Yogyakarta – Volcanic eruptions, buried treasure and the search for community resilience.

Having flown half way around the world to share my research on how transformative learning impacts on adaptation and resilience towards disaster risk and make links with Indonesian researchers, I find myself staring at a clock. But the hands on the clock don’t move. Because they can’t. Ever. The clock I am looking at is a permanent record of a pyroclastic surge that enveloped the small settlement I am now standing in, following the eruption of Merapi volcano in 2010. The collection of everyday objects, known locally as Museum Sisa Hartaku (which translates as: ‘My remaining Treasure Museum’) were melted and twisted out of shape when burning hot clouds of ash and particulates as hot as 300 degrees Celsius surged into local homes. Thankfully, the residents had evacuated. However, their pets and animals were not so lucky.

eruption of Merapi volcano in 2010

Clock – Museum Sisa Hartaku which translates as ‘My Remaining Treasure Museum’, following the eruption of Merapi volcano in 2010.

And so I gain a very small insight about the choices faced by individuals, families and communities living on an active planet that has potential to bring both great bounty and loss. It is part of the reason I am here as an early career researcher: creating research ties between the UK and Indonesia around the subjects of disaster risk reduction, resilience, well-being and culture. And rather than being an afterthought, culture is integral to understanding how learning is interpreted and influences long-term cognition, attitude and behaviour towards disaster risk. The aims of the workshop at which I have come to present are closely aligned with my own research, which is exploring how transformative learning impacts on adaptation and resilience towards disaster risk. My presentation echoes how transformational learning can be utilised by unlocking deeper level thought processes and reflection.

In particular, I outline how transformational learning might be applied in enabling communities at risk to re-evaluate their past knowledge, experience and cultural practices in the light of new information, knowledge and learning as part of a collaborative and multi-stakeholder process of disaster adaptation and resilience. The visual model I demonstrate which encapsulates this process gave participants an opportunity to think about how it might be used in a localised setting. One outcome from the workshop was to write a working paper which will include specific Indonesian examples to be published on the Prevention-Web website. This will then be written up into a research proposal with Indonesian colleagues with the aim of securing funding to carry out wider research.

Visualization of the Transformative Learning Process

Visualization of the Transformative Learning Process

Overall, the workshop gave researchers the chance to share their investigations as well as explore how future research by an UK/Indonesian team could be utilized. Local knowledge, language skills and understanding of customs are integral to building trusting relationships that can unlock more nuanced understanding of disaster risk but also explore how communities might better adapt to their threats as well as increase their resilience- building potential.

Finally, interaction with Indonesian researchers allowed UK based researchers such as myself the chance to understand where the gaps in research remain and also how we might work together to bridge them over the next five to ten years. It is vital that such opportunities continue to be offered and taken up so that our own ‘automatic thoughts’, responses and ideas are replaced with critical reflection informed by learning experiences that have the power to be truly transformative.

Justin Sharpe travelled to Indonesia on a British Council Newton Fund workshop from 15th-19th February. Read more here.

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