Not many people visit Pulau Jaga, Indonesia. It isn’t easy to find. Google Maps doesn’t even name it. ‘Did you mean “Java, Indonesia”?’ says the Google search engine, trying as ever to be helpful.
No, I did mean Jaga, an island in the Riau Archipelago, two and a half hours by boat south of Singapore. Jaga is some 2.5km long and 500m across, home to perhaps 90 families, most of them supported by fishing. There are no hotels, no restaurants, no roads and no cars. There is a school, however, and we were invited to visit it. It was a privilege and a pleasure.
Our trip to Jaga was arranged as part of the writers’ camp I’ve been running for international school students from Singapore at Telunas Beach, on Sugi Island. (No internet, you see – that’s where I’ve been for a while.)
The Telunas people had been to Jaga several times before, working on community development projects. They’d helped the school to convert a classroom into a small library, stocked with Indonesian and English books, and to build a small brick wall around the school – it has no function, they told us, but it’s prestigious for a school to have a wall.
The Jaga village consists of a cluster of wooden huts, like most in this area, built on stilts over the water, with more substantial brick buildings lining the shore. Behind them, chickens and cats forage through gardens and garbage under the coconut palms and banana trees.
Compared to the obsessive neatness and lush grass of Singapore, Jaga’s dusty football ground was an eye-opener to our students. But we were expected and the welcome was warm.
The school had suspended lessons for the morning so that their students could share with their visitors some of the local skills in handcrafts, drumming and making snacks of krupuk. They taught us a few lessons on the volleyball court too.
As our time in the village ended, names, handshakes and presents were exchanged. Our students had brought some volleyballs from Singapore. In return they gave us some of the basketwork food covers we’d helped to make. They’re important items in a place with no refrigeration.
At the debriefing back at Telunas Beach, students discussed what they had discovered in the village. ‘I see how much stuff we have compared to other people.’ ‘They seem to be very happy people.’
And there are serious questions too: ‘What happens when they go to high school?’ (Many children don’t go past elementary school. Boys in particular sometimes just go fishing with their fathers. The nearest high school is in Moro, which requires most students to leave Jaga and live on Moro with extended family members or even independently.) ‘Why is there litter everywhere?’ (Because there’s nowhere else for it to go. That was fine when litter was made of coconut shells, but since the introduction of plastic…) Where is the nearest hospital? (Moro has the nearest health care too – it’s a basic clinic, a short boat ride away.)
All in all, it was a great learning experience for us all. Needless to say, we have plenty of inspiration for our next writing projects.
Telunas Beach regularly runs camps for school groups, specialising in adventure activities, team building and cultural exchanges. They also welcome family groups and individual travellers and can organise village visits for them too. Mevrouw T and I have been fortunate to be their guests a number of times.
For more information, see www.telunasbeach.com