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At a glance: Indonesia

Students walk a rough road to secondary education in Papua province, Indonesia

© UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Klaus
Markus, 18, and his housemates pose outside their honai, a big traditional hut that serves as a boarding home for 50 adolescents and young adults who attend classes or training during the day.

By Michael Klaus

In a part of Indonesia in which the only way for children to attend secondary school is to leave home and live in large boarding homes, UNICEF, NGOs and the provincial government focus on youth like Markus in their programmes – and include them in their planning. 

MEGAPURA, Papua province, Indonesia, 16 July 2013 – It has been four years since Markus last saw his parents, and it will be at least one more before he can go back to his village, Kalbok. But he knows he would not be in school today had he stayed home.

Eighteen-year-old Markus is in Grade 12. He has grown a lot during these four years. He is now the leader of his honai in Megapura. A honai is a big traditional hut that serves as a boarding home for 50 adolescents and young adults. They all attend either a secondary school or a professional training institution in nearby Wamena, in the heart of Papua province in Indonesia’s Far East.

Highland districts

According to Chief of the UNICEF Field Office that covers both Papua and West Papua Margaret Sheehan, “The Highland districts in Papua have the worst child indicators of the whole country.” In Jayawijaya district, for example, more than 120 out of every 1,000 children die in their first five years of life, more than three times the national average. Only a third of the population has access to safe drinking water, and less than one in four people can use a latrine.

Half of all young people are married before reaching 18 years of age. “We increasingly focus on adolescents in our work,” explains Ms. Sheehan. “And, wherever possible, we aim to involve young people like Markus directly in the development of programmes.”

Leaving home – and creating a home

Leaving their native villages remains the only option for most adolescents in this poor mountainous region to get into secondary school. In their new homes, like the one in Megapura, the ethnic groups often stay together and share one common honai. Leaders like Markus, who has been elected by the group, play a key role in transmitting the traditional values of their villages and ethnic groups, establishing and enforcing rules, ensuring that sick members see a doctor and negotiating with other honais, in cases of conflict.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Klaus
Markus left his village at the age of 14 to enroll in secondary school - the only option available for most adolescents in this area to attend secondary school. He is now leader of his honai.

“We hardly ever have problems with our neighbors in the other honais,” Markus says. “And, if that happens, it usually has to do with money that needs to be paid back.”

Life is far from easy in these boarding homes. There are no latrines, and the young people use the nearby river for their personal hygiene. The older boys work as rickshaw drivers in Wamena. “They earn the money for our food,” Markus explains. “We eat once a day, in the evening. Whoever comes late has to wait until the next evening. That helps – usually all are here on time.”

Awareness-raising in the honai

The NGO Yasumat, which stands for Social Foundation for Isolated People, supports the young people by providing health education and running discussion groups on life choices and HIV in the boarding homes.

Talking about reproductive health and safe sex is not easy in this very conservative region, but, nonetheless, it is necessary. Unlike the rest of the country, HIV has become a generalized epidemic in Papua and West Papua, having spread beyond high-risk groups, and young people are particularly affected. The prevalence among 15- to 24-year-olds stands at 3 per cent. In a knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) study on adolescents conducted in Papua in 2011, less than 10 per cent of those aged 10 to 18 had a comprehensive knowledge of HIV required to adopt preventive and protective behaviours.

Comprehensive youth policy

The risk of HIV infection is only one of the many problems children and adolescents in this region face. In 2012, when UNICEF and the provincial governments conducted an assessment of youth policies and programmes in Papua and West Papua, young people were invited to speak about the many challenges they are facing in the areas of health, education, employment and protection.

Based on the findings of the study and responding to UNICEF advocacy, on 25 June, at a high-level event in provincial capital Manokwari, the government of West Papua committed itself to develop a comprehensive youth policy – the first of its kind in Indonesia.

“The West Papua government is leading the way towards a coordinated and comprehensive approach for young people,” said UNICEF Representative Angela Kearney during the event. “Young people need to be involved when it comes to developing the details of this policy. We at UNICEF stand ready to also assist Papua province and other provinces in following suit and developing their own youth policy.”



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