In West Papua, a teacher’s determination keeps her school open for students

With support from UNICEF, this dedicated teacher continues to provide early childhood education for a community at risk of being left behind

Jimmy Kruglinski, Communications Officer
A preschool principal with a student.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
05 December 2019

SORONG, WEST PAPUA PROVINCE, INDONESIA – In her 24 years managing the TK Intimpura, Yohanna Bitti Tupen has seen significant change in her village of Maibo. The kindergarten, which was built by a logging company that employed dozens of families in the community, used to welcome 45 students. After the company closed in 2009, however, many residents left, and the number of students dwindled to just 14 as of 2019. 

Teachers stand in front of their preschool.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
Yohanna Bititupen and teacher Novanti at the TK Intimpura in West Papua Province, Indonesia.

While Yohanna was concerned about the future of the school, she resolved to ensure it would remain open to serve the remaining families. But she faced numerous challenges, including a lack of funds, the need to run the school on her own and the school’s long distance from the city of Sorong.   

Adding to her troubles, she fell off her motorbike one morning on her way to the school and injured her leg. The accident left her with a slight but persistent limp. “It’s hard to move around freely with the children,” she said. “But I feel grateful.” 

Despite these hardships, she insists that she never considered giving up. “The families in the village didn’t want me to leave. They came to my home to help take care of me after the accident,” she explained. 

“I want this school to improve so that it can compete with the schools in the city,” said Yohanna.

As a result of her determination, she has managed to keep the school open for the past ten years. And two years ago, the village government agreed to provide the funding for her to hire two new teachers.

Students praying in school.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
Ledy leads her class in morning prayer.

5-year old Ledy is one of 14 students in the school, and the only girl in her class today. She has been coming to TK Intimpura for the past three years. “She was quiet and never spoke up,” Yohanna said, recalling Ledy's first few months. “It was difficult for her to communicate with others.” 

Since attending the school, Ledy’s teachers have seen her make encouraging progress in her social and emotional development. Ledy, says Yohanna, has become more vocal in school and at home. “She has started to talk more, and she always tells her mother what she learned in school that day,” said Yohanna. “She has become more confident.” That confidence is apparent during class when she leads the four other boys in their daily prayer.

A students plays with Play-Doh with her teacher.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
Ledy and her teacher Novanti playing with Play-Doh during class.

With few resources available, Yohanna had to buy the supplies at the school herself. “The educational tools we had were limited,” she said. “The children used to only play with blocks.” 

With support from UNICEF, the school has been able to expand the activities it can offer its students. Aside from providing classroom materials, UNICEF also delivered training to the teachers on how to use them more creatively to engage students. 

Ledy’s favourite activity at school is playing with Play-Doh with her teacher Novanti, who used the materials provided to create the Play-Doh herself. During playtime, Ledy grabs handfuls of the brightly coloured clay and slowly rolls them between her hands to form imaginary cookies. She then meticulously lines them up on a nearby table, imitating her mother who sells cookies and cakes in the local market.

A students places her teacher's hand to her forehead.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
Before leaving school, Ledy touches the back of her teacher’s hand to her forehead, a sign of respect in Indonesian culture.

Like many other children in Indonesia, Ledy wants to become a police officer when she grows up. Her mother Lusye remembers the time Ledy saw a policewoman in town, and how she was amazed at seeing a woman directing traffic. 

Lusye believes that TK Intimpura provides her daughter with the right start. “It’s the best education for her. Ledy has developed positive habits and manners for the future,” she said. The school, she adds, has been a boon not just for her family but also for the entire community. “Every morning the children shake hands, and the parents in the village now take better care of their children,” she said. “This school feels like home.” 

A teacher waves goodbye to her student.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
Yohanna says goodbye to Ledy before she leaves.
A student walks with mother back home.
UNICEF Indonesia/2019/Jimmy Kruglinski
Ledy leaves school with her mother Lusye.