Learning for free


Learning for Free
At a time when money rules, practically for everything — from food to education, some communities, groups and forums lend a helping hand, offering knowledge for free.

“Inhale. Sun salutation. Straighten your back,” I Wayan Bagus Saputra instructed participants during a yoga session.

The yoga class was not in a fancy or exclusive studio. Instead, some 20 people from all walks of life were practicing yoga out there under the sky at Suropati Park in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

At the park, every Sunday morning at 7 a.m., they place their yoga mats and are ready to exercise while enjoying the morning breeze.

The group — Yoga Gembira (Fun Yoga) — offers two-hour yoga sessions for free while accepting voluntary donations at the end of the class to fund their charity programs, such as to assist disaster victims or join tree-planting activities. Everyone is welcome in the group.

The group’s founder, Yudhi Widdyantoro, said the idea to set up the group came following a controversy over yoga around four years ago.

In late-2008, Malaysian ulemas reported they would ban yoga because it involved the chanting of Hindu mantras that could corrupt Islamic values. The year after, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) also banned Muslims from practicing yoga if it contained Hindu rituals, such as chanting, fearing it would corrupt their faith.

“Back then, people were afraid to practice yoga. The yoga practice was very gloomy, and some studios had to close. We set up Yoga Gembira to encourage people not to be afraid of practicing it,” Yudhi says.

They first started practicing at the Museum Kebangkitan Nasional compound in Central Jakarta but later changed locations before deciding in 2010 to settle at the park.

“I choose a public space for several reasons – to ensure the existence of such a place while wanting to familiarize yoga and change perceptions that yoga is expensive and exclusive,” said the yoga practitioner, who says he feels happy — just like when people receive their monthly salary or when eating chocolate, by sharing his knowledge.

Yoga is not the only knowledge for sharing. Other groups, such as the Female Photographer Community, allow people to sharpen their photography skills through photo hunting events and discussions, while Komunitas Belajar Design – a community which offers knowledge on design – provides informal space for designers from various disciplines and the public to learn about design.

The two groups usually work together with the Kemang 89 multifunctional meeting space in Kemang, South Jakarta, to provide room for their free gatherings.

If you are into philosophy, public issues and literature, you can join Komunitas Salihara in the Pasar Minggu area, South Jakarta. The community offers free monthly discussions and lectures.

The program’s curator, Mohamad Guntur Romli, said topics in the discussions and lectures vary, but the lectures offer a much more comprehensive view because a topic is discussed over a serious of four weekly lectures held every four months.

“As mainstream media, television often makes certain issues look shallow because they only highlight controversy. We want to be more critical,” Guntur said.

Speakers invited to talk are required to prepare papers and deliver speeches to ensure the lectures’ quality.

The lectures, he said, also highlight minority issues, such as on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgenders (LGBT).

“Erotica, for example, is often considered porn, so we chose it as a theme. We also try to read the phenomenon of Islamic business to see whether it is a pure curiosity over Islamic teaching or merely commercialism,” Guntur said.

Some 200 people usually come to Salihara’s discussions and lectures, which are funded by the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos), a Dutch development organization.

Another forum, Obrolan Langsat (Obsat), was born from online discussions but now finds space at a parking area of salingsilang.com, office in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.

The forum’s coordinator, Hedi Novianto, said the forum started following a heated public debate on the Information Transaction Law back in 2009.

At that time, people who were active in politikana.com, a website under salingsilang.com, often held offline discussions and invited a speaker to a food stall near their office.

As the umbrella office, salingsilang.com, then tried to follow up the discussion by providing an informal forum in its parking space every Wednesday evening. On that day, after office hours, the parking space would be packed by some 30 people attending the discussion.

“The forum recently tried to avoid touching on political issues since such topic would usually turn into endless debates while failing to enlighten the participants,” Hedi says.

For the forum, salingsilang.com, used to spend some Rp 2 million (US$222) for operational cost, considered as the company’s social responsibility program, but starting this year, it opens up to companies wanting to contribute snacks and drinks.

The rise of Indonesian cinema has also put attention and people’s interest on filmmaking, as shown through the popularity of the Jakarta Art Institute (IKJ) Film Study Club’s discussions.

First initiated by students taking Media Studies program and majoring in Cinema Studies at IKJ in 2008 as a forum where they could exchange idea, now the club has expanded and opened to the public.

Nayla Majestya, one of the club’s founders, said she currently manages along with fellow founders Veronica Kusuma and Kus Pujiati, who are abroad to continue their studies.

“I have other works, but to engage in discussion and share knowledge are my passion, so I insist to go on with the club’s activities,” Nayla said.

“Although I can’t make it twice a month like it used to, I try to make it at least once a month.”

Ideas and techniques of filmmaking are one of the club’s most popular themes, but it also touches on other issues, such as cinema research, visual culture and new media arts.

The club’s routine usually involves film screening and a session with speakers includes local and international filmmakers, such as Garin Nugroho.

Currently, Nayla said the club works to attract more public participants by working together with other film communities and festivals as well as holding the discussion outside the campus.

“People sometimes still think the club is exclusively only for IKJ students and faculty members, but it’s not; it’s always open for public,” she said.

Communication expert Ade Armando said the need to form a group or community can be traced back to the long tradition in village culture that has thick communal structure. The wave of urbanization that makes people move from village to cities somehow influence the way they interact.

He said urbanites usually form groups based on their similarities — in hobbies, identities or interests, realizing they do not merely need material goods.

“Urban people tend to focus on their personal achievements and become more individualistic. But later, they feel a collective loss, wanting to get back to their nature of involvement in a community,” Ade says.

Indah Setiawati,
The Jakarta Post

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