The book is Mightier than the gun
Acehtrend.co – Indonesian soldiers are not deployed to only tackle defense and sovereignty problems, but also promoting education is a part of their daily routine as well.
The recess bell rang and a hoard of children spilled out of the classroom. Immediately, they stormed a soldier from the Indonesian Military (TNI) who had parked his motorbike in their school yard.
But this was no conflict.
The soldier was smiling and the children were soon scrambling to get their hands on the books he had brought.
This scene is now familiar in Aceh, and it took place at a junior high school in Blang Pidie, the administrative seat of Southwest Aceh regency.
The soldier is a member of Prajurit Pendekar Baca, or Reading Brigade, from the 0110/Abdya Military District Command (Kodim) overseeing the regency. Abdya is an Indonesian acronym for Southwest Aceh.
Shortly afterwards, the Kodim chief Lt. Col. Suhartono, who had been watching from outside the school gates, entered the school to talk with the principal and some of the teachers.
Since 2014, the Southwest Aceh Kodim has been running the Reading Brigade program, a mobile library that regularly visits villages throughout the regency.
Each Reading Brigade motorcycle can carry a hundred books. The soldier stops when he comes across a crowd or visits schools.
The program was first begun by the Kodim 0107/South Aceh. However, Southwest Aceh Kodim has developed it even further.
“The key is our cooperation with the regional library,” said Suhartono. “As a result of this cooperation, Reading Brigade soldiers can carry many more books and much more variety.”
The effort is also supported by the Aceh provincial library and archives head, who coined the name Prajurit Pendekar Baca, which literally means “reading warrior soldier”.
With the support of the provincial library and archive, together with the regency library, the mobile library program is now growing quickly. While initially there was only one, there are now six motorbikes ready to serve the community and schools in the villages of Southwest Aceh.
The regency has been the first to declare itself as a Reading Culture Regency in the Aceh province.
On Jan. 14 this year, Southwest Aceh formally declared itself a “reading culture regency”.
“Actually, the integration of the TNI with the people in Aceh has been going on for a long time and it is improving all the time,” said Suhartono.
“But it should be recognized that this mobile library program has made a substantial contribution to school children, who are no longer afraid of the Army.”
Karisa Nasyitas, a student in the third grade at Madrasah Ibtidaiyah Muhammadiyah in Blang Pidie, clearly agrees.
“I love it that when the soldiers bring books,” she said. “I’m not scared of them anymore, just a little shy. I really hope that the soldiers will always come to our school because reading is my hobby.”
Community youth leader Fakrul Razi from Alue Padee village in Kuala Batee said he was really pleased with the Reading Brigade.
“The books they bring connect well with the villagers,” he noted. “Apart from getting knowledge from the books that the soldiers bring, the program also creates a friendly atmosphere between the community and the military.”
On Jan. 14 this year, Southwest Aceh formally declared itself a “reading culture regency”. The event, attended by thousands of children, was opened by Erwanto, the vice regent, who revealed that the program was a collaborative effort between the Southwest Aceh Education Agency, the Religious Affairs Ministry’s Southwest Aceh Regional Office and USAID.
A new decree issued by the regent requires that all children spend the first fifteen minutes of each school day reading. The role of the Reading Brigade in helping make a success of the district’s efforts to encourage reading will be crucial.
Handoko Widagdo, a coordinator from USAID, said that the project was working well in over 90 regencies and municipalities in eight provinces.
“This USAID program is a five-year project funded by the US,” he said. “We work together with the Indonesian Government to provide training for teachers and school heads.
“We also work with teacher training institutes and districts to improve the management of schools and teachers. But one of the most exciting things is the work we do to improve literacy and develop a reading culture.”
It is common to see an Army soldier stands next to his mobile library motorcycle while students read books at a school. The Kodim 0110/Abdya currently has six motorcycles bringing books to villages in Southwest Aceh regency.
Over 10 regions in Indonesia have declared themselves reading culture regions, with Southwest Aceh being the first in Aceh, said Handoko.
USAID is also providing teachers with a mixture of fiction and non-fiction books.
“It’s not just about studying. It’s about reading for pleasure, learning to love literature,” said Handoko.
“And the soldiers from the Reading Brigade can really help by bringing books to the schools and villages.” (The Jakarta Post)