Jiway Tung '89
Jiway Tung (center) gets the dirt on The Learning Farm; Tung with a class of young students (back row).
iway Tung ’89 was harvesting vegetables on his farm in Indonesia when children began chasing kites through his fields. Rows flattened, he contemplated his options: Build a fence. Find some guard dogs. Or, take positive action and offer the children weekend classes in English, crafts, and computers.
Thus, Tung began providing educational opportunities for more than 60 children, taught by volunteers. But it didn’t end there; the classes were merely a seed. Tung saw the possibilities inherent in combining organic farming and education, and imagined a place where at-risk youth and street kids could live full time, not only learning practical skills but also, through teamwork and the exploration of the arts, becoming healthy contributors to the wider community.
With big ideas but no credentials for garnering financial backing, Tung enrolled in a master’s program in sustainable international development at Brandeis University. Under the auspices of World Education in Jakarta and Boston, the Karang Widya Foundation— Sanskrit for “The Learning Farm”—was born. TLF, as Tung calls it, is home to about 30 young people, all of whom may stay as long as their needs can be met and they demonstrate a commitment to learning. Most stay from four months to a year.
Tung’s interest in global development has its roots at Sarah Lawrence, where he was encouraged by teachers Priscilla Murolo, Shanaz Rouse, and Ray Seidelman. Early on, he studied child development and worked at the Early Childhood Center, but his passion was political science. However, he found “a somewhat inevitable gap between theory and practice—learning about dependency theory, for example, while living in a sheltered and privileged community.” So he set out to gain practical experience, first at a summer internship organizing immigrant janitorial workers in California, then spending a semester researching the refugee situation on the Texas-Mexico border through an Amnesty International fellowship.
Throughout his years at the College, Tung studied white crane silat, a Chinese-Indonesian martial art. Two years after graduation, he moved to Indonesia to continue his silat study; he also taught English through the Princeton-in-Asia program.
A turning point in Tung’s life came in 1998, when riots broke out targeting ethnic Chinese. He had been studying Indonesian history and following the student reform movement at the University of Indonesia. He describes the riots as “horrific and traumatizing…a sort of loss of innocence for me in my life as an ex-patriate.” Disheartened by the violence and the disintegration of the student movement, Tung started searching for new ways to make a difference.
Inspired by the biography of Miyamoto Musashi, the “sword saint” of Japan who became a farmer, Tung and his wife, Rella, borrowed a small piece of land and began studying organic farming with Father Agatho, a Swiss priest. “It was so exciting to plant things, see them interact with the surrounding environment and grow…Holding a handful of seeds, I could feel this energy awakening.” Their farm was one of very few in Indonesia to employ organic methods, and they soon found a market for their produce. Enter the kites, and Tung’s transition from farmer to teacher.
With every nonprofit enterprise comes the challenge of finding financial support, an endeavor that currently occupies most of Tung’s energy. Although TLF is mostly self-supporting, the training program relies upon nonrenewable funding that expires in June. New buildings and more farming space are needed. Tung envisions expanding the farm’s business and sharing the foundation’s acquired knowledge with policymakers who could help to broaden the program’s impact.
Testimony to the success of Tung’s efforts comes from the students themselves. Joko, a TLF graduate, has started his own organic farm with two friends from the program. “I feel proud because I can explain about biodiversity and why it’s important, and how we can have a role in deciding what to plant and how to adjust to market demands. But sometimes I am still overcome by feelings of insecurity. How can we—just street youth—be capable and so overconfident as to dare to teach other people?”
Indeed, Tung’s belief that street youth, like everyone, can affect others is at the heart of the program’s success. And as its graduates move out into the community, more seeds continue to be planted.
— Gillian Gilman Culff ’88
For more information, or to donate to The Learning Farm, contact email@example.com.