Hope is the new black, and a nonprofit in Indonesia wears the timeless look better than most. As a growing number of libraries in the United States dependent on public funding struggle with reduced resources, the nonprofit route has proven a successful model for the World Is Just a Book Away, an organization equipping children in developing Indonesian communities with access to books. Exposing kids to previously untapped ideas and tools, WIJABA has been making a difference in their lives through the implementation of local libraries, and a newly introduced photography program helps instill the awareness of the their individual potentials as well as expand their experiences beyond a culture of poverty.
WIJABA's efforts originally began in Sidoarjo on the island of Java, a region continually devastated by a mudflow disaster since 2006. "It is my firm belief that if children have hope and if they are exposed to possibilities," said James Owens, the program's founder, "they can dream and learn and forever change their worlds, thereby also benefiting their communities." Popular and effective programs have branched out from the three-year-old organization's original vision. Particular holistic transformations of note have been inspired by the WIJABA libraries. Community initiatives refurbish schools as safe havens modeled after the new libraries, and a newly launched Parents' Library Program improves the lives of area adults by providing education in such areas as innovative farming and culinary techniques. They have also hosted successfully engaging projects such as the Tribal Art Show exhibition, and working with elementary school students, parents, and organizations in California and internationally they have introduced several fundraising events in which $1 buys one book and as little as $3,500 builds an entire library for hundreds of children with no previous access to books.
With a book in one hand, several students have taken an analog Holga 35mm camera in the other. In the same spirit of service with long-term effects, this year WIJABA's Indonesia Country Director, Robert Lucas, brought about the program's first photography project in Sidoarjo. Initiated in April 2011, ten students were chosen from three hundred applicants from twenty-one primary schools. Lucas provided these students lessons in photography and their original photographs culminated in an exhibit at one of the program's libraries.
Lucas mirrors WIJABA's commitment to accessibility in his technical instruction: "In teaching them about the function of a camera, I explained each camera part in reference to an analogous part of the human body. The eye is the lens, the brain is the film, and the skull is the camera body that houses and protects the vital organs. We're able to see because our eyes interact with our brains and the outside world and the camera can also see through the same interaction of the lens, film and outside world."
Through their lenses, the ten students, Ardi, Asri, Cindy, Dicky, Ninik, Nunuk, Sevila, Tasya, Tiara, and Vita, have played an important role in hoisting their communities. For ten weeks, the group met once a week to hone their skills in order to enter into a conversation with the photography project's central thematic question-"Who am I?" Empowered with expanded perspectives provided by the WIJABA libraries, photography allowed them to chronicle their lives.
Dicky expressed, "Photos are my memories. Being a kid is difficult because sometimes I forget the things I do, so taking pictures helps me remember all the times I was happy and sad. When I see a photo of something happy, it makes me happy too. I've learned how to connect images with how I feel." Vita explained, "I really enjoy taking pictures of my little sister. When she sees me with a camera she suddenly becomes very happy and wants me to take pictures of her. This makes me happy too. Photography was very challenging in the beginning because my film always came out blank and I didn't know why. I was frustrated, but Robert taught me what I was doing wrong and to never to give up on something that makes you happy. This is the best lesson I've learned."
The beauty of WIJABA lies at the nexus of the individual students' pursuits of happiness, and their technical education forms pathways to an exciting future. You can visit www.justabookaway.org to learn more and get involved. Images of the children's photos are posted for sale on shop.bluecanvas.com, with all proceeds to directly support the foundation. Bluecanvas will also be sending magazines to WIJABA to help fill their libraries.