Risking life for school, again
Cilangkap village, Indonesia
This is my second picture story about students going to school.
Still in Banten province, Indonesia, around 100 kms (62 miles), or a good four hours drive from my home. These students are not like the Indiana Jones students I covered previously, who crossed the river using a broken suspension bridge, instead, they use a bamboo raft.
I received a call from a local photographer saying he had found another group of students crossing a river using unconventional means. “Why are you not taking pictures yourself?”, I asked. Cikal replied, “We need to work together, you for the international audience and me for the Indonesia reader. Because I think they need a proper bridge. Maybe the students will get lucky from our pictures.”
I recalled our success story with the suspension bridge a year ago. Maybe we could do the same thing for these students. What Yan Cikal said reminded me of one of the “photographer’s tasks”: make a change for a better life through pictures.
A few days later I drove to Lebak. I thought it would be easy to find the place but I was wrong because Cikal didn’t know the exact bridge location. So, we went around Cilangkap village asking people. Finally we found the crossing point of Ciherang River but we were too late, the students had already crossed the river to school 15 minutes earlier.
So, we waited to take pictures as they returned home. I saw a broken suspension bridge location around 50 yards from the location of the bamboo raft. Usually people use the bridge to cross the river but in January 2013 a big flood swept the bridge away. Since then, villagers have been using a bamboo raft to cross the river.
At midday, we saw a group of students, a man and a woman standing on the other side of a river. They looked like they would cross the river, but the bamboo raft was located on our side of the river, opposite them. They needed someone to transport the bamboo raft across the river, but there was nobody here except myself and Cikal. Sadly, we both couldn’t steer the bamboo raft.
Suddenly, one of the students took off his clothes and swam across the river. After reaching our side, the 14-year-old student named Reza, reached the bamboo raft then took it to the other side of the river. He guided the bamboo raft across the river to help his group of eight students, two men and six women get back home. For safety reasons, on each crossing Reza carried just three of his friends. He needed to make the crossing three times to transport the group of eight.
Reza said he collected the bamboo raft because he is the best swimmer in the group. “Do you have alternate ways to cross the river?” I asked. “Yes, I have…” Reza said pointing to the broken suspension bridge. “Or we must use another bridge three kilometers (1.8 miles) away which we would need ojeg (motorcycles taxi) to get to. We must pay the ojeg 14,000 rupiah ($1.20 USD) a day for one person. For that amount we can buy one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice for food.” Reza said. If the river floods, they can’t get to school. Some younger students sometimes choose not to go to school rather than crossing when the river level is too high.
For the second time, not more than 100 kilometers from my home, I watched students the same age as my children risk their lives to get to school.