The elusive man behind Bahasa Basudara - Jeff Malaihollo

The founder of Bahasa Basudara Dr Jeffrey Malaihollo would rather escape and run a mile (he does run marathons) than be put in the spotlight. When we told him that we wanted to write a piece on him for this newsletter, he became rather evasive, but after some prodding, he finally relented to reveal - a little bit - about himself and to tell the story behind Bahasa Basudara.

Bung Jeff has been living in the UK for many years with his wife and two children. He was born in San Francisco where his father was stationed when he worked for an Indonesian airline. Although his formative and teenage years were spent in Jakarta, Bung Jeff returned to California to study geology at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). In the late eighties, he married his British born wife and followed her to the UK where he continued studying and obtained his PhD at UCL (University College London) – where he researched the Geology and Tectonics of the Bacan Area, south of Ternate and southwest of Halmahera.

Nowadays he dedicates all lot of his free time to Bahasa Basudara, his personal project that keeps on growing by the day. He is involved with anything related to Bahasa Basudara and still manages to hold down a ‘proper’ job as well. His job as a mining entrepreneur used to take him all over the world, from to Indonesia to Australia, China, Russia and more recently the African continent.  

His idea for an online platform came in the Summer of 2019, after a conversation with friends in Ambon. “They pointed out that only a small number of students from Maluku got the chance to study overseas. To obtain a scholarship, students had to pass their English tests (TOEFL/IELTS) first”, he said. “Sadly, the majority failed the conversation and comprehension section. It was high time to do something about this.”

“With thousands of Moluccans spread around the globe, the thought was to create a pool of English tutors, native speakers from the USA, UK and Australia and fluent speakers from Holland. Add those Moluccans in Indonesia who either studied English or who had studied overseas, and we would have our volunteers”, he added. “No previous tutoring skills were required, just some common sense, commitment and enthusiasm. The aim was to connect these people via an online platform with students in Maluku and you had the potential to tutor hundreds of students in virtual classrooms.”

Although the original idea was to offer one-to-one tutoring via Skype or WhatsApp, it was decided that a virtual classroom setting via Zoom would be more beneficial as you could capture more students at the same time. Appointed facilitators would sit in every class, who could act as a go-between the tutors and the students. Furthermore, they could step in if the tutor needed help with a translation, liaise with the students and monitor the progress of the class. 

“The first meeting with the website designer was in late November 2019 and by the end of March our website was ready to go live. Our first class started in early May 2020 with only five tutors and were run in cooperation with the Language Study Centre at Pattimura University (Pusat Studi Bahasa Universitas Pattimura) in Ambon, which was led by Ibu Merry Nikijuluw. I am incredibly grateful to her, without her input, cooperation, and continuing support, we would not have been where we are now,” he said.

Commenting on Bahasa Basudara’s meteoric rise, Bung Jeff said: “The progress has been unbelievable. By the end of the year, we will have completed 72 classes and have been running 77 classes each week. Most of these were English classes, but we also had 6 German, 3 Dutch and 2 Indonesian classes. We also ran special theme-based classes such as Business English and Working in an International Setting. Our students joined in from all over Maluku and not only Ambon, but also from the Tanimbar Islands, Kei Islands, Aru Islands, Banda, Seram, West Seram, Haruku, Nusa Laut, Saparua and Buru Islands. Outside Maluku, we currently have 11 classes for Moluccans in the Jakarta area.”

The classes are run in cooperation with the University of Pattimura, UKIM (Christian University Indonesia Maluku), IAIN (Islamic State Institute), IAKN (Christian State Institute), Ambon Polytechnic, Heka Leka Foundation, Walang Belajar, a Moluccan community in Greater Jakarta and the GPM Church in Ambon and West Seram. Young, but also older students can join a class, whether they're a beginner, lecturer,  professional or are trying to pass their English tests so they can apply for a scholarship or a job overseas.

“Currently we have 116 registered tutors: 43% from Holland; 23% from Indonesia; 14% Australian; 10% from the UK; 6% from the USA and the rest from the Middle East, Germany and New Zealand. Many of the tutors have a Moluccan background, have studied in Maluku, or have some connection with Maluku. However, we do have non-Moluccans tutors from other parts of Indonesia and overseas”, he added.

“At the end of the 12-week course, all the students, tutors and facilitators will receive a certificate. They will either be issued by a partner institute (like The University of Pattimura), or by Bahasa Basudara. Our certificates were designed by London-based graphic designer Boya Latumahina who used traditional Moluccan symbols.”

When asked whether he had any final words for this blog, Bung Jeff said: “The progress of Bahasa Basudara is a testament to the idea that when all of us work together, we can achieve greater things. This is exactly within the spirit of “Lain Bantu Lain”. Sagu Salempeng Bagi Dua. So, thank you, everyone!!! Terima Kasih, Dangke, Thank you, Dankjewel, Vielen Dank.”