Dreaming bigger for the future

Junior high school students in West Papua learn life skills for the future at school

Yuanita Marini Nagel, Adolescent Development Officer
Gracia listens to a lesson on the radio.
UNICEF/2020/Mohamad Saroni.
23 October 2020

Every morning, 13-year-old Gracia sits down on the floor of her living room next to her small portable speaker and eagerly tunes into her teacher’s lessons on the radio. Although she is not able to return to school yet, she enjoys hearing her teacher’s voice and taking part in interactive activities with her classmates. 

“I tried to answer [the quiz questions], but I never won,” Gracia said with a laugh. “I think the other students are faster than me.” 

Like in many other parts of Indonesia, schools are still closed in Sorong due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support students to continue learning remotely, UNICEF and a local partner helped set up a radio education programme. Before this, Gracia and her classmates had to go to school to pick up their assignments and complete them on their own, which she says was particularly challenging. 

“The radio lessons help me a lot because I can hear my teachers explaining the lessons,” she explained. “We can then discuss this further through our group on WhatsApp.” 

Gracia lives in Sorong with her grandfather, aunt and cousin. Every day she helps her aunt take care of the house by cleaning, cooking and doing other chores. Although her parents also live in the same city, she decided to move in with her grandfather three years ago because his house is much closer to her school.  

Gracia sweeps in front of her grandfather’s house.
UNICEF/2020/Mohamad Saroni.
Gracia sweeps in front of her grandfather’s house.

While education has always been important to Gracia, this past year it has taken on renewed significance when she and her peers began participating in the life skills education programme at school. While they covered many different topics, Gracia says her favourite part was learning about human rights. Excited to share what she learned, she took out her book and began to read a summary. 

“Human rights are the rights of all of us which apply at any time, regardless of who we are or wherever we are,” she read with palpable enthusiasm. “Therefore, these rights must not be taken away from us.” 

For Gracia, learning about her right to education was particularly meaningful and made her realise that she needed to not only attend school, but to actively participate in class. After noticing that she needed more support from her teachers, she began to regularly ask them for feedback, which the life skills programme also helped her to do. 

“I used to be very nervous when I shared and expressed my opinion,” she said. “Before this, I don't think we had many opportunities to do so. Most of the time, we would just listen to the teacher and work on our assignments.” 

The extra support from her teachers has helped Gracia to become more active in class and even inspired her to become a teacher one day. She admires the way they help her to learn and share knowledge with others. 

Gracia studies with her cousin.
UNICEF/2020/Mohamad Saroni.
Gracia studies with her cousin.

The life skills programme has also enabled her to better resolve conflicts with her peers. Before the programme, she wasn’t sure how to react when other students treated her unfairly, such as when they cut in line ahead of her in the canteen. But now, she knows to raise her voice calmly, which makes her feel better about herself and led other students to respect her.  

“I follow the approaches that I learned in the life skills class, such as collaboration and compromise, and it works,” she said. “It helps me to find creative solutions to my conflicts.” 

But above all, her newfound motivation has dared her to dream bigger. Grateful for her grandfather’s support for her education, she says she would like to be able to support him as well in the future. 

“One day if I become a successful person, I want to buy him a house,” she said with a smile, sharing her secret hope.  

Gracia is one of 4,480 junior high school students participating in the “Supporting Girls to Thrive in Indonesia” project, which was launched by UNICEF in November 2019 with support from the David Beckham Fund. The project targets primary and junior secondary students in Sorong, West Papua, and works to increase retention, improve learning outcomes and protect girls and boys from violence in schools. It supports a multi-faceted school-based programme that brings together protection, education, empowerment and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) elements to promote changes to social norms and an overall positive learning environment.