Thursday afternoon we went to Kampung Halaman, an NGO on the outskirts of Jogja that sponsors young student filmmakers. Kampung Halaman is a mentorship program that provides these students with the resources necessary to make and produce films about relevant issues affecting Indonesian youth. In addition to being an amazing organization, Kampung Halaman is literally paradise: nestled far off a back road somewhere outside of the city limits, the property overlooks a river that serves as both a fish hatchery as well as a swimming pool for the neighborhood children and cows.
After the tour, we went inside and viewed some of the films, two of which were produced by filmmakers present that day. The most remarkable movie for me was entitled “17 tahun keatas,” or “seventeen or older???” Elinah, the filmmaker, sat with us shyly as we watched her documentary on the effects of early marriages on the youth of her home village: Indramayu. We heard testimonies of girls who got married as young as 13, and were divorced by 15. They spoke about their experiences and the stigmas attached to continuing education (junior high school and senior high school), as well as the economical imperative driving such young arranged marriages. Standard bride price was about 100,000 IRP (roughly $12.50 USD). Although officially a girl must be at least 17 in order to be married in Indramayu, as one young woman explained, underage girls can be “upgraded” to age 17 in order to legally wed. The result: many young widows, even more young divorceés, and patterns of “serial marriage”. The alternative: migrant labor or sex work.
The movie concluded with some of the village girls speaking out against young arranged marriages. The messages were both personal and universal: although they addressed their parents and the people of Indramayu, their words resonated beyond the village limits and asked for all girls everywhere to continue their education.
Speaking with Elinah was one of the most inspiring conversations I have ever been a part of. Her perseverance and motivation to stay in school, in spite of her parent’s wishes for her to marry or get a job, were remarkable. Not only was Elinah able to complete her high school education, she has persuaded her parents to allow her to pursue a college degree. She’s currently waiting to hear back about a scholarship.
When Susan asked how she managed to convince her parents to let her remain unmarried, she said that she was lucky because “no one had asked her yet.” In Indramayu, it’s considered bad luck to refuse the first marriage proposal, so, Elinah jokingly explained, she considered herself very fortunate to never have been asked.
Although it’s probably trite and cliché, Elinah’s story, as well as her accomplishments, truly impacted me. She doesn’t speak English yet, but she is trying to learn so hopefully she will be able to participate in the research program next summer. We exchanged emails and I hope to show her film at Haverford next year!