By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
In the fourth largest country in the world, in terms of population, people dream of eliminating corruption, climbing out of poverty, and becoming educated.
That country lies in a wide archipelago between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It is four times the size of the state of Texas. Yet, even with 230 million people calling it home, Indonesia is a country that most Americans admit to knowing very little about.
At least that’s what Ismail Budhiarso has experienced.
Budhiarso grew up in Semarang, in the province of Central Java. He immigrated to Seattle in 1993 and currently works as a senior research manager at Health Research Associates.
Beyond his day job, he finds purpose in the CERDAS Foundation, where he serves as president.
Education through CERDAS
In 2001, members of Pengajian-Seattle, a small Indonesian Muslim community in Seattle, worried over the number of economically disadvantaged children in Indonesia who were dropping out of school. They decided to do something about it. They decided to pay the elementary school tuition fees and for school supplies for two students in Subang, West Java.
Ronny Umboh, one of three men on CERDAS Foundation’s board of directors, said, “We’re growing every year, steady, until we’ve reached 127 students [this year].”
“We believe that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty,” states the foundation’s website.
CERDAS means intelligent in Indonesian and is a term used to describe a sharp mind.
The foundation, made up of volunteers, provides financial aid to children in Indonesia, so they have equal access to education, regardless of their ethnic, religious, economic, social, or political backgrounds.
“Usually, they don’t have a chance to go to school because they have to help [earn income] for their families. This is one of the biggest problems,” said Budhiarso. “We give a chance to these kids to not only help themselves, but also to help their families.”
Along with a middle class population of about 35 million people, Indonesia has about 33 million living in poverty.
“Most of our kids — they’re all the way from elementary school to high school,” said Budi Danuningrat, the second member of the foundation’s board of directors and a managing partner and vice president of business development at Kirkland-based OSS Integrators.
CERDAS officers are proud of what’s happened since the foundation officially launched in 2007.
“We have a very bright kid who was accepted to one of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia. It’s the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) of Indonesia, Bandung Institute of Technology, and she has been admitted there,” said Budhiarso, beaming.
Consisting of 17,000 islands — 6,000 inhabited — Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population. It is also the world’s third most populous democracy.
Danuningrat said, “We want to make sure [CERDAS] covers all of the religions that exist in Indonesia. In terms of race, there are 33 provinces. There are different cultural backgrounds, and we want to make sure all of those are covered as well.”
“We are open to all different races and religions.”
Indonesia’s diversity differentiates it from other Asian countries. Budhiarso said, “[Its] culture, I think, can be summarized as a mix of a lot of good cultures in the world, [even] European culture, because Indonesia was under Dutch [rule] for a long time.”
Indonesia gained independence in August 1945 from the Netherlands, which agreed to transfer sovereignty in 1949.
The CERDAS Foundation’s second mission is to provide relief assistance to the Southeast Asian country following natural disasters. Indonesia has the highest density of volcanoes in the world — almost 500.
On Dec. 26, 2004, one of the country’s largest earthquakes — magnitude-9.1 to 9.3 off the island of Sumatra — caused a tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 12 countries, including 165,700 Indonesians and 35,400 in Sri Lanka.
The fault line, which runs the entire length of the west coast of Sumatra, is the meeting point of two of the world’s dozen major tectonic plates. Indonesia sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that line the eastern and western parts of the Pacific.
Mount Merapi, located in Central Java, 250 miles east of Jakarta, began erupting last October, which was followed by more than a dozen explosive blasts and thousands of tremors.
Less than a month later, the CERDAS Foundation distributed $5,645 to the Indonesian Red Cross and Hoshi-Zora.org to help the victims of Merapi and surrounding volcanoes.
The CERDAS Foundation will hold its fourth annual Kids Festival this autumn. In addition to accepting donations, the foundation invites the general public to volunteer to help with outreach efforts and fundraising.
“I think the most important thing is the existence of this organization,” Budhiarso said. “For people from Indonesia, Indonesian Americans and Americans, this organization is a place to know each other.” ♦
For more information about the CERDAS Foundation, go to www.cerdasfoundation.net.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.