When Aqmarina Andira, usually referred to as Ina, was studying in Sydney, Australia, she came across an organization called Sydney Story Factory that taught children creative writing. Impressed by their programs that seemed to have a positive effect on the students in expressing their ideas and building self-confidence, she decided to start a similar project upon her return to Bandung, Indonesia.
“I quickly realized though that there is a gap between Australian and Indonesian children,” she recalls. “When I asked the kids here to write a paper about their holidays, they would just stare at each other, waited for the others to start writing, and then mostly all began their sentences the same way they were taught at school. That’s why I needed a different approach to close that gap.”
Ina’s organization Rumah Cerita, or House of Stories, is based on five different pillars - critical thinking, social observation, compassion, creative writing and confidence - all of which play an important part in the workshops.
Rumah Cerita was founded by Ina and two of her friends, who all brought their different skills and interests to the table - Ina’s passion lies with creative writing, while her two friends strongly advocate organizational development and children’s education - to create a community that encourages children between the age of eight and 18 to be creative and follow their dreams.
Their pilot project in 2014 took place in Bandung. Working together with local schools, Rumah Cerita organized a workshop in which the participating children created their own fictional characters. Based on the stories they created, Rumah Cerita compiled and published a book. Encouraged by the positive response, Ina and her friends decided to continue with more projects.
“Together with the help of our friend who studied at the University of Tokyo, we organized a writing contest whose winners - both of them from junior high school - were invited to visit Japan to learn more about technology and innovation,” Ina says. “With the help of a crowdfunding campaign and the proceeds from our book, we managed to send them to Japan.”
“When I asked the kids here to write a paper about their holidays, they would just stare at each other, waited for the others to start writing, and then mostly all began their sentences the same way they were taught at school. That’s why I needed a different approach to close that gap.”
Rumah Cerita also collaborated with ASEAN Literary Festival, where they were responsible for the children’s programme and again received overwhelmingly positive feedback, while “Connecting Jakarta” was the organization’s most recent endeavour.
“Since most of our volunteers come from Jakarta, and I also relocated here for work, it’s been a hassle to move back and forth to Bandung, so most of our workshops take place in Jakarta now,” Ina explains. “For ‘Connecting Jakarta’, we challenged the children to solve social issues after they joined a sharing session by an expert from different fields, that ranged from journalism and social media to event management and flood prevention.”
With so many successful projects and events under her belt, Ina applied for Alumni Grant Scheme (AGS). The purpose of the AGS, which is funded by the Australian Government and administered by Australia Awards in Indonesia, is to support the application and sharing of knowledge and experience gained by Indonesian alumni during their studies in Australia. Ina successfully won a grant to organize Festival Cerita, which took place on 16 & 17 December at the National Library.
Under the theme “Dream a Little Dream of You”, the 2-day festival consisted of 15 workshops and five sharing sessions, as well as three special programmes. More than 500 participants flocked to the National Library over the weekend to enjoy the activities.
“We are very grateful that we won this grant, and we also had a lot of help from more than 60 volunteers to put this festival together,” Ina says. “We also collaborated with lots of Jakarta-based communities that share the same vision we have.”
The keynote speech was delivered by Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka, a journalist and author who also founded the “Pustaka Bergerak” (Mobile Libraries), for which he travels to the most remote areas in Indonesia to introduce children to books and literature. During his speech, he introduced 8-year-old Dony from Lampung, who cycles to see his friends and bring them books in his free time.
“Other highlights for me were the Pillowtalk Drawing, where the kids could draw their dreams on a pillow, and the sharing session ‘Dream Together’, which was very inspirational as four young leaders came on stage to share their stories,” Ina says.
The festival also featured performances by the children who attended the workshops during the closing ceremony. Other workshops at the festival included, among others, “Letter of My Dream”, “Stories Laboratory”, Feel the Music” and “When I Grow Up”.