When I had an idea to establish Sumatra Heritage Trust (BWS) in Medan, there was hardly anyone with appropriate skills available on the grass-root level. People who were familiar with the idea of cultural heritage, in this case, historical buildings, were mostly lecturers at the local universities. We need representatives from the private sector (for financial and facilities sources) and community (as volunteers for implementation of plans and programs). That was a general idea when I looked for who was in town that I could approach to set up the organization. Medan specifically and Sumatra generally are too precious to be left alone for their cultural heritage assets without local guardians.
It took me about a year to finally gather necessary numbers of the Founders of Sumatra Heritage Trust. A promising formation of 4 entrepreneurs, 2 lecturers, and 2 community representatives.
The next homework was to educate local youngsters to be cultural heritage professionals. We recruited students and fresh graduates as volunteers and sent them to uncountable conferences, internships, and programs mostly in Indonesia, the neighboring countries and the rest of the world. Penang Heritage Society has been a good counterpart for BWS by providing internship opportunities. ICOMOS Australia and some other organizations have hosted capacity building programs as well. The farthest opportunity came from Newfoundland, Canada, for an expert exchange program.
Some volunteers took initiatives to study formally in cultural heritage from various angles, mostly the tangible one (historical buildings or landscape). Fast forward 20 years later, in 2019, there are several masters and doctoral graduates in Medan specifically and in Sumatra generally. They did it all themselves so we couldn't take any credits for the achievements. It is only a huge difference from the 1990s when no single graduates available in the profession.
All of them, all of us, are human capital in the cultural heritage sector. It takes a very long process to keep education, formally and informally, ongoing.
If I look back, I think human capital is the most crucial step that needs to be maintained all the time in any period of time by any leaders of the organization.
On 15 August 2019, all the hard work to create the human capital harvested the fruit. The new generation took over the leadership of BWS. A new Executive Director supported by a promising team with a convincing set of programs. If you ever in a position of a (co) founder, you know how it feels to have a leadership estafet. It is a huge relief when you know that a system works and sustained when the founders have left.
These young leaders of BWS are the local heroes. Taking care of cultural heritage in Medan feels almost like a suicidal attempt when nobody is being paid, while tasks and job responsibilities are very demanding and time-consuming. If we don't believe in what we do, we will not have survived this long.
Congratulations the new leaders of BWS! As the Beatles said, it is a long and winding road.....be strong and never give up.