A thousand virtual tents: Civil-society youth festival in Indonesia moves online

A festival in North Sumatra brings together the region’s engaged youth each year under the principles of create – collaborate – celebrate. Now in its fourth year, the 1,000 Tents of Toba Caldera Festival has risen to the challenge of the pandemic by moving its events online.

The 1,000 Tents of Toba Caldera Festival is an annual youth festival held by Rumah Karya Indonesia (RKI, or Indonesia House of Creation) on the shores of Lake Toba in North Sumatra. The three-day festival, first held in 2017, combines camping, discussions, and art performances. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Indonesia Office supported its implementation last year, where more than 4,000 participants joined. This year due to the pandemic, the festival was shifted into a virtual discussion. FES Indonesia Office talks with Tumpak Winmark Hutabarat, director of 1,000 Tents about his passion, strategies for engagement, and future dreams for fellow young people.


FES Indonesia: What are the objectives of the 1000 Tent Festival?

Tumpak Winmark Hutabarat: The inspiration for the 1,000 Tents of Toba Caldera Festival came about after participating in programmes supported by FES: the International Workers Festival in Dortmund in 2013 and the Degrowth Summer School in Leipzig in 2018.  Impressed by the energy at that time, I dreamed that one day a cool event like this would take place in Indonesia. I would like to see fellow youth in Indonesia, especially in North Sumatra, being progressive. The idea behind the 1,000 Tents Festival is quite similar to those in Germany where you can discuss about serious topics and enrich your knowledge and experience in a nice and relaxed setting, camping in beautiful location, and enjoying music performances.


How do you reach out to young people in a digital age?

I consider my Instagram account @siparjalang with 16,900 followers to be a strong asset for engagement. It becomes a platform for my voice. I know what young people in North Sumatra are interested in, and what they are capable of. We try to frame the issue and the dialogue using the style and language of young people, to allow exchange. Since the beginning 1,000 Tents have collaborated with young parliamentarians, filmmakers, and travel writers. We live streamed each session on the RKI Project YouTube channel and there is also a graphic recording of each session.


What were the topics discussed this year?

In total we held six discussion sessions, one each week from 4 June to 9 July 2020. The objective is to increase awareness of these topics. For example, the Future of Work for youth discussed how digital challenges and creative industries affect young people. With the changes brought about by the Internet of Things, the challenges for young people have also changed. We can find new types of work that never existed before, particularly in connection with big data and information technology.

Another topic we discussed was social security. Even though national health insurance is technically mandatory in Indonesia, many are still formally included. Initially it was difficult opening the discussion on this with young people as they did not feel it was a priority for them. Nevertheless, we pushed through because we felt it was important to build awareness of health insurance.


Your organization primarily works in the villages. Why should this be a focus for young people?

Yes, we discussed this in the session of young people and village development. We all realize that life in the cities is coming under greater pressure. More people will move from the cities to the villages, many of them returning home after a period of urban migration. I see a great opportunity in this. The trend in young people right now is slow living or traveling for experience. They crave more relaxed life, getting back to nature, organic farming, and enjoying an energy saving-lifestyle. The pandemic has forced people to improve their awareness of the importance of maintaining an ecological balance. We use this slow living and experience-based trend to encourage more young people to live in the villages. The future of the village is in the youth, and the future of the youth is in the village. With internet access everywhere and through creative thinking, people can highlight the potential of their village and draw more interests.


What is the follow-up plan for 1,000 Tents of Toba Caldera Festival?

We want to gather local champions from the participants this year. We want to convince these young people that they can do more. The gathering of 1,000 Tents brings participants from a range of different communities: travellers, student activists, youth from faith-based organizations, and regional associations. Our hope is that the new knowledge can be practised in their respective communities. This movement should not stop at the end of the organized events. Instead, we want to see it snowballing, getting bigger and reaching wider under its own momentum.

I have met many young people who feel discouraged because they have not achieved large-scale changes. Everybody wants to be a leader or be in important positions. I want to convince those people that there are still many ways to create, to educate. Changing small behaviours or taking small roles in the community is already a contribution that is within the reach of anyone.  I always want to say, let’s create, collaborate, and celebrate together. Because without collaborative processes or joining forces with other individuals, communities, or networks, our work will have less resonance and impact. 


This interview was conducted by Artanti Wadhani of the FES Indonesia Office. For more information on the work by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Indonesia visit their website or follow their official Facebook for daily updates. 

For more information about the 1,000 Tents of Toba Caldera Festival follow them on Instagram.

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