04/13/2016, 17.31
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Mespin and Merpin, first teachers from Indonesia’s poorest islands thanks to the Church

by Mathias Hariyadi

The two students are the first Mentawai islanders to get a degree in education through a programme funded by a Catholic charity and the Diocese of Padang. Their home islands are the country’s remotest and most undeveloped region. Trained in Central java, they are on their way home, where educational levels are very low.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Mespin and Merpin are the first two Mentawai islanders to become primary school teachers thanks to the Love Humanity Devotional Group (Kelompok Bakti Kasih Kemanusiaan or KBKK), a Catholic charity that funded their studies for more than three years.

For the two, becoming educators where we live "is something out of context. Through intensive guidance and counselling, our motivation to develop our home island was boosted. Such a good idea could only be done effectively through education.”

Now they are ready to go home and teach in Mentawai Islands, west of Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s most isolated and undeveloped areas.

The islands are some 62 nautical miles from Padang, the nearest town of some importance. To reach it, it takes 10 hours by boat. In 2010, an earthquake followed by a tsunami hit the islands, and many people lost their homes.

Due to the islands’ isolation, educational levels tend to be low. Teachers tend to be underqualified, as the better ones seek employment in better schools, elsewhere in the country.

In 2013, the KBKK launched a project to improve education on the islands, funding the training of five students, three men and two women, in Central Java.

The Diocese of Padang, the Jesuit-run Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta (where the students trained), and some priests on the Mentawai Islands backed the initiative.

For the five students leaving their region to go to Java was a real culture shock. They had never left the Mentawai, and none of them had an identity card. They knew nothing about Javanese food or language, which are very different from their own.

Mespin and Merpin completed their studies in three and a half years, faster than the average. A third student, Aris, will graduate this October.

The students realise that they could not have plunged into this adventure without the help of many people, “invisible hands” that followed their steps towards their education.

The KBKK raised the money to fund their studies. Linda Dharmali from Padang made possible their flight to Jakarta and then Yogyakarta. The Prayoga Foundation in the Diocese of Padang found them a position in Mentawai schools where they will teach.

According to KBKK, Mespin and Merpin are the first who will benefit from this programme; however, the latter is expected to go on for years. “Currently, eight other students are on a scholarship to pursue their studies in education,” the group said.

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