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Learnscapes Australia - Indonesia - East Timor

Interview with Philip Booth about the recent Learnscapes course in Bali and plans for Learnscapes in East Timor. Live to air on BayFM 91.3 in Byron Bay NSW on Suara Indonesia Radio Show December 7 1999.

Judy: Tell me a bit about the Learnscapes Course you have been teaching in Bali.

Philip: The Learnscapes Project was a two week long course that was organised by some very old friends of mine in Bali Melanie and Petra and some friends from Griffith University. There was a full house of participants that came from everywhere in Indonesia - except Timor, surprisingly. We had people from Flores, Kalimantan, Sumbawa, Sumatra, quite a few from Java and from Bali.

Judy: How did they do it! How did they get people to come from all over Indonesia?

Philip: Well, they worked a bit of magic, we were very well-patronaged. We had an incredible network of people who came to support this course, including the Head of the Education Department in Bali Ngurah Oka, and his brother who owns a nursery. They were fabulous patrons, and many other people came out of the woodwork to support it like Janet, who owns restaurants in Ubud and Frank from San Francisco who provided the most wonderful venue at Mambal, just down the road from Ubud. Its going to be a Drug and Rehabilitation Centre, two long white pavilions floating on water with a lily pond in between them and a statue of Saraswati standing there in lotus land. And the venue was free.

Judy: So it had the support of the whole community.

Philip: Yes, indeed - I had five professors doing the course, I had forestry policy advisors and trainers of people, dayaks in Kalimantan, I had permaculture people, school teachers, community education people.

Judy: So how many people attended the course?

Philip: About 35 people which was absolutely the max. We turned away another ten or so - they'll do the next course.

Judy: I had the impression that the course was run on the basis of some people subsidising other people. So it was actually a subsidised course for many of the participants.

Philip: That's true. We were able to offer bursaries, in other words - the old Robin Hood principle - take from the rich to give to the poor.

Judy: I thought that was a wonderful idea which meant the course was not available only to people who were well off, but also to people who may be just a simple school teacher.

Philip: The US Dollar goes a long way, so the people who paid with US Dollars provided the where-with-all for other participants.

Judy: So what was the basic aim of the course?

Philip: The focus was on facilitating educators to enter into the learnscapes design process in their own projects, whatever these projects may be, whether in schools, universities, community education programs, permaculture programs.

Judy: So what is Learnscapes actually?

Philip: Learnscapes is the design of what you call educational environments and I don't just mean school grounds. I mean educational environments which means the link between the built environment, the landscape, and the social mix, the social environment, and the social ecology of a learning place. So that's quite a broad definition. Learnscapes originally grew out of a movement called "Learning through Landscapes", but you can't look at landscapes in isolation from buildings and vice versa...the real heart of my research has been the fact that most educators do not know a thing about landscaping or design or environmental design.

Judy: Well, if you're a school teacher you haven't really studied landscaping.

Philip: I had a past life as a school teacher - through teaching environmental eduaction and then through teaching and designing in permaculture I entered into the world of environmental design and began to speak two languages and began to be able to translate between the language of education and the language of environmental design. It so happens that most architects and landscape architects do not speak the language of education. So my role has been as a broker between those two disciplines. The real focus is to be able to facilitate people to be able to enter into that design process.

Judy: What did you involve the students in during the course in Bali? Did they design something as part of the course?

Philip: First of all, I gave the Big Picture of Learnscaping. Then we addressed how that could relate to Indonesia. I did that through each of the participant's personal interests and projects. So we mapped all those and created a big mind map of all their interests, and that ranged from a permaculture guy who works with 3000 farmers in Flores to the bevy of professors who work in Malang at the main curriculum development centre for Indonesia - that is for courses which range from human geography to pre-school education, to science curricula and also teacher training.

Judy: It sounds to me like this 2 week course had enormous and far-reaching effects because it was reaching out to people in very key roles all over Indonesia.

Philip: What surprised me was the absolute fervour - keeness of people to revamp Indonesian curricula, which in their own words is appalling.

Judy: They're looking for new ideas.

Philip: We had a guest lecturer turn up and he was one of the advisors of the Administrator for the Balinese Education System. He was peppered with questions about the capacity of Indonesians to modify the curricula. They brought in a new policy, now coming down out of Jakarta which allows a certain amount of regional content in the curricula.

Judy: They've always had a certain amount of regional influence in the curriculum in terms of language and culture.

Philip: They're freeing up a lot more now. I was sitting there watching a very spirited debate about this, in this kind of atmosphere of Reformasi that's going on there - education is a part of that.

Judy: It must have been very exciting for you to have been in the middle of all that. To have come from Byron Bay and to be smack bang in the middle of these very influential educational specialists.

Philip: What happened was that when the discussion betweeen the 40 people got very animated and spirited there was no-one to translate, so I would just sit back and have a cup of tea and know that something very serious was going on, and that I saw my role as a catalyst. When I arrived I said - I am not here as a cultural imperialist - you've already had enough of that - I'm here as a catalyst. That's what I'm good at, that's what I do.

I took the students through a design process where they worked on two projects that we organised. And of course they had their own projects I wanted them to work on so it was a very busy two weeks. Two major design sites and then each of them working little design teams on their own ideas and progressing those and putting together something to take away with them to work on. When we have our rendevous next year we'll find out how they did on their personal projects. We also had people working in Botanic Gardens etc who had projects going on there.

Judy: So what were the two projects that you undertook during the course?

Philip: We had the main school site at the Sutra Dharma School in Ubud, just north of Campuan. We did some pretty good stuff there - projects involving composting, vegetable gardens and the recycling of grey water. I took the adults through an analysis of the site - what was missing, what the staff wanted - you do all that before involving the students. Its also important to talk with the students to find out what they want and to map their interests and concerns, but then comes the actual design process itself which is what we are all about. The implementation was just starting as I was leaving, but the co-ordiantors were quite ecstatic about what had come out of the project. We prioritised a series of projects to start off with. Other things included a flower garden for the offerings as its a major part of Balinese life. There's a lot of expenditure involved creating offerings.

Judy: Every single day Balinese women have to make offerings using flowers, leaves, rice, incense and other elements and they can't actually miss a day.

Philip: The other project was quite different. It was an organic farm growing citrus, coffee, cacau and new durian planted because of the citrus virus which is wiping out all the mandarins over there. This took the group out of the school into a commercial agriculture environment. And of course Learnscaping can take in the tertiary sector so we were particularly interested in organic chemistry and organic agriculture and we will involve students from the nearby schools. This is up in the mountains, Ngurah Tangeb is the owner of the farm, brother of the Head of the Balinese Education Dept. His son is in his final year at University - we are looking at using the site as a feild study site and also for farm stays for tourists.

Judy: Have you heard back from any of the participants yet?

Philip: Well actually, right now a very good friend of mine is running a Women and Permaculture Course which will go through to Christmas, then next year I will be back between May and August to do another course and I intend to do a series of weekend workshops on the different islands- Flores, Sumatra, Java and perhaps Kalimantan. We began to float that idea during the course.

Tjintana: How about introducing water tanks for the collection of rain water, as many village people have to walk a long way to colllect water.

Philip: I have become aware of the dryness in Flores and Sumbawa and also in North Sulawesi. And I think the Balinese are becoming more water conscious now since there have been dry periods when the people's wells have started to run dry. The scope of what I have been doing is broader than just the rain water. I was also looking at the health of their rivers and streams and introducing the concept of water-watch and total catchment management... if they pollute the rivers then everyone suffers. The Balinese are aware that their rivers are in a pretty shocking state, and even worse of course in Java with the high density population - and they are into doing something about it.

Judy: That's great news - how are they going to do it? The rivers have been used as disposal units.

Philip: The answer is education - to start with village education, community education and in the schools and unis - from the bottom up and from the top down.

Judy: Sounds like you touched on everything to do with the environment in this course.

Philip: Very broad - basically I followed the interests of the participants

Judy: So they came up with the issue of water.

Philip: Certainly in places like Flores water is a big concern, but also the problem of what to do with grey water. One technique they are looking at now is an ex-osmosis technique that is a very traditional technique in Indonesia in which they use big stone urns. They put the grey water inside and it percolates out through the stone and what comes out is drinkable water. They are also interested in newer technologies as well. And my focus was to build that into an educational process.

Judy: When you came back from Bali you mentioned to me that there were quite a few people interested in going to East Timor to work - is it to do with learnscapes, permaculture or environmental education?

Philip: Certainly the whole gamut - the last few days of the course was when the referendum was on in East Timor and the situation got very sticky as I flew out - between Australia and Indonesia. That's settled down now. There are many people in Bali who have long wanted to go to East Timor but haven't been able to because it was closed. I also know there are people like Robin Francis and a whole lot of permaculture people from round here who are interested to go there. Personally I think we'll probably have to wait til the end of the wet season to go.

Judy: Are you looking to go there to do a similar type of Learnscapes Project ?

Philip: Well they need to re-establish their education system and when they do that it will create the opportunity to take learnscaping in there. And of course the permaculture people want to help the East Timorese people pick up the pieces in terms of their farming techniques which have suffered pretty severely. The deforestation there is immense. The sandalwood forests have been decimated courtesy of the Suharto family. The forests have been logged - the army took the money and cut down all the trees. If you look at the landscape of Indonesia and East Timor now there are a lot of bare hills... Forestry would be a high priority in community education - permaculture as well as learnscaping, as forestry is such a key environmental concern and produces so many issues for people in the village. They need sustainable forestry. The first thing people have to realise is that if the forests go - so does the rainfall and so does the soil, and you get worse floods. Many of the important birds that are controlling the insects disappear. You run out of firewood, there are refugee animals wandering around the place looking for food, eating your crops because their traditional foods have gone - a whole bevy of problems. To know how to re-aforest is an art form. One of the first things to do is to try to let the natural process re-establish itself through birds redistributing the seeds. But that can't happen if you have goats and things coming to eat the seedlings. There's a lot of pressure on the forests with hungry people taking their goats into the forest to find food.

Judy: Will the organisation which presented the Learnscapes Project in Bali organise the flow on into East Timor?

Philip: It may or it may not. I might have to use Australian sources. I don't know yet. It'll take a bit of organising. I won't probably be setting foot in East Timor for another 6 months.

Judy: Do you think some of the Indonesian people you met might be interested in going to East Timor?

Philip: No, I think at the moment East Timor is a sort of overwhelming concept for them. East Timor is now departed from Indonesia. Indonesians have got their own problems that they are struggling to cope with. Its like East Timor was always removed from them anyway because they couldn't go there.

Judy: It was always this kind of secret - what was going on there. No-one was allowed to know.

Philip: It will be quite a difficult process.

Judy: Psychologically it was a very big shock for a lot of Indonesian people to hear what happened there. All of a sudden news was opened up and reports were coming through. I think it was traumatic for many Indonesian people and they are still coming to terms with what has happened .

Philip: Indeed - I was there to see it happen - a great deal of information came through the internet, CNN or BBC World Service, then the Jakarta Post caught up with it.

Judy: Also I've just heard this week about a new Radio News Service called Radio68H which is the first Independent Indonesian Radio News Service. Prior to that radio news was controlled by the Government. So this new radio service was receiving reports from East Timor when all other communication was down and they distributed information through their network of Indonesian radio stations throughout Indonesia. They distribute up-to-date news three times a day. So there's now this amazing radio netwrok which we are going to be accessing. I've brought today's Indonesian news report for Tjintana to read tonight on the show - direct from Radio68H in Indonesia.

Tjintana: That's great. We realise Philip will have to go now, saya mau mengucapkan terima kasih banyak atas kehadiran anda di Suara Indonesia dan selamat sukses buat tahun depan. Come back next year and let us know how your projects are going.

Interview by Judith Shelley with Philip Booth and Tjintana Matahari

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