GABY RUSLI WRITES – Nowadays, widespread education is viewed as a method to acquire more wealth rather than a new-age privilege. In Andrea Hirata’s classic work, The Rainbow Troops (2005), he recounts his childhood on the island of Belitung, Indonesia, through the story of ten incredibly unique and eager students whose families depend upon to break the cycle of poverty. Though burdened with heavy responsibilities, the children found a genuine and deep love affair with learning and happiness by making the best out of any situation.
Ikal is a student at Belitung’s most underfunded and understaffed school, Muhammadiyah, with nine other children, all disadvantaged and living below the poverty line. Despite being one of the wealthiest islands in Indonesia for its plentiful reserves of tin, the residents of Belitung struggle to make ends meet due to corrupt government bureaucracy and the power monopoly of a foreign-led government tin company. Over the years, the students formed deep and unbreakable bonds with each other as they battled against the systemic discrimination that threatened to close their school and take away their rights to an education.
The Rainbow Troops was based on Andrea Hirata’s childhood on the island of Belitung. Despite coming from an underprivileged background, Hirata attained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Paris and Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K. through scholarships. After the release of The Rainbow Troops in 2005, the book quickly became a best-seller, selling five million official copies and fifteen million pirated copies. He later wrote three books as the sequel to The Rainbow Troops.
The Rainbow Troops is a light-hearted and moving piece of Indonesian literature fit for all ages. Though seemingly discernible and straightforward, the book brings the reader through a complex array of emotions, primarily a sense of wonder that one finds lacking in present times. The book reminds us of the importance of spirit and faith in our life-long journey as students in the school of life. Hirata did not interpret poverty as a crippling disability. He embraces the fact that poverty has a strong presence in many people’s lives, especially in developing countries like Indonesia. Instead, Hirata encourages people to keep dreaming big and to do good. Sometimes, one does not need to hear cold, hard statistics and facts but encouragement that inspires pure hope.
Hirata’s experience in both the world of poverty in his earlier years and privilege later in life has given him an invaluable perspective on a topic that is so often black and white. In the face of corruption, nepotism, and discrimination, the children of Muhammadiyah school did not let anything crush their spirits. Their difficulties made them more ravenous for knowledge and motivated to break barriers and change the world. Hirata’s The Rainbow Troops has revived a forgotten love for education.
New Book Reviewer, Gaby Rusli, is an International Relations graduate and environmentalist who is passionate about Indonesian and Southeast Asian political affairs.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.