Throughout many points in history, youths have shown to be the driving force of change. It seems that in East Java, it has proven to be the case. On our last trip to Malang, we had the opportunity to meet with the amazing team at Ruang Belajar Aqil. This organization is a youth-driven non-profit that focuses on research and community development in the region. Teaming up with expert volunteers from universities or other institutions, they would collaborate with local communities to tackle a social issue head-on.

The iconic wall mural on their headquarters.

Take one of their collaborating communities Krambil, for instance. During our visit, we tagged along to RBA’s meeting with the founders of this reading and creativity center, who is currently working in women and children empowerment. In this area, the children have resorted to beg in the streets, their health and wellbeing widely ignored. Krambil’s co-founders, Pak Mul and Ibu Kiti, are aiming to educate mothers on the importance of maintaining their children’s health and strengthening their bonds, as well as empowering them with other skills that would improve their income. Seeing real changemakers in the community work with aspiring ones toward a tangible progress is truly a sight to behold.

However, real changemakers aren’t always the ones doing the work in the field where the problem lies –sometimes they are the ones who nurture change from an early age. RBA is currently doing a Big Book workshop, in which they involve kindergarten teachers (many of whom are mothers of young children as well) to develop their own big books despite the limited resources. That way, children can have the access to an extensive source of knowledge as well as develop an interest for reading early on. Moreover, it is also a challenge to parents and teachers’ creative skills as they need to provide said knowledge and pour it into a big book!

Big Book by one of the local teachers.

They are also collaborating with Insan Kamil, an alternative early education institution that focuses on the children’s personal development. Unlike conventional schools, Insan Kamil has nature as both their learning space and their playground. With classrooms in an open space, RBA works with the educators to create an environment that allows children to express themselves and discover new things on their own terms. Such opportunity is usually reserved for the middle class families, and their aim was to make it more accessible, especially since nature is all around.

While education seems to be a big part of RBA’s projects, it is not the only one. RBA also took us to a preliminary meeting in Dekaka, Greater Malang, for a community-based tourism project. This meeting is conducted to identify the potentials of the village and the areas in which RBA will facilitate. It turns out that preliminary research is a compulsory part of their projects, in order to determine what they can bring to the table and to make sure that said contribution is efficient to the community at hand.

Regular meetings between the local community and the RBA staff is essential. Photo credit: Ruang Belajar Aqil.

In circumstances where an under-served community is faced with a pressing social problem, we often imagine said population to be powerless and that an external force would need to bring development their way. However, that is not the reality that RBA shows us. Instead, they collaborate with those communities and merely facilitates the development that they are aiming and striving for. After all, collaboration is the way towards a better change.

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