland.
From 50 students, Juaini's school now has a population of 500 students and 60 teachers, half of whom are women. It now offers a government-accredited five-year secondary education program and ranks No. 9 nationwide in university entrance examinations. It is the first school in West Lombok to achieve 100 percent computer-based learning. Religious teaching remains at the core of its program, as in the traditional pesantren, but it is pluralist in orientation. Students are taught to think for themselves through diverse learning opportunities. Juaini wants his students to develop all their capabilities.
How Juaini became Mr. Teacher in the community is another story. In 2000, Juaini participated in a discussion with NGOs in West Lombok about the activities of his school. To his surprise, his school was criticized in spite of its recognized academic excellence. "They regarded the boarding school community as one that enjoyed serenity in an ivory tower. They said the boarding school had never been really involved in the efforts to address social challenges from outside its fence," he recalls. Instead of reacting negatively to the criticism, Juaini thought of how he could change the people's perception of his pesantren. Working with resources from the University of Mataram, he embarked on a four-year program of research on how to use the Nurul Haramain Islamic College to address social problems.
The program of research focused on forest preservation and local community empowerment. After four years, research results showed that the forest conservation programs implemented by the government ignored the needs of the affected communities. "The forest was built to be destroyed while people living nearby were struggling to make ends meet," he laments.
Mr. Teacher brought his students out of the pesantren to engage the world outside, through interventions that merged environmental conservation and community empowerment. "We started with students in the boarding school, encouraging them to grow seedlings. The students read religious textbooks 360 days a year, so we asked them to open books on the environment," he says.
Soon, his students were producing millions of seedlings. They started to take an active role in environmental conservation. As the students began to distribute the seedlings to the villagers, their role in empowering the community also became more defined. The villagers who were given the seedlings were asked to plant and maintain them on a one-hectare plot for at least 10 to 15 years until they grew into trees that could be cut down and sold, providing them an income over the long term.
Over the medium term, Juaini developed a scheme wherein a family took care of five cows and sold one every six months. Cow manure was processed into organic fertilizer for the trees. And for their immediate needs, families that managed a hectare of tree seedlings were also given 1,000 chickens. Each family was allowed to sell two chickens per day; out of the proceeds, they could buy two chicks to replace the adult ones that they had sold. Students and villagers were successfully brought together to work on reforesting a 31-hectare tract near Juaini's school, a project that both conserved the environment and alleviated poverty.
"Through this environmental business, building a forest, we can really make money from our own soil. The capital is here, it grows here, and will turn over here," he explains. In recognition for his social entrepreneurship, Juaini was elected an Ashoka Fellow. More recently his dedication to the environment was also acknowledged when he was given a Maarif Award from the Maarif Institute of Culture and Humanity.
He has set more goals for his work. "What we have to think about is not the 31-hectare plot of land which we have planted with trees but the 500,000 hectares of critical land in West Nusa Tenggara," he says.
In fact, Juaini's reach has already extended outside the community of his pesantren. He has formed national coalitions to support reform, calling in stakeholder representatives from universities, government, business, and civil society. His 130-member Coalition of Pesantren against Corruption is the first such group in Indonesia to use the power of the pesantren to lobby for government reform. Among the work it has done is a critical study of the provincial budget that uncovered inconsistencies, manipulation, and nepotism. Juaini himself is a vocal advocate for clean elections and honest and transparent public fiscal management.
As he likes to say, "Everything starts with a seed." He has proven this, literally, with his social forestry project, and figuratively, with the life he has led as Mr. Teacher, nurturer of youths committed to education, critical thinking, and community development.