Education uplifts in Mentawai Islands

ABNNews –  In the 1950s, the Baha’i Faith arrived in the Mentawai Islands, a group of 70 islands off the coast of Indonesia. Many Mentawai communities embraced Baha’u’llah’s teachings, such as the fundamentally noble character of the human being, the oneness of humankind, and the importance of education in releasing the vast potentialities latent in the human mind and soul.

In the following years, providing access to education became a priority. Schools, open to all children, were established in villages throughout the islands. By 1963, at the First Baha’i World Congress, held in London, a young man from Mentawai addressed the audience of more than 6,000 people from more than 40 nations. The young man, who had participated in the educational programs offered by the Baha’i community, spoke about the developments in his homeland.

Subsequent decades brought challenges for the Baha’is of Indonesia until 2014, when the Faith was recognized by the Ministry of Religion as an independent faith. Yet throughout this time, the Baha’i community of Indonesia gradually contributed to education in the islands.

In commemoration of the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the Baha’i community of Indonesia, together with a Baha’i-inspired organization in the Mentawai Islands, organized a conference on the role of spiritual education in building peaceful and prosperous communities. The event was held in Tuapeijat on 16 April.

The Mentawai Islands are a group of 70 islands and islets west of the coast of the larger Indonesian island of Sumatra.SLIDESHOW
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The Mentawai Islands are a group of 70 islands and islets west of the coast of the larger Indonesian island of Sumatra.
The non-governmental organization, called Unity in Diversity Foundation, or Yayasan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (YBTI) in Indonesian, promotes the establishment of locally owned and operated schools in the remote communities that make up the Mentawai Islands and provides vocational training for teachers.

“If we look around us, we can see many economic, political, and social conflicts,” said Mr. Nikanor Saguruk, Deputy Head of the local parliament, in his opening remarks to the seminar. “But today we are very grateful to YBTI for the opportunity to discuss in this seminar how unity, tolerance, and oneness – the keys to a prosperous nation – can be achieved through education.”

The conference was attended by a number of government officials, including Dr. Muharram Marzuki, Head of the Center of Research and Development at Indonesia’s Ministry of Religion. Teachers from five schools established by YBTI also participated and performed a traditional Mentawai dance to open the event.

In her remarks to the conference, Mrs. Seminar Siritoitet, Representative of the Regent of the District of Mentawai Islands, recalled the lack of schools available for Mentawai children in the past and the efforts of the Baha’i community there over many decades to improve the educational situation in collaboration with others.

Pastor Panulis Saguntung, in his keynote address, also recalled this long-standing history. He shared his childhood memories of attending a school in a remote Mentawai village in the 1960s that was run by two teachers, one a Christian and the other a Baha’i. The teachers, he explained, worked together and held classes in the village church since there was no school building.

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