Papua: Young People Learn Life Skills to Avert HIV

UNICEF Indonesia

August, 2009 – An Interview with Mr James Modouw, Head of the Provincial Education Office.

In Papua, the prevalence rate of HIV amongst the general population is 20 times higher than the national average, according to the Indonesian Demography and Health Survey 2008. Young people are particularly affected, the rate of infection amongst the 15 – 49 age group at above 2.4 percent. In order to empower young people to take responsibility for their health and to provide them with the necessary skills to achieve this, Papua has become the first province of Indonesia to embark on a systematic process to mainstream HIV and reproductive health education into the education sector. This life-skills programme based HIV-related education in junior high schools has been supported by UNICEF through the generous donation of the Government of the Netherlands.

In an interview granted during the Ninth International Congress on HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in August, Mr. James Modouw, the Head of the Provincial Education Office, made the following comments:

How serious is the HIV pandemic in Papua? Which groups are particularly at risk?

The HIV pandemic is a serious threat to the health and well being of the people of Papua. In other parts of Indonesia, it is mostly people in high risk groups who are affected by HIV and AIDS. In Papua, it is a problem that affects everyone. In general, all young people are at risk. One study showed that the prevalence rate amongst people aged 15 – 49 was 2.4 percent. The rate of prevalence is particularly high amongst people aged 15 – 24. In this group, the rate of prevalence was above three percent.

Why are the rates of prevalence so high in Papua?

There is a widespread lack of HIV and AIDS knowledge, particularly among people in the rural areas. A large proportion of people in Papua live in undeveloped, isolated, rural highlands and inaccessible lowland areas. HIV prevalence is higher in these areas than in coastal towns and the level of knowledge and awareness is lower.

What steps are being taken to improve the level of awareness amongst young people?

First of all, you have to remember that it necessary to change the way young people behave. The sector that is best placed to influence the behavior patterns of young people is the education sector. The Papuan government intends to make awareness of HIV and AIDS an integral part of the mainstream educational system. It will be integrated into curriculum and into teaching and learning materials of a variety of different subjects, including biology, religious studies and physical education.

In addition, a variety of public awareness campaigns will be conducted through posters, pamphlets and other materials placed or distributed in school environments. These will be specifically designed to reach young people.

How will young people be involved in becoming responsible for their own well being?

Young people need knowledge, but they also need to develop the necessary skills to handle the range of challenges that growing up into an adult involves. They need to develop strength of character, the ability to withstand peer pressure, and the ability to make healthy, smart decisions regarding the way they live their lives. In order to help young people take responsibility for their own well being, the Papuan government intends to implement ‘Life Skills’ programs at schools. While these are being implemented with the goal of averting the transmission of HIV, in fact they have a great deal of value in other areas, too. Preventing HIV is an integral part of developing a stronger, healthier, smarter generation of Papuan people.

Implementing these programs is a significant challenge for the education system. At present, the teaching system still places too much emphasis on rote learning and memorization. In order to empower young people, they must take a much more active role in the educational process. To achieve this, we need to change the way the educational system is managed. We also need to change the way teachers view their own duties and responsibilities.

What about young people who do not attend school? Are they not also in need of life skills training and empowerment?

Certainly they are. In addition to programs conducted through schools, life skills can be taught through a number of non-formal educational institutions. The Indonesian educational system in general and the Papuan system in particular has a long history of involvement in non-formal education. Through scout groups, sports activities, camping activities, and vocational training programs, a large proportion of young people who do not attend schools can be reached. Learning the skills needed in life is an ongoing process.

Ultimately, we hope that all young people will be involved in programs and activities that are intended to foster and develop life skills. These skills will empower them to seek out for themselves and to make use of accurate knowledge related to HIV and AIDS. They will also help them to develop the strength of character to practice safe behaviors. In this way, we hope that by implementing life skills education programs we will avert new HIV infections among young people in Papua.

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