Noken Pustaka: Literary Initiative for “Smart Indonesia” Program in Papua

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Since his inauguration in 2014, President Joko Widodo has declared “Smart Indonesia” (Indonesia Pintar) as one of his main programs. Beside various educational initiatives, many areas in Indonesia including West Papua saw the coming of public literary initiatives. Most of these programs were designed by regular people who have interests in literature and education.

Noken Pustaka is one of the rising literary initiatives in Indonesia, started with the spirit of “Smart Indonesia” program in mind. In just two years after starting, the program has attracted dozens of volunteers, and even got slots in national news.

How Noken Pustaka Movement Started

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Noken Pustaka was started in 2015 by a teacher in Manokwari named Misbah Surbakti. A middle-school teacher for more than 20 years, Misbah had concerns about children’s level of reading skills, especially in small villages. He concluded that lack of good books suitable for them was one of the main reasons. Many of schools in remote areas also didn’t have proper libraries, and there were not many libraries or bookstores.

Misbah started small by bringing books from home to his class, and invited his colleagues to do the same. He first started a program at his school’s Scout program, called Ayo Membaca (Let’s Read). He also encouraged his students to read books and write summaries of those books, to develop critical thinking and attention to details.

While his reading program showed positive changes, it was not enough. He and his colleagues could only lend the books at school, so the time his students had to read was still limited. Misbah was also invited once to a public library in Java, where he was mesmerized by the inviting atmosphere and numerous book collections, which people can borrow and read anywhere. When he returned to Manokwari, he discussed with Ali Sunarko, a former librarian, to create a literacy movement.

On 15 December 2015, Misbah and some of his friends officially started Noken Pustaka. They used Facebook as the first way to communicate their program.

The Unique Concept of Noken Pustaka

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Noken Pustaka was not only an initiative, but also a concept. Half-inspired by Kuda Pustaka (Horse Library) in Java, which was a mobile library initiated by Ridwan Sururi, Misbah used a similar concept to reach remote areas. He and his volunteers used noken, a traditional handmade bag of West Papua, to carry stacks of books to villages, schools, and remote areas.

The volunteers will visit various public spots in villages once a week, carrying books such as comics, science books for kids, novels, folklore books, and history books. There are also practical books for adults, such as cooking recipes, farming books, and language-learning books. They are aimed to adults who normally think that reading will not bring them something good, unlike practical activities.

To reduce the distances and create more access, Misbah and his volunteers set up “reading posts” in various areas, called Pos Noken or Rumah Baca. They bring books as reading supplies to these simple buildings, manned by several standby volunteers, and people who live around the areas can read, no matter how difficult the access is.

How Noken Pustaka Benefits Locals

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The progress of Noken Pustaka has no doubt in parallel with President Joko Widodo’s educational mission. However, Misbah and more than his current 40 volunteers have seen the actual impacts on local communities in Manokwari. He and his team were viewed with suspicions at first. However, after a while, every time volunteers approach with noken bags full of books, children will happily welcome them. The volunteers also help children and adults learning to read.

The numbers and backgrounds of local volunteers have also risen. Misbah now sees students, workers, and housewives joining his movement to become volunteers in their own areas. One of the volunteers, Kristofel Rumfabe, is even known as a weightlifting athlete. Noken Pustaka used to be seen with suspicion by locals, but now, it has grown into a massive movement.

Noken Pustaka Now

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Noken Pustaka now has grown into several programs. Aside from the Pos Noken/Rumah Baca, there is also Noken Motor, a similar activity that uses motorcycle to quickly reach small and remote areas. Para-Para Pustaka is a part of Noken Pustaka that reaches readers in shore villages. Perahu Noken is a literary initiative that uses a boat to reach readers in small islands.

Noken Pustaka has also collaborated with other initiatives to hold creative activities. Gelar Buku Pantai is a routine program in BLK Beach in Manokwari, where volunteers set up a simple library for tourists and visitors to read. Noken Pustaka works together with Manokwari Water Children Community (KAAM) to hold this event regularly.

Increasing the literacy rate, cognitive thinking skill, creativity, and imagination is the goal of Misbah and friends. While literacy rate in Manokwari still needs improvement, the presence of various activities like Noken Pustaka shows locals’ initiatives in improving their own life standard. This movement is one of West Papua’s contemporary achievements that deserves acknowledgment.