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7 September 2005

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Major impacts
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Indonesia

Education brings light to Orang Rimba

Bukit nang dekot jelon menuju podo sungoi toruyoh elah ditobong urang dusun (Villagers are starting to cut down the trees in the hilly area on the way to Toruyoh river).

That is how Bekinya -- a 13-year-old girl from the Orang Rimba (literally means the people of the jungle) tribe, the hunter and gatherers living near Toruyon river, Aekitam in the heart of Bukit Duabelas National Park in Jambi province -- started her letter to her former teacher.

She is aware of the destruction caused by illegal logging in both protected and protected areas, which makes the national park's status as a biosphere reserve meaningless.

After learning how to read, write and count, Bekinya began to write letters, although she writes mostly in her native language with bits of Bahasa Indonesia thrown in.

Bekinya is one of seven female students in the tribe who learned to read, write and count in Sokola Rimbo -- literally means a school in the forest, this year.

The school's 48 students are mostly male and aged between six and 16 years old. There are four students aged between 25 and 40 years old.

The students are from eight small groups of Orang Rimba who live scattered around the national park area.

"The school means a lot to the younger generation," Temenggung Tarib, 50, one of the tribe's seven leaders told The Jakarta Post.

The illiterate man said that the newfound knowledge -- being able to read, write and count -- helped his people in transactions with outsiders. Previously, he said, the Orang Rimba were often tricked in transactions with villagers.

Now, whenever money is involved, such as when he purchased six hectares of land recently, Tarib is accompanied by his son, 15-year-old Mandum, who attended Sokola Rimbo last year.

He said that earlier, he was against the school since he considered it as meroboh halom, changing the ancient customs of his tribe.

He recalled a school that was set up in 1997 by the government in Aekitam district, Sarolangun regency. It had taught students not only about reading, writing and arithmetic but also focused on religion. "Back then, they even set up homes for us and forced us to stop eating pork," Tarib said.

Unwilling to change, dozens of Orang Rimba sold the houses and plantations granted to them by the government. Now, many beg for a living along the Sumatra Highway and others are involved in illegal logging.

Sociologist Fery Apriadi of nongovernmental group Warsi said tribespeople should be educated in stages as, aside from basic school subjects, they also needed to be introduced to the outside world.

"Their unreadiness to absorb outside influences could cause culture shock," he said.

Currently, he said, the organization also taught students about the importance of conservation.

"Conservation is closely related to ensuring the sustainability of the forest as their home," Fery said.

In the school, students are taught how to read, write and count in the first six months while in the next six months, they are taught other things, such as multiplication and deduction.

"Education hopefully can help them interact with the outside world," Fery said.

Education for children in the tribe was introduced in 1998 and as of 2005, 176 children in the tribe, or 15 percent of its around 1,400 people, are no longer illiterate.

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