Laurens Ikinia, Auckland – Indigenous Papuan students who are currently studying in New Zealand and Australia have formed an educational association, choosing Waitangi Day to mark the occasion of their inaugural virtual conference.
Called the Papuan Students Association Oceania (PSAO), the organisation plans to represent all students from the Land of Papua who are currently studying in Pacific nations.
The organisers who worked tirelessly in preparing formation of the association said the aim was to unify all students from the Land of Papua who are studying in Pacific countries such as Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu.
In the PSAO articles of the association, the objective was stated as "a means of accommodating and advocating for creativity, inspiration, aspirations, and information from all Papuan students and students in Oceania."
Yan Piterson Wenda, elected as the first president of PSAO, said this was a historical moment for the Pacific.
Wenda, who completed his bachelor's degree majoring in business marketing at Otago University last year, said the association was formed to build unity for all Papuan students.
"We want to uphold the unity among all of us regardless of whether we come from the highlands or from coastal regions," he said.
'Still one Papuan'
"Even though we are separated by two provinces and many regencies, we are still one Papuan – no one can separate us."
Forming the association will not only raise the profile of Papuan students in every university or school that they attend, but it would help Papuans to support one another in the future, said Wenda.
Papuan students who are studying in New Zealand and Australia are under varied scholarship programmes, such as Papuan and West Papuan provincial scholarships, Australian Awards scholarships, New Zealand Aid Scholarships.
The Papuan provincial scholarships is the largest sponsorship source.
The members of the association range from undergraduate to doctoral students. The students are doing various major studies and spread across many universities.
At the first virtual online conference of the Papuan students, participants from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jakarta-Indonesia, West Papua and the United States also took part.
Marveys Ayomi, a scholarship coordinator for Papuan students in New Zealand, delivered an opening speech on behalf of the government of Papua province, saying he was extremely excited to get a chance to see all Papuans united in one student association.
He said he had spoken to the government back home, namely the vice-chairman of Papuan People's Representatives Dr Yunus Wonda and the head of Papuan Human Resources Development, Ariyoko Rumaropen.
"We have been granted the blessing for the formation of this organisation from our beloved parents. The formation of this organisation is to seek opportunities not only in Papua but also in the countries where you are studying currently," Ayomi said.
"As the Papuan provincial government scholarship is not legally binding, our government encourages Papuan students to be smart in terms of seeking employment opportunities."
Ayomi, who is also a lecturer at one of the tertiary institutes in Palmerston North, IPU New Zealand, said that forming this association would also promote Papuan and Melanesian cultural uniqueness to the Pacific.
He completed his studies from high school to masters in New Zealand.
"We Papuans also can do what other people do, in fact you are studying and competing with other international students in your respective area of studies," he said.
"Please keep our unity and build a network with every stakeholder wherever you are."
'Be independent' plea
Kerry Tabuni one of senior Papuan students who is currently doing his PhD in international law at Waikato University, said it was important for students to be independent during their study.
He said Papuans, as Melanesians, needed to be proud as Pacific islanders.
"For those of you who are appointed to the executive, take this opportunity to develop your leadership skills and also prepare yourselves academically. And to others, let us support them in the spirit of being united we are solid and strong," said Tabuni.
The elected executive:
- President of the Papuan Students Association Oceania: Yan Piterson Wenda
- Vice-president for New Zealand: Nickson Stevi Yikwa
- Vice-president for Australia: Maskarena Wasfle
- Secretary: Christian Lani Tabuni
- Treasury of the Papuan Students Association Oceania: Hermina Ibage
[Laurens Ikinia is a Papuan Masters in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology who has been studying journalism. He contributes to Asia Pacific Report.]