Author Archives: Joana Schliemann

Indonesia May 2014: The Outset

Leaving London at the cusp of summer behind, I packed up and joined my friend Kartika in Jakarta to go on a fact finding mission and do some idea plotting for her Kartika Soekarno Foundation. I have always loved this archipelago of more than 16.000 tropical islands sprinkled along the equator. I connected with Indonesia a long time ago, in the seventies, when I learned how to swim at the Kartika Plaza Hotel and tried my own version of temple dancing at Borobudur with my sister, who came to us from Manado.

Indonesia is a kaleidoscope of hundreds of different cultures with its courteous, spiritual, yet eccentric and charismatic people, united into a hub of multiculturalism. It seems this diverse island state is confidently zigzagging towards a complex, democratic, 21st Century nation.

As a newly appointed trustee of KSF, I better acquaint myself with the ‘new’ Indonesia and gather some on-the-ground facts and local intelligence.

Here I am, on a field trip to buzzing, rumour breeding, pre-election Jakarta and a 24-hour stint to Surabaya. I cannot wait to delve into this manic momentum, just before this fourth most populous nation goes to the polls. I have tried to get the gist of Jakarta’s politicking, but despite my self-prescribed daily doses of Jakarta Post and relentless quizzing of Jakartavites, I did not manage to see through the gossip jungle and short lived alliances, that get cut like lianas overnight.



Jakarta has mushroomed into a vast and vibrant metropolis, dominated by a new generation of glam, success-hungry hipsters that even the perpetual asphyxiating traffic disaster cannot hold back. In swanky restaurants and bars they talk about pollution and education, as the elite in all global capitals does, but this does not yet translate into action for the wider public, especially not beyond the expanding city limits of Jakarta.

That’s why last November, Kartika, together with Erasmus House, had initiated a major screening of the film ‘Trashed’ with Jeremy Irons attending, to get the debate going. A jump-start initiative, which also included a new awareness campaign at the KSF Posyandus, to get the kids on the right track: Get rid-off the plastic epidemic, cut the stinging smog and ban garbage abuse.

Besides pollution, there is another sore issue in Indonesia: Education, the Raison d’être for the formation of KSF with the purpose to instigate and imply change on the school front. A humble contribution towards a prosperous and democratic Indonesia of the future. At the moment the average Indonesian child attends school about six years only and the quality of teaching is of sub-ideal standard. So KSF has launched a teacher training programme to remedy the status quo.

Author: Joana Schliemann

Off to Surabaya: First stop – the Jawa Pos

After spending a couple of revelatory days in Jakarta, where Kartika had introduced me to the most intriguing set of characters, a palette of opinion leaders with different perspectives and expertise: Indonesian activists and influential thinkers, diplomats, strategists, as well as local business people, many of them proper ‘Power Ibus’, it was now time to venture out for new KSF initiatives. Off to Surabaya, second largest city in Indonesia and the capital of East Java.

Kartika and Karim plotting on the way to the Jawa Pos

Kartika and Karim plotting on the way to the Jawa Pos.

Kartika’s friend Karim Raslan had organised an impressive itinerary: Among other Surabayan personalities, he had arranged encounters with the two most outstanding Power Ibus: Ibu Risma, famed Mayoress of Surabaya and Ibu Nani of the Jawa Pos. We almost perished en route: Heart arrest – caused by nearly missing our flight due to the endemic traffic situation in Jakarta. Just to make sure our hearts would not rest, our cheeky driver, who had picked us up at the state-of-the-art Surabaya airport, decided it was more efficient to drive against the one-way, two lane carriageway. Along with the sun set we arrived at the HQ of Graha Pena and the Jawa Pos. We were greeted by a hoard of photographers and the striking, dynamic Über-Ibu Nani, visionary and activist, who helms the PT Jawa Pos Holding. Ibu Nani whisked us through her various news rooms, all equipped with a gym and fridges for breast milk.

Hot-off-the press: Abdul Rokhim, Kartika, Arif Santoso and Karim checking out the new edition of the Jawa Pos.

Hot-off-the press: Abdul Rokhim, Kartika, Arif Santoso and Karim checking out the new edition of the Jawa Pos.


An impressive crowd of young reporters and journalists, as well as the Chief of News Coverage, Pak Arif Santoso, guided us through the 200-local-newspapers producing publishing powerhouse. I was struck by the reporters’ involvement with each paper’s respective local community. Striving to make a change and improve the lives of their readers, Jawa Pos launches pragmatic programmes from child rearing courses to accounting. There is something for everybody, especially for the hard-to-please youth.

Kartika and Arif Santoso, Kepala Liputan (Chief of News Coverage) posing in front of Jawa Pos’ countless local papers.

Kartika and Arif Santoso, Kepala Liputan (Chief of News Coverage) posing in front of Jawa Pos’ countless local papers.

The Jawa Pos has also developed an internationally awarded women’s section ‘For Her’, spreading beauty and cuisine secrets, as well as advice on career and education issues. Here we are with the dynamo team of ‘Her’ journalistas.

Besides Kartika and me, the KSF team was represented by Juliarty Soejarman Masson, KSF’s fairy-like Operations Manager, as well as chivalrous Pak Budy Sutanto, a Co-Trustee and old chum of Kartika’s.

Ibu Nani and Kartika trying Javanese delicacies and forging alliances

Ibu Nani and Kartika trying Javanese delicacies and forging alliances

Ibu Nani had invited us to join her and the JP correspondents for a sumptuous buffet of Javanese specialities, which was followed by an informal press conference in the board room. A frank and open ‘Q and A’ session followed Kartika’s introductory presentation of KSF. There was amiable laughter, candidness and an instantaneous connection over a range of social issues:

Empowerment of women, accessible health, the urgency of environmental awareness and governmental transparency.

It also emerged that the Jawa Pos is hosting a Posyandu Festival, and spontaneously invited Kartika and KSF to participate. What an ideal platform for KSF. In fact, it was jokingly agreed, Kartika could become the official Ambassadress of Pasyandus.

The concept of the Posyandu is actually an intrinsically Indonesian, genial tradition.



I had visited my first KSF Posyandu two years ago in Gianyar, Bali, to check out how they operate. My family and I were welcomed in a truly stately manner. To see a Posyandu in action was an eye-opener: Zesty KSF trained lady volunteers, dressed in their smart uniforms, rolled up their sleeves and helped young families and their children. Assisting with all matters on health and nutrition, the KSF Posyandus are also providing early learning tools, expertise and facilities. What an asset to have these angel volunteers pop up and serve the village community.


Author: Joana Schliemann

Vice turns into virtue in Bangunsari

Generously hosted by Ibu Raudlotul

Generously hosted by Ibu Raudlotul

Our Surabaya evening was destined to turn into a rather late night. After the Jawa Pos, we crossed town to visit the compassionate compound of Ustadz Khoiron Syu’aib and his capable wife, Ibu Raudlotul Jankaroti. The Taman Pendidikan Islam is situated in the middle of the former entertainment district of Bangunsari. This amusement quarter used to be packed with brightly lit karaoke bars blasting top hits across the streets and shady dancers roaming the dark alleyways.

Although this has recently changed, due to the grip of Ibu Risma’s reign, there are still needy and vulnerable women and children, remnants from those days of profligacy, typical of a port city.

The Ustadz’s legendary institution is an oasis of hope and peace, set up with the purpose to show and teach the lost souls of Bangusari the essence and compassion of Islam.

The Ustadz himself was attending a seminar in another province, so Ibu Raudlotul showed us around her tranquil compound and offered us delicacies from her kitchen.

Kartika, toured around the compound by Ibu Raudlotul

Kartika, toured around the compound by Ibu Raudlotul

Intrigued by the harmony of this place, we wanted to explore further the roots of Javanese Islam in Surabaya. Ibu proposed an impromptu pilgrimage to the holy site of the Sunan Ampel Cemetery. This was the tomb of one of Java’s early missionaries from the Middle East, the holy Sunan Ampel, the spiritual force behind Java’s first Islamic Kingdom, who passed away in 1481.

Author: Joana Schliemann

Deliverance at Sunan Ampel and the Majapahit


Back into our fleet of cars and equipped with colourful scarves from Ibu, we were on our way to Sunan’ Ampels grave. Nearly midnight, we were jostling our path through a narrow lane of stalls selling spices, scents, cloth and garish souvenirs. I was told this mellow bazaar is inhabited by Arabs from Yemen and Chinese, who have lived and traded here for hundreds of years.

Even at this hour, the dimly lit cemetery of Sunan Ampel was crowded with devout men and women. Paying their respects and finding solace at this serene holy site, the pilgrims were whispering and singing their prayers, children squeaking, fountain splashing, all merging into a blanket of soothing sounds.


Enlightened by this spiritual experience, it was time to turn to more worldly aspects of our outing and check into our Hotel before it was closing its doors.

We wished a warm fare well to Ibu Raudlotul and her team, leaving a boxes of English chocolates to thank her.


Slightly fading after this action-packed day, our arrival at the Hotel Majahapit brought me back alive. I had travelled in time: This impeccably preserved, tropical Art Deco palace with its non- chalant elegance, evokes adventures of sensual indulgence and feudal society.

The Majahapit exudes historic gravitas. This is the place, where in 1945, one of the first public patriotic acts was committed: The Dutch flag was removed and proudly replaced with the Merah Putih, the Indonesian flag, reaffirming Indonesia’s independence.


A rare gem of a hotel, with its lush patios of exotic flowers, Palm trees and columned, white marble archways, it conjures up the splendour of a time long past.

I finally slumped into the crisp linen of my bed and slept blissfully….

Author: Joana Schliemann

The Miracle of Surabaya


Our day started at the coffee shop of the Majapahit with Pak Liem Ou Yuen, a kind-hearted Surabaya charity veteran, who umbrellas about 60 different charities. To check if KSF could cover some common ground within the framework of Pak Liem Ou Yuen’s initiatives, new ideas were thrown into the conversation.

Energised with freshly brewed Indonesian coffee, the moment had come to meet the legendary Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, alias Ibu Risma, at her official Residence.

It was a great honour that this omnipresent Über-Mayor, who is rumoured to be at different places at the same time, would find the time to receive us. Our mission was to explore, if KSF, together Ibu’s team of ‘Duracell’ town hall officers, could join forces to bring education up to exemplary standards in the Surabaya region.

Apropos ‘exemplary’. Ibu Risma, also a mother of two adult children, has quite something to show for: The minute you enter the city gates of Surabaya, a town of no less than 9 million people, including the metro area, a blissful atmosphere evokes a healthy equilibrium between progress and nature. Garbage and urban curb scrapings of all sorts appear to have been miraculously hovered away. Surabaya’s air is properly photosynthesised and breathable – something Jakarta air fails to be. There is green, and lots of it: almost every street corner boasts bunches of lush vegetation. Water permeates the city, not only the recently- cleaned up River Mas, but also the numerous, newly built fountains to the joy of local children.

There is a sense of integrity about Surabaya’s buildings, its people, and their history. This regional capital is also dubbed “City of Heroes” due to the game-changing Battle of Surabaya, inciting Indonesian and international support for Indonesian independence during the National Revolution that raged from 1945 to 1949. Most importantly though, Surabaya is the birthplace of Kartika’s father, Indonesia’s first and founding President Soekarno.

Ibu Risma holding audience....

Ibu Risma holding audience….

It is this place of historical significance, where Ibu Risma has reigned for over 6 years and shaken the political establishment. Ibu Risma is continuously fighting multi-front battles, which has earned her the respect of her citizens, offering deeds rather than the usual empty promises of politicians. Her reputation of being efficient and straight forward, making the impossible possible, Ibu Risma has become a beacon of good governance that is shining far beyond Java.

Ibu Risma, Budy Sutanto and Kartika exchanging welcome presents

Ibu Risma, Budy Sutanto and Kartika exchanging welcome presents

After a cordial welcome at her Official Residence imbued with nostalgic flair and a light hearted chat over sweet tea and coco jelly, in true Ibu Risma manner, we got down to ‘business’ instantly.

Pak Ikhsan chatting to Ibu Risma and Kartika

Pak Ikhsan chatting to Ibu Risma and Kartika

It was agreed that Indonesian teachers lack the necessary education to produce capable and competitive graduates of the 21st Century. In the PISA study (Progress In Student Achievement), Indonesia ranked 64 out 65 nations. The Education Officer, Pak Ikhsan, was called in straightaway to take matters further. Pak Ikhsan was to co-ordinate the KSF teacher training programme with the municipal’s school administration in a few weeks’ time.

Boasting with local fashion accessories and interior objects...

Boasting with local fashion accessories and interior objects

Ibu Risma then proudly presented us with a vast variety of stylish and skilfully produced arts and crafts goods, home-and-hand made by housewives. These women were trained as part of a community initiative to help increase the low incomes of their families without neglecting their motherly duties.

Most generously our wish was granted that Ibu Risma would take us on a tour around town. Not in her car though, as it was not meant to ferry snooping out-of-towners around. Ibu Risma’s iconic ‘Mayor Mobile’ is packed with more important stuff than passenger’s seats: A broom, in case of a garbage emergency, a shovel, should a plant need impromptu replanting, a football, to have some fun with local rascals, black bin bags, and a pair of wellies to master flooding and possibly more unpleasant incidents. And, don’t be fooled, these tools would not be passed on, it is Ibu Risma herself rolling up her sleeves and getting the job done.


During our cruise around Surabaya, Ibu Risma is not letting go of her constantly crackling Walkie- Talkie, the umbilical cord to her city.


Our first stop is ‘Taman Ekspresi’. This outdoor library, diorama and open-air gallery, is showing art works made out of recycled materials, among other surprising objects. This is one example of her famed 972 ‘Mini Libraries’, commonly placed in pleasant ‘Edu- Parks’. These parks all aspire to have an educational angle, be it history, nutrition or even cancer. The topics are visually explained through figurines and other tangible items, which are poetically positioned within their green spaces.


Kartika posing next to a historical scene with her father at ‘Ekspresi Park’


By the way, all ‘Edu parks’ are equipped with free Wi-Fi and have subsequently turned into a vibrant forum for Generation X. Your basic ‘Mini Library’ is equipped with an array of books on everyday matters, such as religion, geography, biology, business administration and more, as well as providing early learning tools. These bibliophilic abodes radiate harmony and peace. They are the perfect environment for parents and children to hang out after school to complement, or possibly advance the school curriculum, or even the parent’s knowledge.


‘Edu Parks’ are Ibu Risma’s trademark. We are simply awe-struck by this idiosyncratic idea and metropolitan philosophy.


While we are hopping across town, Ibu Risma’s popularity is indisputable. Everybody, young and old, privileged or poor, students or labourer, all came up to say hello and have a casual chat. No protocol, just mutual respect and warmth.


The ‘Ibu Risma Kliniks’ at the youth centre

The youth centre we visited, offered small-group language courses in English and Mandarin, as well as career clinics for accounting, investments, stock reading, computer sciences, and a pop-up job agency.

We stopped for a quick lunch to refuel at Ria Galleria, a chic art gallery-cum-restaurant, a Surabaya institution. Upon arrival we were presented with a tray of extraordinary, luminous rainbow-coloured drinks with frothy coco toppings, immediately raising insulin levels and restoring our energy.


Kartika and Ibu Risma in front of the Rumah HOS Cokroaminoto

With not much ado, Ibu Risma seized the moment and drove us to Rumah HOS Cokroaminoto. This used to be the house, or rather compound of activists, under the auspices of Hadji Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto. HOS was the head of the influential and revolutionary organisation ‘Serekat Islam’ at the time and most importantly the mentor of the young Bung Karno, later the founding father of Indonesia. As a young man, Kartika’s father boarded and spent some of his forming years here.


Bung Karno’s favourite book store, Toko Buku Peneleh, Peneleh, is still across the street.


Today these beautifully kept and restored tropical, semi-colonial houses are perched along a calm pedestrian alleyway, stoically reminding of a place, where history was concocted.


Visiting the sleeping quarters of Bung Karno, as Soekarno was then called


Stirring up emotions of memory and loss, Kartika was moved by the prevailing ambiance of erudition and idealism, defined by memorabilia, sepia-coloured photographs and elegant, art-deco- ish teak furniture, witnesses of a game-changing moment. It certainly was a solemn occasion and I felt privileged to be part of it.


Ibu Risma is admittedly a Soekarno devotee and often takes lots of young school children to this place to teach them about their country’s beginnings and how it came about.


Ibu Risma, Kartika and Juliarty paying tribute to the Founding Father of Indonesia

Back at the Majapahit, we had our last bonding session on global political issues, while a few seats away, a beautiful, young bride was getting prepped by her chatty girlfriends for her big day in a big dress. This is Indonesia’s future.

Jakarta was calling and it was time to say our farewells. Our 24-hour stint to a transformed Surabaya was a revelation with its memorable encounters of visionaries and doers.

A discovery of home-grown Indonesian social activism with global appeal and a cultural commitment to their citizens at large.

At the airport, we are taking our gift bags from Ibu Risma through security, they claim: ‘Surabaya – you will love every corner of it’. Indeed, we did.

Author: Joana Schliemann