Sat, 23 Aug 2003

Cultural scholarship program helps build bridges

Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

Recently Australian Zoe Campbell found it difficult and culturally shocking to have rice three times a day as her main meal, especially if it was served with spicy and hot side dishes, like most Indonesians usually have. She also felt the same when she found that everybody she met in her neighborhood here always said hello to her, which she is not accustomed to.

To her surprise, Campbell, 20, now enjoys having rice three times a day along with the spicy side dishes, but not the really hot ones. She also likes the way Indonesian people, particularly Javanese, live their life, thanks to the program she has been a part of for almost three months in Yogyakarta. It is a cultural scholarship program sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I feel really comfortable now," said Campbell, a student of Asian Culture and Education studies at Murdoch University, who also teaches Indonesian language at Perth College in Western Australia.

She has recently learned to cook Javanese cuisine from her foster parent and looks forward to showing off her new skill back home in Australia, hoping that her family and friends can also appreciate Javanese food.

Campbell is one of nine participants of the cultural scholarship program in Yogyakarta. They come from six countries in the Southwest Pacific region: Indonesia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, New Zealand and East Timor.

According to Head of the Center for Education and Training of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nadjib Riphat, it was the first such program ever held under the umbrella of the Southwest Pacific Dialog (SwPD) forum. The forum was established last year on the initiative of the Indonesian government in a bid to nurture the concentric circle considered important for the country.

"We offer the scholarship program and consider it as Indonesia's contribution to increasing the mutual understanding among the member countries, especially the younger people," Nadjib told The Jakarta Post last week when he was visiting the city to have a closer look at how the program has been going.

Nadjib also said that a similar program is being held in Bandung, West Java. While the program in Yogyakarta covers Javanese dance, karawitan (Javanese music), batik and ceramics, the one in Bandung covers Sundanese music and dance.

In Bandung, participants of the program take the dance and music lessons at the Sundanese art workshop Saung Udjo. In Yogyakarta, the activities are conducted in three different places. The Javanese dance and music classes are held at Retno Aji Mataram (RAM) dance and karawitan center, ceramic classes at Timbul Ceramics in Kasongan, while batik classes are held at Winotosastro Batik in Tirtodipuran, Yogyakarta.

"The schedule is very, very tight. We always come home exhausted in the evening. But I really enjoy it, and so do the others I think," Maria de Sousa of East Timor said.

Students take the classes five days a week. The batik and ceramic classes are held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the afternoon. While the dance and karawitan classes are mostly held in the morning and evening from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

"Initially, the morning classes started at 8 a.m. and the evening classes started at 7 p.m. But, the students said they were too exhausted," said Sunaryadi Maharsiwara of RAM, who is also a Javanese dance choreographer.

They also get to enjoy lectures Gadjah Mada University and Yogyakarta's Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) as part of the program. One of the lecturers was ISI Rector I Made Bandem who focuses on traditional dance and music.

The students are also introduced to Javanese customs, ethics and language. It is not surprising, therefore, that when they were invited to the Yogyakarta Palace recently to meet Queen GKR Hemas, they could address her in Javanese.

The program started on June 7 and will have its closing ceremony on Aug. 25 with Indonesian Minister of Tourism and Culture I Gde Ardika as the featured speaker at the Yogyakarta State Palace.

It is during this closing ceremony that each of them, including those attending the program in Bandung, are expected to show off what they have learned during their stay in Indonesia.

Julia Perkins of Australia, for example, will perform her own creation of an imaginative style of the Javanese traditional dance called Anoman. Campbell and her partner from the Philippines Fritzie M. Ferraris plan to perform the Golek Maya Asmara dance that Sunaryadi specially prepared for the program. Ross James Carey of New Zealand and Andri P Nugroho of Indonesia will perform a Klonorojo dance. While Emmelynn B Basan (Philippines), Henao Idau (PNG), Joyce Keronu Kero (PNG) and Maria de Sousa will perform a Sarikusuma dance.

A fashion show involving noted batik designer Afif Syakur is also planned for the closing ceremony, when all participants who attend the scholarship program in Yogyakarta will wear the clothes they designed during the program.

"I just can't wait to go back and teach what I've learned here to my students back home," said Campbell.

"I myself am a dancer back in Australia. So, coming here and learning a different style of dancing has also taught me different ways of moving my body. That is very important," she said, adding that contrasting the differences between Javanese culture and that of her own had also made her more aware of who she was and of her identity as an Australian.

Campbell, who likes to play kendang and kenong (Javanese traditional drum and small gong) in her karawitan class, also said that the program helped her understand a lot more about Indonesians.

"This is a chance for me to see it (Java) in reality and compare it to what I've read from books. I think it's important for us as neighbors to have the understanding of each other's culture. I believe it will eventually reduce the suspicions that exist between us including the terrorism issue," she said.

The government, according to Nadjib, was planning to hold such a program every year. "And we also hope that other member countries will offer similar programs in the future," he said, adding that the government had allocated Rp 5 million a month for each participant the ongoing program.