Zulfikar Thahir
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 08:00

By Zulfikar Thahir
Program Officer

All the way to Aceh

From Papua in the east to Sumatra in the west, Indonesia’s 17,000 islands stretch across more than 5,000 kilometres -- further than the distance separating New York and Los Angeles. Kopernik started working in Indonesia in 2010, and over the past three years we have been expanding our efforts to reach more of the most remote and poverty-stricken parts of the archipelago.

WORKING WITH WOMEN

In 2013 we started working in Aceh, Indonesia’s western-most province, to offer economic opportunities to women. If you’ve heard of Aceh it’s probably for one of two reasons: the religious conflict which stalled development for decades, or the devastating 2004 Indonesian Ocean tsunami, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, and left many more homeless and traumatised by the disaster. While many local and international NGOS have wrapped up their recovery and rebuilding efforts, Aceh still suffers from alarmingly high levels of poverty.

We are working in the district of North Aceh to create economic opportunities for women through our technology agent program. To do this, we have partnered with Indonesia Heritage Foundation (IHF), an organisation offering holistic education through its Semai Benih Bangsa (SBB, Seeds and Seedlings of the Nation) program, a non-formal people's kindergarten. SBB is opening up access to high quality early education for the poorest families.

At the moment, families pay Rp 10,000 (~US$1) each month for their child to attend an SBB kindergarten. The average SBB kindergarten has 20 to 30 students, so receives no more than Rp. 300,000 to cover operational costs and pay three to four teachers a nominal income of Rp 30,000 (US$3) each month. The teachers are often young women who have graduated from high school and completed early childhood teacher training with IHF. Many are unmarried and still living with their parents, which is how they can afford to work for such a low income.

NEw technologies 

When we learned about this, we saw an opportunity to develop opportunities for SBB teachers to supplement their income through selling simple technologies in their communities. Our team in Aceh has been working closely with the IHF coordinator in North Aceh, Bapak Mahyuzar. Together we have held Technology Fairs in seven communities to introduce our range of water filters, fuel-efficient stoves, solar lights and organic fertiliser to SBB teachers.

We have also introduced a new technology: a soy milk making machine. Many farmers grow soy beans in Aceh, and this machine could be a great way for women to earn income by making and selling soy milk from home. However, the machine requires 1200W of electricity, and houses that are connected to the electrical grid are usually wired for a maximum of 900W. The government is in the process of upgrading the electrical grid, and the soy milk making machine may become a viable technology in the near future.

In the mean time, the SBB teachers are most interested in the solar lights. Although most people have access to electricity, there are frequent blackouts, when people must turn to alternative sources of light. The women say the solar lights will be very useful at those times, and also when praying at night. They are also very interested in the water filters, and the fuel-efficient biomass stoves. Most people in North Aceh use gas stoves, but worry about the cost of fuel. When it comes to cooking for ceremonies, women often cook over three-stone fires, and are very interested in the smoke-free biomass stoves as an alternative.

GAUGING THE MARKET

In total, 177 SBB teachers have participated in our Technology Fairs to date. We are encouraging them to use the technology themselves, and gauge the reaction from other people in their communities. If they see there is a viable market for the products, they can sign up to become technology agents. We will offer training on simple book-keeping, logistics, and how to use and maintain the technology, and we will provide promotional materials like flyers and order forms. We’re also working with IHF to set up a savings and loans group, so the women can manage their own finances.

SBB teachers provide a vital service, improving the quality of education and setting children up for success at school. It’s an honour to work with these bright, talented women, who are so committed to serving their communities.