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Indon educator empowers women

By: - Reporter / @jgamilINQ
/ 02:36 AM August 30, 2011


It is hard to imagine that this quiet-voiced man, laughing sheepishly at his own halting English, could face up to the local governor in his hometown in Indonesia and demand public service.

“These are your people!” he told the governor, pressing him for financial help for an Islamic boarding school for girls in the tourist island of Lombok near Bali.


But then again, educator Hasanain Juaini—one of this year’s winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards—has done far more revolutionary things in his efforts to bring about change.

In a culture largely stereotyped as patriarchal, Hasanain, 47, seeks to put women at the forefront of national change through his boarding school for girls in his hometown.


In picking him for the award, the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation board of trustees hailed Hasanain for “his holistic, community-based approach to pesantren (Islamic boarding school) education in Indonesia, creatively promoting values of gender equality, religious harmony, environmental preservation, individual achievement and civic engagement among young students and their communities.”

Hasanain and five fellow Magsaysay awardees from other Asian countries will receive a $50,000 cash prize, a medallion and a certificate in a ceremony on Wednesday at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.


One would think that growing up as the son of a religious teacher, who ran a similar pesantren for boys, Hasanain would simply inherit a mind-set oriented toward tradition.

But it would seem that his education only made Hasanain progressive-minded.

After he graduated from law studies at the Institute of Islamic Knowledge and Arabic in Jakarta, he set up the Nurul Haramain Islamic Boarding School for Girls in 1996.

To bring his vision to life, he talked to the community and chipped away at deep-seated misconceptions about Islam.


Ruffling feathers

“People misunderstand the verses of religious teachings … For example, there is no teaching in religion to stop a woman from studying. I don’t know where the community get their interpretation,” Hasanain said in an interview at the Ramon Magsaysay Center on Roxas Boulevard.

It was a misconception that had great repercussions on national development, he said.

“I saw women had low education, few experiences, so they could not educate their children. It affects national education,” he said. “I’m sure by educating the women, the condition of the nation will be better.”

He might have ruffled feathers but his efforts paid off. “I just tell them: ‘I am working for you, please help.’”

Begin with woman

Hasanain spoke in halting English, sometimes laughing as he groped for the right words, amused at himself. At times, he spoke through an interpreter.

Hasanain said his advocacy was rooted in Indonesian Islamic religious teachings.

“God made the ‘rahim,’ the womb, and ‘Rahim’ is also a name for God. It means that everyone has to come through the womb. It means the first teacher of every one is a woman. If you want to give, and give love to the nation, we have to begin from a woman,” Hasanain pointed out.

He realized the best way to achieve his mission of empowering women was to put up an educational institution for them. From a starter group of 50 girls, the secondary school has grown to 680 students and 60 teachers, half of whom are female.

Creative methods

As a pesantren, the core of the school’s curriculum is still religion, but it also underscores the importance of the sciences. As a result, the school was the first in Lombok to achieve a 100-percent computer-based learning, and it now ranks No. 9 in university examinations in Indonesia.

At the start, Hasanain had to employ creative teaching methods to encourage the students to be active and to speak up.

“I would buy pens as prizes for students who could answer or [constructively] criticize me in every activity,” he recalled fondly.

Now, more female students are applying, so the school sometimes has to refuse them for lack of slots. Hasanain takes it as a sign of the community’s progress.

“They believe that the school is good. They give support. The buildings are built with the community. Now, women are more active, they study abroad. Also, we name the buildings after countries like Australia, Switzerland, Canada, to brighten up the perception of the children,” he said.

Expanding the minds

The school is also partly owned by the community through a membership system, as opposed to a traditional pesantren controlled only by a single teacher.

The expansion of the minds and capabilities of the students are priorities of Hasanain. He prevents his school from becoming just another “ivory tower” by using it as a launchpad for civic engagement.

After all, he believes that “those who take must give. It’s a big sin if you take and not give.”

Hasanain and his school have embarked on a social forestry project which has reforested a barren 31-hectare land by giving families livestock and a hectare each to nurture under a community-wide business plan.

Many ideas, no funds

Hasanain also organized 130 pesantrens in his district to lobby against corruption and demand accountability and reforms from government officials, especially regarding elections and use of public funds.

To Hasanain, these advocacies are all part and parcel of running a school and providing education and other basic services in an impoverished area. As these are normally the job of the government, his missions have often brought him face to face with local officials.

“Someday, maybe 100 of the students cannot pay their meals. They eat in our kitchen. If they don’t pay, the kitchen closes. But if I force students to pay, they will stop their studies. What must we do? I go to the governor and tell him: ‘These are your people,’” he said.

Hasanain laments that he has “many ideas but no funds.”

“I want to teach for free. I want to support the needs of my students wherever they go,” he said.

Instead of losing heart, Hasanain draws energy from these challenges. “I’m sure this is good for me to be able to work hard.”

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TAGS: Hasanain Juaini, Indonesia, pesantren (Islamic boarding school), Ramon Magsaysay Awards, Ramon Magsaysay Center, Ramon Magsaysay Foundation
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