Online schooling in Indonesia? It takes a village.

A dozen journalists in Indonesia campaigned to collect about 200 mobile phones and about $35,000 to help underprivileged students with schooling online at home during the pandemic. They have distributed nearly 300 phones so far.

Tatan Syuflana/AP
Indonesian journalist Ghina Ghaliya packs up used mobile phones for students who lack internet access, at her apartment in Tangerang, Indonesia, Sept. 25, 2020. Her campaign to collect mobile phones to help children access online school received overwhelming support.

When a garbage collector came to Ghina Ghaliya’s house in the Indonesian capital and asked if she had an old mobile phone his children could use to access the internet, it sparked an idea for a broader campaign to help students stuck at home by the coronavirus.

“He said it does not matter if it is the ugly one, as long as his children can use it for learning from home,” said Ms. Ghaliya, a journalist at a national newspaper. “I thought there must be many people who need second hand mobile phones out there.”

Shortly after the pandemic hit Indonesia, Ms. Ghaliya and 11 other journalists in Jakarta organized a group to provide food and money to people in need. They started hearing from parents who wanted their children to be able to study online but lacked a way to access the internet.

Ms. Ghaliya was reminded of her conversation with the garbage collector and she and the other journalists decided to shift their focus to providing mobile phones for underprivileged students, many of whom were still not allowed to do face-to-face learning when the new school year started in July.

They announced their campaign through social media and the response was overwhelming, with people donating second-hand units and others giving cash.

As of November, they had collected more than 200 mobile phones. Cash donations amounted to more than $35,000, allowing them to buy more phones and also purchase prepaid internet for the recipients.

So far, nearly 300 phones have been distributed to Indonesian students around Jakarta as well as to remote regions like Papua, the country’s most eastern province.

Helping students take part in online schooling brings happiness to Ms. Ghaliya and her journalist friends.

“We really hope the mobile phones can be used as much as they can during the pandemic,” Ms. Ghaliya said.

Khaissyah Levi is a vocational high school student in Depok, West Java, who attends online classes in the morning. His father Deny Sayuti had been lending his mobile phone to his son for his studies, but that meant Mr. Sayuti could only do his work as a motorcycle taxi driver for part of the day, missing out on peak times like the morning rush hour.

Mr. Sayuti wrote to Ms. Ghaliya’s group in August, and his family received a mobile phone a month later. Mr. Sayuti believes that his son can now do better with his online studies.

“Now I see him more comfortable, and he can directly reach out to his friends and teacher,” Mr. Sayuti said.

Qayran Ruby Al Maghribi had also been using his father’s mobile phone to attend three video calls a week with his teachers and collect his assignments.

But the primary school boy sometimes sent his homework late because he had to wait for his father to return from work as a motorcycle taxi driver in order to get back online. For the first time in his life, Qayran was falling behind in his studies, which along with taking care of his sick mother was causing him stress.

But a big smile appeared on Qayran’s face when he received the mobile phone sent by Ms. Ghaliya’s group.

“I will use the phone to do online school every day,” Qayran said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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