Ryan DagurRyan Dagur, Jakarta – Stories from Jayapura street vendors who didn't have time to tend to their children's education inspired Agustinus Kadepa and his colleagues to think about taking concrete steps to help those children in the capital of Indonesia's Papua province.
"Because those mothers are busy making a living, they barely have time to take good care of their children," he said.
Many of these children fall behind in school compared to other children of their age.
"Even though they have reached the final grade of elementary school, many cannot read, write and count," the 31-year-old lay Catholic said. "Besides that, there are also those who then quit school and wander the streets."
This sorry situation moved him and his colleagues – students, activists and civil servants – to discuss solutions.
"In the course of time, we finally agreed to take concrete steps by pioneering what we call the Teaching Papua Movement," Kadepa said.
The movement, which was launched in Jayapura in 2013, started by opening a reading park iwhere they invited children to gather to be taught how to read, write and count.
The children were divided into three groups, ranging from those who could not read at all, those who had a little more understanding and those who were fluent.
They also provide a wide selection of reading materials obtained from donors including volunteers, NGOs and the local church.
"We do a lot of activities every afternoon after formal schooling. Initially, only 24 children attended, but gradually it continued to grow," Kadepa said.
The movement has reached five districts in Papua province – Jayapura, Nabire, Paniai, Dogiyai and Deiyai – with 24 learning centers managed by 72 volunteers.
"There is no special place that is used as a learning location. Some use the churchyard, some use people's homes," said Kadepa, who graduated from Jayapura's Cenderawasih University.
Aleks Giyai, 31, one of the volunteers who is now working in Jayapura, said they not only reached out to children but also to parents and community leaders.
"We consider that attention to education must be a shared concern," he said.
"Therefore, in places where we are present, we always approach traditional leaders and church leaders first. We give them an understanding that what we are doing is not in our interests but for the future of the Papuan children."
Meanwhile, they always emphasize to parents that education is the key to Papua's progress.
Giay said their goal is to spread this movement throughout Papua. "We can't just rely on the government, as well as formal schools, even though the government budget for education is very large," he said.
Each year, about 20 percent of Papua's special autonomy fund goes to education. During 2020, funds for education reached 2.09 trillion rupiah (US$145 million) of the 6.99 trillion in special autonomy funds for two provinces – Papua and West Papua.
However, the easternmost region is still consistently ranked the lowest in the human development index of 34 provinces, one of which is the level of education.
If this change is not followed by a movement to raise awareness about the importance of education, then we Papuans will continue to be marginalized in our land
The Central Bureau of Statistics also shows that 476,534 (34.58 percent) of the school-age population in Papua have no education. The area is also experiencing a shortage of 20,147 teachers from elementary to high school levels.
Giay said from the start they had been operating on the basis of voluntarism without any financial support from the government. "If we get help, it's because there are donors who spontaneously help," he said.
Kadepa said the thing that strengthened them to keep moving was that many children wanted to continue their schooling. Some who were assisted by them have now become volunteers.
He hopes that their small steps can bear fruit with the emergence of intellectuals fighting for Papua.
"We hope there will be a successor generation for figures like Father Neles Kebadabi Tebay and Reverend Benny Giay," he said, citing two highly respected Papuan Church leaders.
Father Tebay was a lecturer, writer and head of the Papua Peace Network who died in 2019, while Reverend Giay was a prominent figure and chairman of the Synod of the Kemah Injili Church.
Kadepa said Papua is facing many problems such as human rights violations and marginalization accompanied by expansion in various sectors by outsiders.
"If this change is not followed by a movement to raise awareness about the importance of education, then we Papuans will continue to be marginalized in our land," he said.