Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Inspirational Stovia amazes youngsters

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Stovia building is still inspiring people after all these years. In the Dutch colonial era, the building was a medical school that produced numerous doctors, as well as nationalist leaders.

The building on Jl. Abdul Rahman Saleh in Central Jakarta is now the National Awakening Museum, and is inspiring youngsters with stories of the nationalist movement.

"I wish I had classrooms like these on my campus," said Razak, a student at Trisakti University, during a recent visit to the museum.

Razak was astonished by how comfortable the colonial school was. The classrooms had high ceilings and broad windows. They also only had three walls, which would have enabled the students to look in on other classes.

The classrooms were built around a grassy courtyard planted with banyan and palm trees.

"This place must have been very conducive for learning," said Razak, who studies electrical engineering.

The school produced some of the country's earliest leaders, such as Dr. Soetomo, founder of the Boedi Utomo (Noble Attitude) movement.

Boedi Utomo, founded on May 20, 1908, was a pioneer in the nationalist movement and helped produce more critical youngsters who eventually played important roles in the country's independence. The date of the movement's founding is now commemorated as National Awakening Day.

Though the 104-year-old Stovia building, which was the first vocational school built by the Dutch colonial administration, played an important part in the nationalist movement, today the fort-like structure receives few visitors.

According to records from the National Awakening Museum, an average of 300 people visit the museum every month. Most of the visitors are elementary and junior high school students on field trips.

The head of the museum, Retno Sitowati, told The Jakarta Post that she wanted to see the museum play a more prominent role in society and people's lives.

"Right now we are trying to get the word out about the existence of the museum. Hopefully, the public will become more familiar with the museum."

She said they were attempting to teach people about the museum by renting out the building to groups and individuals for functions and events.

The building has been used for social gatherings, exhibitions and movie shoots, she said.

The museum plans to host an event on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10 for students, particularly Boy Scouts, who will camp out overnight on the grounds of the museum, she said.

Sitowati said the event would coincide with the commemoration of National Boy Scout Day on Aug. 14 and Independence Day on Aug. 17.

"This will be the first camp out we have ever held at the museum. After this, we will evaluate and consider holding similar events for the public," she said.

She said the museum would focus on events for students because the building itself was like a history textbook.

"The building displays the features of education in the colonial era," she said.

The educational situation in Indonesia during that era is well documented in the book Gedung Stovia Sebagai Cagar Sejarah (The Stovia Building as Historical Heritage), written by Basil Fletcher, the author of the 1936 book Education and Colonial Development.

In one of his books, Fletcher wrote: "There are times and situations when it seems likely that nothing better will emerge from this contact than some grotesque bastard product of misgeneration. At other times there is seen the hope and the possibility of an Eastern Renaissance."

According to Razak, the visiting university student, school nowadays is useless because it cannot promise a better future.