Empowering and informing through Youth Fora
WAMENA, 15 November 2011 - Mei Nakoba, 14, talks decisively and articulates her points like someone beyond her years. It's hard to imagine that she was a shy girl only a few months ago, before she joined the Baliem Peace Youth Forum in Wamena, Papua.
"I joined the Youth Forum because I wanted to have better self-esteem," she said.
"Here I learn to express my opinions and give presentations."
In remote towns and villages in Papua and West Papua, the Youth Fora have provided a platform to empower local youth. Facilitated by UNICEF and the Provincial AIDS Commission in the two provinces, with funding from the Dutch Government since 2010, the Youth Fora in Papua and West Papua have worked on a host of issues affecting young people in the region, from leadership to reproductive health and HIV and AIDS.
Nelson Wenda, 18, head of the Baliem Peace Youth Forum in the Jayawijaya District, said his organization strives to involve his peers in positive activities.
They meet once a week, and provide English courses, hold monthly church services, and organize leadership forums. Last year they held the World AIDS Day event with performances and competitions for their district.
"If there are no activities, the youths go for alcohol and sex," said Nelson, adding that he was concerned about the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in Papua, especially in the mountainous region of Jayawijaya.
HIV and AIDS are amongst the main issues tackled by Youth Forum. In the coastal town of Manokwari, West Papua, the Youth Forum has been actively campaigning on reproductive health and HIV and AIDS through their outreach programmes at junior and senior high schools.
Said Gracia Augusta Temongmere, 22, a university graduate and secretary of West Papua Youth Forum: "Kids here start to have sex when they are 14 or 15 years old, because of peer pressure."
She added that peer pressure also led to the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs.
With 105 committee members in the whole of West Papua province alone, the forum has achieved a lot in one year. They have established relations with young people in religious groups and university students. They use all modes of communication from phone text messages to the Internet, through Facebook and Twitter.
On a recent afternoon, Gracia led a discussion with students at the Papua State University (UNIPA) in Manokwari on Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) for HIV and AIDS.
John (his name has been changed to respect his privacy), 22, a fourth year student of English at UNIPA attended the session before his band practice. He confessed to being concerned after the talk, and admitted that he had been having unprotected sex since he was in 11th grade.
"I wanted to know about HIV and AIDS, and after this talk, I'm definitely going to get tested."
Youth Forum enlists "agents" from the surrounding high schools to disseminate information about the danger of HIV and AIDS among students.
Dian Wally, 16, a student at Public Senior High School 1, has been an active agent since she joined the Youth Forum six months ago, posting information on HIV and AIDS on her school’s media wall.
"We make posters, write articles or take pictures on issues related to reproductive health and HIV and AIDS," she said.
In her school, the teen pregnancy rate is high, she said. This year, two of her schoolmates were expelled because they were pregnant. One of her seniors contracted HIV, she said.
This could be prevented if students have more access to information and services on reproductive health. A UNICEF survey conducted this year found that 12.1 per cent of teenagers in schools and 29.4 per cent of teens out of school in Papua and West Papua are engaged in sexual activities.
The Youth Forum has been working with the local Department of Health to provide information and services through Youth Friendly Health Services (PKPR) in the past two years in West Papua.
Karmila Karubuy, from the province's Department of Health Office and a facilitator for the Youth Forum, said the service includes having a health worker, normally a nurse, give talks on reproductive health at junior and senior high schools. Recently, the service was expanded to include reproductive health services in public health clinics.
"The goal is that after the teenagers are informed about reproductive health, they can go and seek treatment for their problems comfortably at a health facility designed specifically for them," said Karmila.
Grecia Kereway, a nurse who is in charge of PKPR in the Sanggeng health centre often leaves her cell phone number to students when she gives talks at schools. Since then, she has been receiving endless text messages from students who asked questions on sex and reproductive health issues, telling her about their conditions, which range from yeast infections to pregnancy.
"Using SMS makes them more open to talk about sensitive issues like sex," she said.
"After answering their questions a few times, I could usually convince them to come to the clinic for a check."
Ella (her name has been changed to respect her privacy), 17, who was at the clinic to seek treatment for her condition, said many girls her age have sex with older men, and their male partners often do not use condoms.
"(The men) say they can't feel it if they use condoms," she said.
This is an uphill battle for the young generation, said Dian Wally, the Youth Forum's agent for HIV and AIDS awareness.
"Unless we do something now to stop it, HIV will wipe out the whole generation here," she said.