When our team got to the island of Pulau Air Raja in a tiny fishing boat, we realised there weren’t any stairs to climb up to the decaying planks that make up the jetty.
We had to scurry up a trellis of wooden sticks tied together by hand.
The islanders got a kick out of watching us city-folk do this. As we found out soon enough, no matter how old they were or how they were dressed, every one of them could go up and down with ease and grace, unlike us.
For the kids, the rickety hand crafted jetty with broken, often unsecured planks and huge gaps was just another exciting section of their playground. They bounded around without fear, oblivious to the fact that one misstep would mean falling into the sea. Those missteps never seemed to happen.
Air Raja is a peaceful island in the Riau Archipelago of Indonesia. The “port” is connected to the village by a steep path that cuts through the forest. If you’re lucky, someone on a motorbike will be making the journey up the hill and offer you a ride. There are no cars on the island.
And even though it is less than an hour by fishing boat from the bustling port city of Batam, it feels much farther away. There is no electricity, and not all the 200 or so houses have running water.
It’s something that fisherman and former village head Pak Bakri - who’s now running for government office - hopes to change.
He says he wants development like in the big cities, and to improve the local economy that currently relies heavily on fishing. He also wants to see the waters cleaned up, so the island can live up to its name, which translates to Water King Island.
His progressive approach has made it possible for Nusantara Development Initiatives (NDI) to become the first charity to carry out a long-term developmental project on Pulau Air Raja.
The Singapore-registered non-profit focuses on what it considers a basic need: light.
Working closely alongside the community, NDI started a project three years ago to empower women to become entrepreneurs.
There are now five Ibu Rumah Terang, or Mothers of Light, who sell solar lamps to the residents on their own and nearby islands.
As businesswomen, they enjoy additional income for their families, gain new respect from the community and feel more confident and capable than before.
NDI has since started expanding the programme, looking at other relevant products for the women to sell, and it has also taken the solar lamp project to two other islands.
So far, 21 Ibu Rumah Terang have sold clean and affordable lighting to more than 2,100 households in the region, and with your help, that number is set to grow.
Learn more about how NDI trains the Ibu Rumah Terang, donate or purchase a nifty solar lamp, or get details on how to become an NDI volunteer on their website.
Filmed and edited by Anshul Tiwari
Produced by Ashima Thomas
Text by Ashima Thomas