From remote villages to bustling cities: Educating Indonesians about HIV
By Suzanna Dayne
WEST PAPUA, Indonesia, 28 November 2008 – It is before dawn as a UNICEF outreach team departs on a bumpy six-hour drive up a steep mountain road to the remote village of Imbenti. The goal is to bring life saving information about HIV/AIDS to the approximately 100 families who are living in the Arfak moutains of West Papua.
In the past, the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in such a small, rural community was not seen as very high. However, many young people are now leaving the village to further their schooling. As such, there is a fear that if these young people are not educated about HIV/AIDS, they could return to their village and spread the virus.
“All students should learn about HIV/AIDS,” says Leader of Arfak Cultural Affairs Anton Wongor. “It’s very important for our future. We don’t want this disease to spread and kill Papuans, and that includes the Arfak Mountain people.”
Protecting small groups from extinction
When the UNICEF team arrives in Imbenti, they are greeted by a traditional Arfak welcome dance.
The community is eager to learn about the disease. They gather to watch a video and hear a presentation from UNICEF as well as local youth advocates who have been trained as peer-educators. Later, the villagers participate in a question-and-answer session.
“What if a woman has HIV and gets pregnant, will the baby get sick too?” asks Terri, age 17.
“Not necessarily,” replies UNICEF Indonesia HIV/AIDS Officer Ayi Farida. “If she gets good care from health professionals throughout her pregnancy and during delivery.”
A world away, a parallel message
UNICEF is working to educate people from all walks of life about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, whether in bustling urban areas or remote, rural communities.
More than 3,000 kilometres away is the regency of Tulungagung, East Java, where students at a Madrassah junior high school are also learning hard facts about HIV/AIDS.
“Junior high school is a transition period as these teenagers make their way to adulthood, that’s why it’s so important they learn about issues like HIV/AIDS,” says the school’s principal.
Through a UNICEF-supported programme at the school, students are encouraged to think creatively and, most importantly, to ask questions. One study group developed a board game to explain how HIV passes from one person to another.
“HIV spreads quickly in Indonesia. We, as teenagers, are the future generation, future leaders.” says student leader Rifkotin Na'imah. “If we meet someone with HIV, it’s our duty to support them.”
Open and honest discussions
UNICEF supports a variety of HIV/AIDS interventions in Indonesia, including peer-education programmes, the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) and support for government policies.
Through these programmes, young people are being empowered to become a catalyst for real change.
“You have to be open and honest when you talk to young people about HIV/AIDS,” says UNICEF Indonesia Field Office Chief Sinung Kristanto. “Teenagers are very smart and they have the right to know about these diseases. That’s the only way we can stop the epidemic.”