Pandeglang, Banten. One-upping other students by flaunting the latest sneakers is a hallowed high school tradition, but not for the students in Dukuh Handap village in Cimanggu subdistrict in Pandeglang.
That’s because they don’t wear shoes to school.
Almost all the students at Batuhideung State Elementary (SDN) No. 04 and Cimanggu State Junior High (SMPN) No. 04 walk to school in their sandals or even go barefoot. Given the challenging route they have to take through muddy and hilly terrain, it just makes more sense, the students say.
But the gauntlet they must run every morning includes fording the 60-meter-wide Cipatujah River, which can be several meters deep at places.
For years the children of Dukuh Handap, a village just 220 kilometers from Jakarta, have had to wade through the water to reach their schools in Cicadas village because there is no bridge.
The boys wear shorts or roll up their pants, then change into their school trousers once they reach dry ground. The girls wade through in sarongs and change into their skirts in Cicadas.
Those who don’t bring extra clothes wear their wet uniforms to school — although they can take cold comfort in the fact that after the 1.5-kilometer trek from the riverbank to the school, their clothes are no longer dripping wet but merely damp.
Isa, a 13-year-old student at SMPN 04, says that in rainy season, children are forced to skip school at least four times a month because the river gets too swollen to safely cross.
“We skipped school last Thursday,” she says. “It’s impossible to cross the river.”
Khasan, a neighborhood unit head, says that when the river does swell, “even adults can’t cross it.”
The residents of Dukuh Handap — 350 people comprising 98 families — have repeatedly asked the local authorities to build a bridge, but the calls have gone unanswered.
“Of course we’ve always wanted a bridge, which is why we were happy when Pak Arif came,” says Endang, one of the villagers.
Arif, or Muhammad Arif Kirdiat, is a 35-year-old resident of Serang, the provincial capital, and founder of Relawan Kampung, or Kampung Volunteers.
The group, which performs social work, is now building a simple suspension bridge to connect Dukuh Handap and Cicadas.
“This state of isolation should be ended,” Arif says, adding: “We can’t wait for the government any longer.”
The bridge will be built over the narrowest section of the river, spanning 32 meters and hanging three meters above the surface of the water. The depth of the river at that point is also three meters.
Arif says he asked a friend to design the structure, while the villagers will be in charge of the construction work.
“I hope we can finish it in a month,” he says.
Arif and Kampung Relawan have campaigned for donations on their respective Facebook pages since December, where they post updates about the conditions in Dukuh Handap.
To date, they have raised Rp 29 million ($3,300) and are hoping to reach Rp 60 million.
Recently, a picture of students risking life and limb by crossing a severely damaged rope bridge in neighboring Lebak district garnered national and international focus. But Arif says that was not an isolated case.
“There are so many villages that need bridges,” he says.
“Some might already have them, but they’re very old and need to be renovated. Banten needs 100 suspension bridges.”
To address the problem, Arif and Relawan Kampung have embarked on a campaign called “100 Suspension Bridges for Banten.”
The Dukuh Handap bridge will be the first, after which the group plans to renovate an existing bridge in Sawarna village in Bayah subdistrict in Lebak. The bridge in Lebak that first drew attention to the issue, dubbed the “Indiana Jones Bridge” by Britain’s Daily Mail, is being repaired by the local authorities.
Arif spent three months in a postgraduate international studies program at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University before leaving because of visa problems.
“I’ll go looking for donors,” he says. “I recently met some Singaporean friends, and they said they’d be delighted to help.”
There are 1,504 villages in Banten, according to 2008 data from the provincial office of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS). However, the Banten Community Development and Spatial Planning Agency has no data on the number of bridges in the province or their condition.
“It’s sad to see students crossing damaged bridges to go to school,” says Sutadi, the agency head. “But the provincial administration can’t do anything. It falls under the authority of the respective district administrations.”
Sutadi says he would like to work with Relawan Kampung to gather data on villages across Banten, as he needs to present exact figures to the provincial legislature in order to get funding.
“But the initiative must come from the district officials. Otherwise, we cannot help,” he says.
Back at SDN 04, Abili, a teacher, says the residents need much more than a bridge. They also need better school facilities and proper roads.
“Our school was built in 1982,” he says. “Only three classrooms have been renovated since then.”
There is no senior high or vocational school in the area, so students who finish junior high have to go to other villages if they intend to further their studies. The closest one is 15 kilometers away.
Abili says this, as well as financial constraints, is largely responsible for the fact that most students don’t go on to senior high but look for work instead.
“They go to Serang to work as domestic workers,” he says.
He adds he hopes Arif can do something about the school, too.
Arif smiles. “Some of my friends asked me why I would do a job that the government is actually obliged to do,” he says. “I said, what can we do? The government is sleeping. A senior high school might be next, but in the meantime, let’s do the bridge first.”20120220095136359.jpg
Tell me what y'all think!It's just crazy.... wondering if there's a way to help them out....
-- Society is Imitation --