P3W Celebrates 50 Years of Service in Papua
From: The Jakarta Globe, December 30, 2012
It’s 8:30 a.m. and a group of women from all over Papua are washing dishes and heading off to their health and nutrition classes at Pusat Pengembangan dan Pembinaan Wanita, also known as the Center for the Development and Advocacy of Women (P3W) in Jayapura.
Founded on April 2, 1962, in what was then Motorpool, Holandia (known today as Padang Bulan, Jayapura), this year P3W is celebrating its 50th birthday.
Meilanny Alfons, a young woman from Maluku who has been working at P3W for the past four years, shows me around P3W. There are vegetable gardens, a communal kitchen, dormitory-style rooms where travelers can stay for Rp 350,000 ($36) a night, prayer rooms, a shop selling Papuan handicrafts made by the women who study here, classrooms and workshops.
P3W was started by Dutch missionaries from Gereja Kristen Injili (Christian Evangelical Church) with the aim of improving the lives of women in remote parts of Papua by educating them in health, hygiene, literacy and household economics.
Today, P3W runs short courses from two to six weeks, and year-long programs at its centers in Jayapura, Sorong and Wamena. Women who take part in P3W courses live at the center where meals and pocket money are provided. The scope of P3W’s programs has expanded to include courses on the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, pastoral counseling, small business management and handicraft skills.
Apart from running courses at P3W centers, staff members travel to remote parts of Papua to assist women. Recently, a P3W team went to villages on the small islands off the Papuan mainland to explain to local women that instead of relying on government-subsidized biscuits from the clinic to feed their young children, feeding them porridge made from beans grown in their own gardens would be more nutritious, less expensive and easier to obtain.
“We like to think of our work as social education,” Meilanny tells me.
Funded by local churches, women from rural parts of Papua are sent to P3W to take part in courses. Churches in Germany, the Netherlands and Australia also send sizeable donations to P3W.
Although all the women who participate in P3W’s courses have officially been educated to the high-school level, many of them have only the most basic math skills and some are illiterate. In Papua, teacher absenteeism is higher than in any other part of Indonesia. Government school buildings in remote areas are empty for weeks on end. This does not just affect a minority of people as 85 percent of Papuans live outside of cities. Organizations such as P3W continue to be a vital part of development in Papua due to the government’s ongoing failure to meet the basic needs of local people.
But with its budget dependent on charity from abroad and the small income generated by the handicraft shop and accommodation facilities, P3W has a limited capacity to train and educate women.
Last year, 16 women graduated from the 12-month course on hygiene and health care. Every two years, alumni return to P3W to discuss how their work has been received in their home villages and how it can be further developed in the future. Some women encounter obstacles from village elders, or resentful husbands. Some women begin helping nurses in clinics. More commonly, however, clinics are empty both of staff and supplies, so once they return to their villages, the women use the skills they’ve learned at home.
P3W currently employs 36 people at its three centers. Volunteers are also accepted. Most foreign volunteers come from Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia. P3W’s longest-serving volunteer, Ibu Marijke, is an elderly woman from the Netherlands who has been at the P3W center in Jayapura for more than 30 years.
International links keep P3W afloat. Most of the volunteers are funded by churches in their home countries. Churches abroad also pay for the development of P3W staff such as Meilanny, who with the support of a church in Australia, studied English for six months at the University of Queensland in 2010.
P3W does not receive any funding or other support from the Indonesian government.
As I leave P3W, the women are finishing their lessons. Chairs are set up under the trees, three candles are lit and the women say prayers together. Walking out the gate, hymns ring in the air as the blazing sun sets over the enormous mountains in the distance.
Brooke Nolan is a PhD student from the University of Western Australia. She is currently conducting research into women’s health during childbirth in rural Southeast Sulawesi.