From 23–31 May 2023, Samdhana set off on a Menoken journey in collaboration with RSBI Kupang and Juventude Inovativo. Travelling from Kupang in Indonesia to Timor Loro Sae in Timor-Leste, this event aimed to connect youth groups from communities in both nations, by sharing knowledge and finding common ground.
The journey began in Indonesia, with the gathering of participants from organisations in the fields of education, food and the arts. This included, among others, Sekolah Alam Papua Paradise from Merauke, South Papua; Kumpesa Rai Belu Atambua; the Atambua Film Community; Anak Lembata Riang Gembira (Alegra); an ecotourism initiative from Sorong, Papua; and members of the Lembata deaf community.
During the trip, participants visited a number of locations where they were able to share their traditional knowledge and heritage with other like-minded groups and apply this combined wisdom to the utilisation of natural resources in their respective homelands. One such location was the Manusak Nature School (Sekolah Alam Manusak) in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. Founded by Yahya Ado, this innovative school implements a ‘free learning’ curriculum, whereby teachers incorporate nature into children’s studies, with an emphasis on learning through play.
Solidarity and assistance: exploring Atambua and Matabesi
The participants continued their journey northeast through Atambua, where they met with Samuel Ngongo. More commonly known as ‘Kaka Pache’, Samuel has long been a champion for the rights of persons with physical disabilities in this region of Indonesia. He coordinates the Kumpesa Rai Belu group, which comprises 100 members with various disabilities. Together, they provide solidarity and assistance in the ongoing fight for their basic human rights, among others on equal access to sanitation for people with disabilities.
Further north, the Nokeners paid a visit to the Matabesi community, with whom they discussed ways to keep ancient traditions alive. They visited a ceremonial house, called an 'uma’, and met with a traditional holy man, or ‘Mako'an’, named Henderikus Meak. He invited the Nokeners to share betel nut (nginang), as a sign that they were welcome, before revealing more of the cultural practices unique to Matabesi.
Next, they met Rensy, a fellow Nokener from Matabesi and a member of the Kumpesa Rai Belu group. She explained that, in Matabesi culture, disability is venerated. According to local custom, one person’s burden should be carried, and therefore lessened, by the whole community; this is reflected in a common expression: "berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing". This sense of commonality and compassion is also encapsulated in the widely held Matabesi belief that ‘all are equal in the eyes of adat.’
From Indonesia to Timor-Leste, via generations of traditional knowledge
During the trip, the Nokeners discovered new and creative ways to elevate their communities. They visited Nunu Pou, a learning centre where children explore the culture of weaving according to traditional Atambua custom. Founded by Anastasia Dorotia Mau, the centre teaches children from an early age how to weave using traditional tools, imparting generations of specialist knowledge as she does so.
Upon arrival in Timor-Leste, the group met with a number of inspirational figures. This included the parish priest of Letefoho, Ermera, who invited them to visit a local coffee plantation and meet with the farmers. They also met with a midwife from the Hope for Health organisation, who gave the group an insight into her work providing pre- and post-natal care to the members of her community.
For a taste of local delicacies, the Nokeners visited EAMO, where youth groups in Timor-Leste produce a delicious mushroom dish. By sitting down and sharing food together, young people separated by borders were able to connect and compare their experience. This helped foster a sense of togetherness that’s essential to the wider ethos of Menoken; a platform that can bridge the gaps between communities, their products and their knowledge, to ultimately engender a sense of shared identity and solidarity.
Menoken events like this are rooted in the Noken philosophy, which values love, compassion and solidarity. They are about gathering together, camping, cooking, sharing food, exchanging stories and knowledge, or singing, dancing and enjoying cultural arts together.
From Kupang to Ermera and throughout the growing network of Nokeners worldwide, Samdhana’s overarching aim is to build enthusiasm and solidarity among Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities. Everyone involved in these events contributes to the sharing of knowledge and joy, by supporting each other with love and understanding.