Friday, 12 January 2018

The teacher in Papua who won't give up

By Saskia Raishaputri Moestadjab

Ibu Naomi teaches a class © Saskia Raishaputri Moestadjab / UNICEF / 2017

We sailed through the river flanked by mangroves, taking lefts and rights, heading in what felt like thousands of directions. The night before, I’d spent 7 restless hours waiting for the waters to rise and the boat to come. I was exhausted.

Finally, at midnight, the team and I reached Wainlabat Village, 8 hours later than expected. 

Set in the province of West Papua, Wainlabat is home to SD Inpres 58, one of 120 schools participating in UNICEF’s Rural Remote Education Initiative (RREI).  Launched in 2015, the RREI aims to boost literacy and school attendance among early grade students in Tanah Papua (West Papua and Papua Provinces), where education performance lags far behind national averages. 

More than 100 “mentors” have been trained by UNICEF on literacy-building techniques, which include teaching letter sounds, employing interactive singalongs, and introducing newly designed textbooks. Each of these mentors are placed in one of the 120 participating schools to train teachers on the new approaches.

Midway through the 3-year programme, results are already in evidence: The number of non-readers has halved from 1 in 2 to roughly 1 in 4, while fluent comprehension has doubled to around 14 per cent of early grade learners. It is clear to me that that the programme is working.

Motorcycles are often used to traverse the wooden path leading the river to the the village © Saskia Raishaputri Moestadjab / UNICEF / 2017

After exiting the 2-kilometer path from the river to the village, I saw very few people. I wondered where the community leaders were. Then I met Ibu Guru Naomi. 

Ibu Naomi, a Wainlabat native, has dedicated her life to this community, doing what many do when they want to make the most difference: She became a teacher.

Entering her classroom, I tiptoed through the aisles watching her teach. The 3rd grade class was singing and writing, grinning ear-to-ear. Next door, older students were sitting and talking. Why were they alone? Where was their teacher? I wondered.

I later found out the reason: Naomi is the only teacher in town. 

Every day, Ibu Naomi splits time between the six primary school grades. Sometimes, she combines first and second grades, or fourth and fifth grades, into a single class. But even then she still misses some classes. 

Ibu Naomi shuttles between classrooms to teach © Saskia Raishaputri Moestadjab / UNICEF / 2017

"There used to be other teachers here,” says Pak Slamet, the UNICEF-trained literacy mentor in Wainlabat. “They left for a couple of days to the city, but it's been months and they haven’t returned".

“And the principal? he's barely here.”

Teacher and principal absenteeism are major hurdles to education in Tanah Papua. Part of the problem is that principals are often posts of patronage rather than merit, which affects their capacity to run the school and appreciate the full value of education. The situation compromises the ability for students to get the education they deserve. 

Two schoolgirls read outside their classrom in Wainlabat © Saskia Raishaputri Moestadjab / UNICEF / 2017
In 2015, when Ibu Naomi returned to Wainlabat from Sorong, where she attended secondary school, she was devastated to see how many children were unable to read. “They didn’t even know how to order words,” she recalls. “There was no structure to the classes – it all depended on the teacher and what they wanted to teach.”

With the new approach to literacy, she says, progress was swift. After a couple  months, “they [the students] began to show improvements in knowing letters, even stringing words together!”

“Parents were telling me, ‘if this is working, we can’t let you leave. These children need to be able to read’!” 

"But I'm alone here,” she reminds me. “How am I supposed to teach six grades of students?" 

 I swallow, not knowing what to say.

“Hopefully with what I do, I will try to open people’s hearts to see they should be here for [the children] too," she says. 

Our conversation ended at noon. As I turned off the camera and closed my notebook, Ibu Naomi said she needed to go back home to change clothes before her 1pm class. We said goodbye.

Wainlablat Elementary School in Sorong, West Papua © Saskia Raishaputri Moestadjab / UNICEF / 2017

Leaving the village, I took one last look back at the school. The door ajar, I could see Ibu Naomi teaching.

The image has stayed with me; here was a grassroots education champion, a true daughter of the land. I could only imagine how much literacy would improve if Papua had more like her.

"Even if the school is simple, or the students are few, we must never give up,” she told me. “We must never give up.”

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Making bullying uncool in Central Java

by Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Tika, right, stands with fellow change-maker Sri in Semarang. The two say they are proud to be taking a stand against bullying © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Central Java: Daylight is fading as Tika, 14, sits down, brushes the lint off her pants, and begins to recall a memory she can’t quite shake.

“My classmates put a bucket over my head,” she says softly. “Then they took turns hitting me.” 

Three years later, the pain is still raw. “I still don’t know why they [my classmates] did it,” she says. 

It’s a question thousands of Indonesian schoolchildren grapple with every day.

According to the latest data, over 1 in 5 children between 13-15 years of age – some 18 million children in total – have been bullied and another 1 in 3 children have been physically attacked in schools. 

For a Government committed to ending all forms of violence against children, schools are a key front in the battle.

“Bullying, both physical and verbal, has been proven to increase anxiety and diminish the self-esteem and sense of belonging necessary to learn and develop effectively,” says Emilie Minnick, UNICEF Indonesia Child Protection Specialist. “None of that bodes well if every child is to be empowered to realize their full potential.”

Roots, a new initiative launched by UNICEF and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, in partnership with an array of district governments and NGO partners, invites students to take the lead in addressing the peer-to-peer abuse*.

The basic idea is simple but powerful -- to create a space for a small group of students to probe the problem and define the solutions themselves.
Outside facilitators help keep order, but the programme is essentially student-run.

“Then, during Roots Day and beyond, the goal is for students to take this learning outward to change attitudes,” Minnick says.


Student change-makers make final preparations a day before Roots Day at SMP 17 in Semarang © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Since its launch this year, the Roots Programme pilot has been rolled out at four middle schools in South Sulawesi and another four in Central Java.

In South Sulawesi, the Roots Programme saw a 30 per cent reduction in bullying following the intervention. “We’re excited about what this could mean for a scale-up nationally,” Minnick says.

Enlisting the ‘influencers’

Roots is more than a one-off event. It is the culmination of a semester-long process. 

Over that period, 30 girl and boy “change-agents” examine bullying from several angles to determine what it is and what should be done to stop it.

Among boys, Tika says, bullying often means physical violence. 

“Just last week I saw a boy get books thrown at him in class,” Tika says. More than a third of middle-school aged boys have been involved in a fight, 2015 government figures shows. “The incident should have been taken to the principal, but it wasn’t.” 

Tika says that given how common it is, there can be a high tolerance of bullying, which is precisely what needs to change. 


Students at SMP 2 in Klaten, Central Java, come together to declare a new commitment to ending bullying during Roots Day © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Students at SMP 2 in Klaten, Central Java, come together to declare a new commitment to ending bullying during Roots Day.

For girls, the most popular form of bullying is to shame, or “hate” on another classmate, she says,. But by far the most common form is to play with names.**

It’s a subtle form of teasing, but it can lead to serious consequences, including school drop-out and long term psychological impact.

At SMP 17 Semarang, Tika was chosen as one of the 30 ‘agents of change’ whose task it was to interrogate bullying and plan Roots Day.

“The selection process is a key feature of the intervention,” says Naning Julianingsih, UNICEF Indonesia Child Protection Specialist. “We asked all the students to list the 10 people they spend the most time with, and those with the most mentions become a pool from which we drew 30.”

These are the students with the largest network of friends, and hence, “the most potential to influence attitudes widely,” she says.

At Tika’s school, a few of those chosen declined to join – at first. “I think it was because they were shy, as people knew they were bullies,” Tika says.

A few weeks later the students decided to join.

“That shows how peers can make anti-bullying campaigns ‘cool’, Naning says, “and bullying ‘uncool’. Even those who have been bullies themselves can be swayed to join."

So what’s next?

A student changemaker (centre) shares a laugh with her friend during Roots Day at Semarang 17 Middle School ©Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Roots Day is when all these lessons come together for the wider campus body. 

Photo booths, music, and other attractions help spread the message, but the most important aspect is the opening of the conversation, says change-agent Dzulfiqar, 14. “The best way to end bullying is to make sure friends talk to friends about it,” he says. “And that starts with Roots Day.”

Angun Tri Kusumawati of Indonesia’s Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry agrees its crucial to keep the momentum for change.

“Your awareness should be a virus,” she told students at SMP 17. “When you sneeze, others should catch it!” 

Tika nods. 

Roots Day has given her a way to process and move on from the painful memories of the past. “No-one should ever have to feel what I felt, and I want to help ensure 100 per cent of children are treated the same.”

As she rises to address her teachers, her shyness seems to have fallen away. She is beaming. 

“Jangan jadi bully (don’t become a bully),” she yells, as others join in. “Mari jadi pembela!” (Let’s become defenders!)


*Partner NGOs include Yayasan Indonesia Mengabdi, Yayasan Setara and LPA Klaten. 

**the name Joko, for example, is changed to ‘Jokododo’, which means (in Javanese language), ‘don’t tell anyone.’ 


Thursday, 30 November 2017

In West Papua, midwives a key to halting HIV

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer
Stevlin receives an ultrasound reading at a community health centre in Sorong, West Papua © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017
Sorong::With the ultrasound humming, Stevlin, 32, a mother of five, lies down on the examination table. 

Soon, fuzzy thumps flood the room, and she breaks into a grin: It's not every day one hears their child’s heartbeat for the first time.

Stevlin’s come to the Malawei community health centre in Sorong, West Papua Province, for an antenatal check-up.

“I have to make sure my pregnancy goes well so that my baby is born healthy," she says, furrowing her brow. Stevlin lost a child to health complications in the early 2000’s, and is determined to do all she can to ensure her new baby is healthy as can be. That means eating well, exercising, sleeping enough, and testing for diseases -- especially HIV.

“West Papua has an HIV risk 15 times the national average, so testing is an absolute must for pregnant mothers here,” says Beth Nurlely, a UNICEF Indonesia Health Officer based in the province. 

Though there is a 1 in 3 chance of passing HIV on to a child absent treatment, across Indonesia just 14 per cent of mothers get tested for the virus.

“With antiretroviral therapy, the rate of transmission is reduced to near zero,” Nurlely adds. “We need to find creative ways to increase testing.”

Papua on the frontlines

Sorong, a gritty port town in the West Papua Province of Papua*, is one of four cities (Surabaya in East Java Province, West Jakarta in DKI Jakarta and Bandung in West Java Province) where UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been testing new approaches to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). 

In Papua, the risk of transmission has spread beyond vulnerable groups like sex workers into the general population, putting mothers like Stevlin and her baby at risk. Indeed, without marked increases in access to testing and treatment nationwide, experts say the number of children infected with HIV will double over the next decade. 


A pregnant mother and her young daughter wait in line to be seen at a village health post in Sorong, West Papua © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Despite the danger, Stevlin says it wasn’t until 2014 that she received her first test, by which time she’d already given birth to three children.  

“To be honest, I don’t really know what HIV is, but I do know I need [to test for it],” she says, as a midwife pricks her finger for blood. 

“I get nervous now. l want to know my status right away.” 

Empowering bidan

That Stevlin’s rapid HIV test was administered by one of the health centre’s bidan (midwives) is a significant achievement. 

“Historically, only lab specialists have been permitted to do tests,” Nurlely says. “But there is a shortage of these trained professionals in West Papua. This has become a big bottleneck on testing.”

Persuading local governments to train midwives and allow them to carry out rapid testing is a major goal of the UNICEF pilots nationwide. In Sorong, the breakthrough came in September 2014, when the local government agreed such a reform would boost testing and protect mothers and babies.


A midwife at Malawei initiates Stevlin's HIV test © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017


“We succeeded in convincing officials that the number of lab specialists was insufficient to cover testing needs, and so midwives were freed to do this important work,” Nurlely says.

Three years since that reform, testing has increased to 60 per cent among pregnant women in Sorong – some five times the national average.

Ending ‘informed consent’

Training midwives to treat HIV like any other blood test has been another key to reducing PMTCT, says Roys Fetty Mulalinda, the head midwife at Malawei.

Before the UNICEF intervention, pregnant women were required to sign a consent form to take an HIV test. This sounds good in theory, but consenting to a test in this way implies negative associations and, says Nurlely, reflects the stigma against the disease, which many view as a kind of curse. 

Now, thanks to the advocacy of local government, Roys Fetty says the consent forms are gone and the test has become commonplace. Now instead, women have to sign a waiver to opt out of the HIV test acknowledging their understanding of the risks to themselves and to their babies.

“If a pregnant woman comes here, the HIV test is basically automatic,” Roys Fetty says. “The only reason they wouldn’t get tested [on our end] is if there was a stock-out.” 


Stevlin smiles after learning she is HIV negative © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

A new grant from the Global Fund will allow UNICEF and the Government of Indonesia to expand the pilot to 28 districts next year, which will help build nationally on the successes seen in Sorong.

That four out of 10 pregnant women still decline HIV tests, however, suggests there’s room to do even more.   

“If we want to reach all pregnant mothers, we need a provincial-level law  that applies more broadly,” Nurlely says.

Such a regulation in the province has yet to be passed, but signs are hopeful: local-level PMTCT reforms are already underway in 10 of Papua’s 13 districts. Hopefully, it won’t be long until all pregnant mothers have access to this vital test.

*Papua is the island on Indonesia’s eastern frontier formed by West Papua and Papua, the country’s two poorest provinces.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Including Raisyam

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Raisyham with his mother © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Bogor: From the safety of his mother’s arms, Rayisham, 5, squints at his classmates laughing and dancing in the early morning sun.

“He wants so bad to get better,” says Dian, 24, Rayisham’s mother.

She stands near the crowd of 40 or so four and five year old children at Hidyatul Hasanah Preschool near Bogor, West Java – a satellite city of 1 million south of Jakarta.  “He’s always saying ‘Mom, I want to play again, I want to run again. I tell him to be patient, that God willing, he’ll be able to walk one day.”

Monday, 6 November 2017

Reaching Adam

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer


Ibu Ana with Adam at his home outside Tulungagung © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Tulungagung: “You can tell where they worked by the design of the house,” says Ibu Ana as we rumble past large, multi-roofed homes on the way to Ibu Katiyah’s place. 

Two years ago Ibu Katiyah returned to this corner of East Java with her three-year-old son Adam – 27 years after first departing. Ibu Ana, a government welfare worker, met them while verifying welfare rolls, and the two became fast friends.

“Migrant labourers like to build big houses here like the ones they work in overseas,” Ibu Ana adds as we zig and zag, dodging chickens, potholes and the occasional shingle.

“But Ibu Katiyah didn’t have enough money to build one. She lives in a dirt-floor home up the road.”