TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The walls of the school are made of galar, or flattened bamboo slats. Sunlight penetrates freely through the crevices in the galar walls at Watulagar State Elementary School in Watumerak village, East Nusa Tenggara.
The modest building with a corrugated zinc roof stands on the hillside of Bukit Takat, at a height of 1,000 meters above sea level. The dirt floor is watered to settle the dust.
As many as 67 students attend the four-classroom facility. Each classroom is 5 by 6 meters. In the second week of October, most of the students were busy with midterm exams. The principal-cum-first-grade-teacher, Marieta Ivoni Balik, 60, patiently dictated simple sentences to her students, who were learning to read. "Ini ubi ibu (This is mother's cassava)," said Ivoni. The sentence was repeated several times.
Outside the classroom, three social activists from the Shoes for Flores community had been waiting since 7 o'clock in the morning. They were Valentino Luis, Gusty Waton, and Arnold. The three young men had left Maumere, the capital town of Sikka, 60 kilometers from Watulagar, at 6am. Riding motor bikes, the three went through winding roads with sharp turns and steep slopes. That Tuesday, they had an appointment to measure shoe sizes. The shoes would be given to Watugalar students.
Two weeks before that, they did a survey at the school and decided that the students needed their help. At 9am, the exams ended. Students took a 15-minute break and returned to their classrooms. Gusty stood in front of the class and greeted the 12 students. He spoke Indonesian mixed with the Sikka language. "Flores boys and girls, keep your spirits up!" Gusty said.
After Gusty, it was Valentino's turn to stand in front of the class. He encouraged the children to be diligent. "Flores boys and girls must be smart," Valentino said. After, Valentino, Gusty and Arnold measured the children's feet so that the shoes they'd be getting would be the proper size. One of the students was Yosef Elsdisantos Nong Helmin. In fact, Yosef already owned a pair of shoes, but many of his fellow students did not. Some went barefoot and others wore sandals. "Shoes wear out easily," Yosef said.
Valentino thinks that shoes may not last long because the children have to walk such long distances to school. Some students have to walk up two to three kilometers to school. The route goes uphill and downhill. When a student goes downhill, his or her shoes function as brakes. Furthermore, students have to walk on stones and sharp pebbles. Shoes for Flores noted these conditions. Four days later, the three returned to the school and presented their offerings. Besides shoes, they also gave students uniforms, bags, stationery and books. "The shoes are simply an instrument. The more important thing is the interaction and the attention given to the children, so that they become more enthusiastic about going to school," Valentino said. (*)
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