UNICEF Regional Director's visit to Tanah Papua
UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, Dan Toole, visited Indonesia's Papua province this week, to see firsthand how UNICEF and its partners are tackling disparities in some of the most remote parts of the country.Mr. Toole began his visit to Papua meeting young people active in local youth forums. UNICEF has facilitated the organization of different groups of young people at district and province level to help provide a platform for the participation of young people in decision making processes. The forums started out with an initial focus on tackling HIV/AIDS but have now broadened their commitment to other issues of youth development across different sectors, underlining how young people are actively trying to engage in tackling some of the key issues facing children.
"Young people make up more than a quarter of the Indonesian population, and they are the ones who are determined to shape the future of this nation," said Mr. Toole. "It is essential that services and policies are designed to reflect the aspirations of these young people, and that such responses take into account the very specific needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised children and young people in Indonesian society - we must ensure that the benefits of growth being enjoyed by many in Indonesia are accessible to all, and that no family is left behind." Indonesia has made impressive progress in recent years; nonetheless it continues to face notable inequities for children - for example, while primary school enrolment is 97 per cent, almost half of children from poor families do not move onto junior secondary schools, contributing to high drop-out rates after primary level education. Indonesia's maternal mortality ratio, at 230 deaths per 100,000 live births is six times that of some other countries in the region. More than three-quarters of urban mothers give birth attended by a skilled professional, but this figure falls to little more than one-third amongst rural mothers. Less than one in five mothers in the poorest families give birth in a health facility. In rural areas, just over half of the population has access to clean water compared to more than two-thirds of those in urban communities, while for sanitation the variance is even more marked at 32.2 per cent in rural areas compared to 67.8 per cent in urban.
In rural Wamena, in Papua's highland regions, Mr. Toole saw how community engagement, backed with support from local leadership and the international community, is helping to redress the balance in favour of women and children - innovative programmes that aim to strengthen critical health systems and improve quality of basic services are utilising the capacity of local volunteers, establishing ante-natal services and obstetric care sites, and supporting training and on-site coaching for local health workers. Improving primary health care for mother and children is seen as a critical aspect to tackling infant, child and maternal mortality in Indonesia, and UNICEF's efforts place emphasis on - amongst others - building technical capacity and skills, monitoring of nutrition, enhancing the role of midwives, and working with health authorities to improve resource allocations for key health interventions.
Visiting a local school, Mr. Toole met with students who are benefiting from early grade and multi-grade teaching support packages - specially designed to address the lack of pre-school education opportunities - as well as local community leaders and teachers who are helping strengthen school management. The Advent Maima Elementary School visited by the UNICEF Regional Director was chosen as a hub for surrounding schools, with outreach groups collaborating to develop best practices that can be shared amongst other schools in the area. Although the school is privately managed, it has developed a range of services to help vulnerable children - including boarding rooms for students who live far away, so they can remain at the school during exam periods and have more opportunity to study.
UNICEF is working closely alongside the provincial and district governments in Papua, and with donor agencies including AusAID, CIDA, the Netherlands and USAID, to help utilize existing skills and resources more effectively to target those most in need.
"Tackling the challenges for children in Indonesia require partnerships led by government which actively engage local leadership, local business, local civil society and local youth," said Mr. Toole. "Efforts such as those I have seen today in Papua are essential to finding effective solutions - and we in the international community must play our role in supporting such partnerships, through technical expertise, the building of good evidence and analysis, and in bringing different players together for the benefit of those on the margins."