At national conference, Indonesian children take a stand for kindness
Children and young people become kindness leaders to end bullying at the first Kindness Conference Indonesia
Seventeen-year-old Sasa* clearly remembers being bullied for the first time. It began in the 11th grade when classmates would come to her at school asking to copy her assignments and ignored anything she had to say. It became worse when friends and family members would joke and make hurtful comments about her appearance.
“It made me feel depressed,” she recalled. “But I kept everything to myself. I never told anyone about my problems until finally, I couldn't hold back my own sadness.”
Sasa is not alone in her struggle. According to recent data, over 40 per cent of students aged 15 reported being bullied repeatedly. A 2018 poll conducted by UNICEF Indonesia via the U-Report youth engagement platform found that 45 per cent of 2,777 young people aged 14-24 said that they had experienced cyberbullying.
To tackle this increasingly pressing threat to children’s protection and well-being, renewed efforts are needed to promote awareness about the consequences of bullying and the importance of empathy and self-care.
In line with this, UNICEF, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection (MoWECP) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology (MoECRT) launched the Kindness Conference Indonesia, a new initiative to invite youth representatives to share their experiences with bullying and come up with ideas to promote kindness and empathy among their peers. Its aim is to empower young people to become ‘kindness leaders’ in their communities and work together to organize their own kindness and empathy movements. The conference is part of a broader campaign with the MoWECP, MoECRT and UNICEF to end bullying and violence against children.
“The Kindness Conference Indonesia is based on the simple premise that kindness and empathy hold the key to solving the world’s biggest problems,” explained Derry Ulum, UNICEF Indonesia Education Officer. “In an era where hateful comments and divisive rhetoric seem to be on the rise, we want to enable young people to see kindness and empathy not as a weakness, but as a sign of emotional strength.”
In the run up to the conference, U-Report launched the Kindness Challenge to encourage young people to do something nice for themselves and others and post about it on social media. The challenge received more than 6,500 responses, and the individuals with the best submissions were selected to join the event alongside others chosen from youth networks.
Over the course of the three-day conference, over 400 young Indonesians joined panel discussions on topics such as kindness and empathy in leadership, creating impact through advocacy, and using empathy rather than punishment to teach positive discipline. They also participated in workshops led by 35 youth facilitators from the Mitra Muda youth network and Child Forum to learn how to practice kindness and empathy.
Gloria, an 18-year-old from East Sumba, said the workshops during the conference taught her the importance of empathy to support her friends when they are dealing with bullying.
“I learned how important it is to care for others and to listen to them when they are talking to me,” she explained. “My friends often confide in me, but I don't know what to say. Here, I learned how to better respond to them.”
During the panel discussion on kindness and empathy in leadership, Najwa Shihab, a literacy activist and founder of Narasi TV, emphasized the importance of finding similarities with others and seeing things from other people’s perspectives.
“A good leader doesn’t just give commands,” she shared with the group. “They should be able to move and inspire people, convincing others that we have to solve a common problem together.”
Siwon Choi, UNICEF Regional Ambassador for East Asia and Pacific, joined the participants on the first day for a Q&A session. He expressed his hope that they would gain the skills to fight bullying and emphasized that everyone needs to take part to end violence against children.
“Stand together with your friends to stop bullying, create a buddy system, learn how to protect yourself and know where to seek help. You cannot fight bullying alone, so find friends or adults that you can trust, and discuss solutions with them,” Siwon said. “If you have a good support-system, you can help end violence in schools and in your surroundings.”
Following the conference, participants will have the opportunity to develop similar initiatives in their own communities. Ten projects will be selected by UNICEF to receive seed funding to turn these ideas into reality. For example, Arvin, an 18-year-old from Batam, already has plans to start an organization in North Sumatra Province to spread kindness in schools and has even designed the group’s logo.
For Sasa, who struggled to talk about bullying with friends and family, the conference showed her that there are others who also deal with these issues. Seeing so many of her peers willing to listen to her and provide heartfelt words of motivation has inspired her to do the same for other young people in her community.
“I hope I can be someone who encourages others facing similar problems to not hide their pain behind laughter,” she said. “I want people to be able to open up about their problems and to make things better.”
* Name has been changed for privacy.