“The Democracy School made me realize that education is key to help people appreciate their own capacity to change their destiny”
In Indonesia, NIMD supports local Democracy Schools where young politicians, social activists, and professionals are trained in democratic values and practices. The schools offer a unique venue to involve citizens in local politics, foster a new generation of democratic politicians, and deepen Indonesian democracy.
Since 2004, Democracy Schools have been set up in five provinces. More than 500 students have successfully completed the one-year course. About 100 of those participated this year in the elections as legislative candidates. The Democracy Schools are an initiative of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID) with support of NIMD.
My name is Tri Umiyati, Umi for short. I am a businesswoman - I run a hotel - and a graduate of the Democracy School in Malang. This year I participated in the elections as a legislative candidate for the Democratic Party. My constituency is Junrejo, a community situated about 15 kilometers from the city of Malang.
I have always been interested in politics. During my childhood, my father trained me to become a politician. Early on I joined his party but I never became a legislative candidate for I was too young and needed more experience. Instead I became active in organizing women within the party and advised the board on gender issues.
I heard about the Democracy School when it had just started offering courses three years ago. A friend of mine told me that the courses are not only for aspiring politicians and social activists but also open to professionals who want to learn about democracy. It appealed to me but it was too late to apply. Last year I eventually seized the opportunity to enroll.
When the course began, I wondered how this small class of about 20 people or so could help me learn anything about how democracy works in practice. Yet what I learned there was beyond my imagination. I was taught how to think critically, how to deliver good public speeches, and share my political views with an audience.
The course also introduced me to democratic philosophy. Since I am a practical thinker, I admit that it was difficult material. However, I have come to appreciate the importance of thinking about democracy from different points of view. It has helped me understand how democracy can work in Indonesia.
At the Democracy School, I did not only attend classes but also engaged in practical activities outside the classroom. I have performed in a democracy talk show series on radio and television, and with others I initiated an outreach activity, providing inhabitants of the Singosari district with information about how to obtain credit for their farms and other small businesses.
I like the aphorism ‘mighty oaks from little acorns’, which means great things start very small. My own business grew from small beginnings. Similarly I have come to believe in the growth of democracy in Indonesia. The Democracy School has convinced me of that. Due to the course I took, I think I have become more democratic, in the sense that I have become more open to discussions with people who have different backgrounds and opinions. I have also come to believe that democratic politics is the best way to improve conditions for all.
That is the reason why I joined the electoral competition: I want to be a part of these improvements. My constituency consists of people whose livelihoods depend on a variety of activities and income levels - from agriculture and cattle breeding, to handicraft manufacturing and trading. As a businesswoman I can only attend to the needs of some. But as a politician I can use my experience to try and help many more people improve their condition.
The course I took at the Democracy School made me realize that education is key to help people appreciate their own capacity to change their destiny. And since I am a practical thinker after all, I already have some feasible plans to improve economic circumstances in my constituency. For instance, I would like to help develop a business that uses the milk produced in Junrejo to make yoghurt and cheese of good quality. This will make cattle breeders less dependent on the market price for raw milk and bring employment opportunities to the community.