27.08.2008 - 28.08.2008 28 °C
Once back to Yogya, I contacted my friend at KAPPALA, a NGO headquartered here. Staffed by a group of dedicated volunteers mostly university students educated in related fields, the focus of KAPPALA is disaster management in a country that geologically prone to earthquakes and tsunami. They had contributed much effort in the devastating destruction of the village of Bantul in May 2006 by an early morning earthquake of 5.9 Richter scale. Besides, it also involves daily in local community empowerment using environmentally responsible approaches.
A recent project of KAPPALA includes the rediscovery of a lost dance and music tradition that had not been practiced for over 50 years. Members interviewed elders from different villages and finally found someone who had distant childhood memories of this particular art form and willing to teach newer generations. A festival was held with the tourism officer from Jakarta and hundreds of villagers attended.
I was honored to be invited to join one of their activities in Gunungkidul, an area about two hours southeast of Yogya. A wonderful university student major in international relations and environmental science took me on his motorbike to a village called Purwodadi through the winding roads around beautiful karst/limestone mountain. We arrived at the house of the village head. To my surprise, she is a young muslim woman in her 30s, elected democratically by her village and can stay in her office for life although she is likely to retire in her 50s and pass on to someone more capability at that time. As a matter of fact, two of the four sub-villages had female village heads, a rarity in Muslim society. We will escort her and a woman group to another village an hour away for a meeting to exchange knowledge of crops the next day.
We spent the late afternoon walking around the dry fields of kasafas among beautiful limestone hills, paying tribute to Bukit Pacang, a legendary hill where locals climb up and pray when problems arise. Since the government already have plans next year to expand the small road here so large trucks to come into this area for the high quality limestone which can be turned into cement. KAPPALA is preparing villagers in case their resources and more importantly, their natural environment, are taken away with little compensation.
Another 10-minute drive took us to a quiet beach called Siung beach which, like most south java beaches, is not suitable for swimming or even fishing because of the strong waves. Nevertheless, the remoteness and serenity add to the beauty of this coastal area especially during sunset. Sitting on a small limestone hill, we discussed current politics - how parties with conservative islamic agenda in indonesia are gaining power with the support of similar movement in Malaysia, how this lead to increasing foreign involvement in law-making and this potential devastating long-term effect of many natural resources and diverse environments in local communities.
Back to the village head's house, she prepared fresh tuna we bought from the tiny restaurant by the beach for dinner. While waiting for her family to cook with kasafa wood, we sat next to the stove in the large traditional kitchen and chatted more about family, relationship and the amazing differences between east and west culture even in the 21st century.
Early next morning, we met with over 20 women villagers and boarded them on a small bus to another village called Pacarejo. Since most men make their living by working in nearby town while women attend the fields, KAPPALA feels that this is a great opportunities to empower and give hope to many of these women by exchanging experiences with other villages. Today's focus is for them to learn new technique from other villages which had successfully planted and used umbi umbian (local form of root plants like ginger, potato or taro) for selling at the market especially when demand is larger than supply at this point. Villagers can make $2-3 per kilo if they turn these into chips.
A long meeting and several hands-on demonstrations later, we had lunch. Then we went to another village and visited the local radio station that KAPPALA set up several years ago. More demonstrations and meeting followed. Agreement was made to help each other on distribution with already establish network at supermarkets domestically and perhaps even export through larger companies from Jakarta. Back to the first village, the friendly elder showed all of us how to make organic fertilizers using material around the farm such as cow or goat dungs, certain plants etc...
Finally, we took the tired group to the only natural reservoir that still functions in the area today, one that soil is still compact enough to store rain water for local use and refill itself by absorbing water from the surrounding fields. Chemical fertilizers used over the years had deteriorated soil in the field making them very loose, therefore many reservoirs were not able to store the rainwater more than a week. Some villagers even stated that chemical fertilizers accelerate their aging process. By using organic fertilizers on more profitable crops, the villagers can be benefit financially by working together using their natural resources in an environmentally responsible manner.
By this time, being the only woman in the group, I made friends with many other members of KAPPALA. We had great fun and joked around while we worked. Big thumb up for KAPPALA! Stay tune for their new website in October 2008 - http://www.kappalaindonesia.or.id.