Tag Archives: education

The downsides to Singapore’s education system: streaming, stress and suicides

First published in South China Morning Post on 21 September, 2017

The country’s school system is geared towards high achievement in exams, but the emphasis on rote learning and memorisation, combined with pressure to succeed, affects children’s social skills, health and overall happiness.

Singapore’s education system is reputed for producing children who top the world rankings in standardised tests. The city state took first place in the last Pisa (global education rankings.

Hong Kong ranked ninth in the last Pisa tests, below Taiwan (fourth) and Macau (sixth).

Howard Tan, a former Singapore primary-school teacher turned private tutor, says he has encountered parents who put undue pressure on their youngsters.

“It’s too simplistic to say that the pressure comes from the system. A lot of pressure comes from parents,” he says, adding that he’s seen parents express disappointment with their children for scoring less than 90 per cent in tests. “As a teacher, I hardly push my students that way. The system necessitates that from the parents,” he says.

Tan teaches eight- and nine-year-olds, and his private tuition classes wrap up at 9pm. “I have one eight-year-old student taking multiple tuition classes from multiple tutors per subject, amounting to 11 tuition sessions a week. Does she have time for anything else?”

Tan says that when he taught physical education classes in primary school, he noticed that a number of children lacked motor skills. “In preschool … they need to socialise and learn conflict resolution with other kids. Many of the children I taught didn’t know how to deal with disagreements; they would shout because they didn’t know any better,” he says.

High student-to-teacher ratios are a big problem in Singaporean schools, Tan says, but pressure also stems from the practice of streaming – with pupils of the same year being segregated into different classes based on results and assessments in several key gateways.

Streaming is where the Singapore system differs from Hong Kong’s. However, segregation of “bright and slow” students still happens in Hong Kong, in the form of school banding.

Singapore’s compulsory education system consists of six years of primary school, four years of secondary, and between one and three years of post-secondary school. Students undergo two major exams before even leaving primary school.

At the end of primary year four, pupils are tested to determine the courses they will take in English, mathematics, mother tongue, and science. At the end of primary school, they take the Primary School Leaving Examination, which determines the stream a pupil will follow in secondary education.

There are four streams: Special, Express, Normal Academic, and Normal Technical. Special comprises about 10 per cent of pupils, and is an accelerated pathway to university. Fifty per cent make the Express track, which may lead directly to university or initially to junior college. Twenty per cent pursue the Normal track, leading to polytechnic institute, while the remainder fall into Normal Technical, which leads to a qualification at the Institute of Technical Education.

Some Singapore parents regard streaming as beneficial for children with different learning capacities. Maida Genato, who has three children at school, says: “For the slow learners, if you teach at a faster pace, they might have a hard time adjusting, whereas for fast learners, if you slow the pace they might get bored.”

Tan, however, says that with class sizes of 30 to 40 pupils, streaming will fail a lot of children.

Jamie Sisson, an education lecturer at University of South Australia, says streaming and high-stakes testing increase stress on children and parents.

“There is hard evidence proving that below high school, homework does not have a positive impact on learning.”
– JAMIE SISSON

“[It serves] to limit opportunities for learners that later affects their opportunities in life. Humans are complex beings. It is difficult to determine at a young age what someone is capable of achieving later in life,” she says.

The Singaporean concept of kiasu – a Hokkien word meaning “afraid to lose” – may explain why parents enrol their children in extracurricular tuition in the hope they will excel in test scores.

Genato, a Filipino, says she’s noticed that her daughter’s ethnic Chinese classmates tend to be pushed harder. “It must be a cultural thing,” she adds.

Sisson says she has observed that young adults of Chinese descent, including Singaporeans, sometimes find it hard to adapt to the university’s style of teaching.

“I’m seeing students, especially from China, struggle because they’re used to memorising answers. When they come to study in Australia, they have to shift their way of thinking.”

Sisson advocates a democratic, student-centred pedagogy, a teaching ethos by which students play a significant role in defining course policies, materials covered, and other aspects of schooling.

“Research shows that placing high value on test scores has led to narrow views of teaching and learning,” she says. “Such practices focus on memorising facts that have been determined by others to be of worth.

“If we don’t understand how things work in the context of real life, then we don’t understand, we’re just memorising. This can limit children’s opportunities to develop skills important to being innovative problem solvers we need in the future.”

Sisson refers to a widely cited report by British-based business lecturer Sally Chan, titled The Chinese Learner – a question of style. Chan writes: “The popular view is that the stresses of learning and need to excel academically leave the Chinese student with little choice but to resort to rote learning of the essentials to pass the examinations … Such learning modes are believed to dominate classroom behaviour for Chinese students in Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia.”

Although primary-school children in Singapore spend an uncommon amount of time dealing with homework and extracurricular tuition, the benefits are questionable.

“There is hard evidence proving that below high school, homework does not have a positive impact on learning,” Sisson says, citing the example of Finland, which takes a holistic approach to education. Finnish students have little or no homework, and there is no private tuition culture in the country.

Finland came sixth in the latest Pisa rankings, and its schools produce young adults who are critical thinkers and problem-solvers.

“In preschool … they need to socialise and learn conflict resolution with other kids. Many of the children I taught didn’t know how to deal with disagreements.”
– HOWARD TAN

Finnish children don’t start school until they are seven years old, and there is only one standardised test, administered in the final year of high school. School holidays are longer. Finland ranked fifth in the UN’s 2016 World Happiness Report; Singapore ranked 26th.

Last year, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced that a new scoring system would come into effect in 2021, claiming it will reduce stress by encouraging pupils to focus on their own learning rather that competition with their classmates.

Currently, a student’s Primary School Leaving Examination aggregate is the sum of T-scores from all four subjects taken. T-scores indicate how well a pupil has performed relative to peers in the subjects. From 2021, pupils’ scores will no longer be benchmarked against their classmates’, the ministry says, admitting: “The way that the T-score is calculated may have also created unhealthy competition among our young children.”

Roy Ngerng is a Singaporean activist, who in 2014 was found guilty of defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his sociopolitical blog, in comments about the city state’s pension fund. In an article titled ““New” PSLE Education Scoring System: Does it Change Anything?” Ngerng concludes that the change “still puts excessive focus on academic results”, and that students will actually find it harder to obtain higher scores.

Ngerng suggests that “healing” the system would require a combination of reducing class sizes and the administrative workload of teachers so they can focus on the development of each child, which would in turn reduce stress levels.

He also suggests a reduction in school hours. This would give teachers room for more creative activities to develop children’s critical thinking skills, he says.

Under the Knife: Female Genitalia Mutilation Causes Long Term Psychological Effects on Indonesian Women

First published in Indonesia Expat, 1 August 2017

Female genitalia mutilation is common practice in Indonesia. Although it is largely associated with Islamic teachings, many claim there is no connection to the religion. I speak to women who have experience first-hand and discover that there are more than negative physical effects caused by this incredible act of violation of human rights.

Nini works as a house helper in Jakarta. Recently a grandmother to baby twin girls, she had planned to accompany her son and daughter-in-law to the twins’ first official doctor’s appointment a few days after their births in South Jakarta. The routine visit was to include a check-up, vaccinations and the female circumcision.

Female genitalia mutilation, known in Bahasa Indonesia as ‘sunat perempuan’ is a common practice in Indonesia – and not just in rural areas. Parents and guardians like Nini have been told that the practice of either partially cutting or removing the clitoris entirely at a young age, without the child’s consent, is part of religious tradition that must be honoured. According to a 2016 report by UNICEF, 49 percent of Indonesian girls aged below 14 had undergone female genital mutilation by 2015.

In the country with the highest population of Muslims in the world, many people in Indonesia believe the practice is part of their religious passage. Historical records show that the practice began in the country with the arrival of Islam in the 13th century. It is carried out in different regions of the archipelago where Islam is predominant.

“I only know about sunat perempuan from the Betawi people I know, who say that it’s a religious passage in Islam,” says Nini, a Muslim who is originally from Cirebon and has not been circumcised. “Maybe it’s according to different regions’ traditions and beliefs.”

In 2013 the Indonesian Ulema Council ruled in favour of this violation against human rights, claiming it is part of Islamic teachings. Many Muslims, however, would disagree that it is taught in their religion.

Wulan Danoekoesoemo is the Co-Founder of Lentera Indonesia, an NGO aimed at providing support and counsel for victims of sexual abuse. Wulan is also a practicing Muslim and believes there is no passage in the Koran that teaches female circumcision.

“Female genitalia mutilation is not part of Islamic teachings,” she tells Indonesia Expat. “It has no medical/health benefit and was passed on through the generations as part of culture and tradition.”

Wulan herself is a victim of this violation against human rights. When she was only a few days old, her mother – believing she was acting in her daughter’s best interests at the time – took her to a clinic to have the procedure done on her. Although Wulan does not have any significant physical effects, she experiences psychological side effects until this day on a daily basis.

“Every time I get water on that region, I feel an incredibly overwhelming feeling of sadness and depression that I can’t explain,” she confesses.

“I feel worthless. It’s as though that part of me still recalls the extraordinary violation that took place all those years ago, and conveys it through my emotions.”

Wulan also teaches psychology at Binus University, and believes the psychological ramifications of female genitalia mutilation are significant to a woman’s development.

“When you’ve been violated from such a young age, it stays with you and defines the person who you are,” she says honestly. “Contrary to male circumcision in Indonesia, where the child or young man ultimately gets to make the decision as to whether or not he wants to ‘have the snip,’ girls are not asked – it just happens to them.”

The World Health Organisation states that the procedure has no health benefits whatsoever, contrary to popular local belief, unlike male circumcision, where health benefits include a reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases, protection against penile cancer and a reduced risk of cervical cancer in female sex partners.

The same practice on females can lead to harm. According to the World Health Organisation the procedure “can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”

As Wulan experienced, psychological problems, including low self-esteem, depression and anxiety are long-term consequences associated with the practice.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types. Type one is the partial or total removal of the clitoris, type two is the partial or full removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. Type four includes all other harmful procedures carried out on the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes; pricking, piercing, scraping and cauterizing.

In Indonesia, types one and four is prevalent. In 2006 the government tried to ban the practice, a move that proved unsuccessful and was lifted. In 2010, the Health Ministry issued a decree outlining the ‘proper’ procedure for the circumcision, and has since tried to accommodate cultural and religious considerations, focusing efforts on eradicating type one genital mutilation and promoting a ‘safer’ type four, which involves pricking the clitoris, not removing it. Activists claim this contradicts the 2006 ruling prohibiting clinics from performing any mutilation and causes confusion among the public.

Wulan’s circumcision falls into type four. She believes the public needs to be educated about the practice to help them understand.

“People need to know and understand consent and how the female genitalia mutilation does not give the opportunity to women to agree or disagree to the practice. People may mean no harm to their daughters when they exercised this, but they also need to be aware of the physical and psychological impact that may result from this experience.”

Wulan believes the government needs to start being more firm when it comes to protecting personal choices.

“Despite tradition, it is still a matter of taking away an individual’s right to allow or not allow actions to be done to their bodies.”

She urges the government to start socializing accurate information about female genitalia mutilation: “working with local influencers and primary health care providers to reconstruct people’s understanding on female genitalia mutilation issues taking various approaches as well. It will take a lot of time but it needs to start somewhere.”

After receiving the facts about the dangers of female genitalia mutilation, Nini decided not to take her twin granddaughters to have the procedure done. These two little girls were the lucky ones.

Hope from the Darkness

A Hazara fleeing persecution has dedicated her life in Indonesia to helping her fellow refugees in Bogor.

‘Here we are in transit. We can’t go back to our home country, we can’t go forward, we are totally stuck and we don’t know for how long. We are in limbo.’

These are the words of Kalsoom Jaffari, a Hazara from Pakistan, currently living as a refugee in West Java’s rainy city of Bogor. She landed on Indonesian soil in August 2013 and has been waiting to be resettled in a third country ever since.

‘I’m originally from Behsood, where there are a lot of problems with the Taliban,’ Kalsoom tells me when I visit her in her very simple rented apartment in Bogor where she lives with her brother, Sikander. ‘In Afghanistan we are severely persecuted.’

Before her estranged life in Indonesia, Kalsoom was working for the UNHCR in Pakistan as a Health and Education Coordinator and with Mercy Corps Pakistan’s Integrated Health Program as a Community Health Educator. Being a Hazara woman working for an NGO, and also a Shia Muslim, she found herself on an extremist target list, which meant her life was in grave danger.

Kalsoom opens up to me as we sip on tea in her living room. ‘In March 2013, while working in the field providing an education at schools in refugee camps, a group of terrorists tried to kidnap me with my driver. We escaped but we received a phone call saying that this time we got lucky. I was supervising 16 of these camps at the time. I never thought that one day I would become a refugee.’

She continues, ‘The terrorists have no mercy for the young, the old, for women, for nobody. They will stop a bus and open fire on the Hazara because of this face.’ She points to her fair skin, which is what differentiates her from others in her home country.

Kalsoom’s father passed away when she was very young, and her mother and three younger sisters are still in Pakistan. Both of her sisters have stopped their studies because of threatening letters from terrorist groups. Kalsoom and her brother were forced to flee and seek asylum in another country.

Before arriving in Indonesia, Kalsoom and Sikander paid US$7,000 each to an agent who organized their safe passage to Indonesia as asylum seekers. They travelled from Pakistan to Malaysia, continuing by boat with 13 other asylum seekers, eventually landing in Medan.

‘When we arrived on the shores of Sumatra, we had to walk through the jungle at night. It was so dark and the guide had to cut trees to make a path,’ Kalsoom remembers. ‘The next day we were in a car driving around Medan for the entire day to avoid the immigration police. The air-conditioning was on and we were shivering because our clothes were soaking wet.’

Before alighting at Medan Kualanamu International airport, the driver told them to stay in the car as he went to get their tickets. Three men came and knocked on the car window. They claimed to be from immigration and said they were going to arrest everyone unless they paid US$1000 each.

‘We were so scared. They showed us their IDs but since we didn’t know anything about Indonesia, we didn’t know if they were real or not. In the end they took US$500 per head.’

US$500 is exactly the amount Kalsoom’s agent told them each to carry on the journey.

‘We are separated from our family,’ she shares with concern in her voice. Her youngest brother is currently in Melbourne, Australia on a bridging visa. He is also not allowed to work but he does what he can to help Kalsoom and her brother. ‘Hopefully one day we will be resettled in a third country, but we don’t know whether that would be Australia, Canada, New Zealand or America. If Australia, then at least we would be reunited with our brother.’

Kalsoom received her refugee status from the UNHCR in March 2014 but has heard no news since. She sends the UNHCR emails, letters, and has visited many times, but to no avail. ‘To visit, I have to leave at 4am and sit in front of the UNHCR gate in the morning until they open at 7am. Most of the time we don’t get an appointment. When I call them, the lines are always busy and I end up spending all my phone credit.’

According to Kalsoom, the UNHCR has just 49 staff for the entire asylum seeker and refugee population in Indonesia, of which there are over 14,000. Kalsoom says 6,000 live around Jakarta and Bogor, with the remainder in refugee centres around the country that she refers to as ‘prisons’. The UNHCR prioritizes resettling families. As Kalsoom and her brother are both single, they have been waiting four years. ‘I’m even thinking to get married here!’ Kalsoom manages to joke.

According to Kalsoom, all of the refugees are struggling to survive. As they are not permitted to work during their stay in Indonesia, they rely on money sent from their families back home. Most of the asylum seekers and refugees eat once or twice a day to save money. They have developed unusual sleeping patterns in an attempt to conserve energy and funds, going to bed very late at night (around 2-3am), and waking up at around noon. When they awake, they eat breakfast, which will usually consist of a cup of tea and some bread.

‘Our rent here is expensive,’ Kalsoom shares. ‘We can’t boil the tap water to drink because it’s totally brown. This leads to a lot of health problems when the water is used for showering and even drinking, including stomach problems, scabies and also vaginitis.’ Kalsoom helps by conducting health workshops for refugees, providing them with a kit that includes basic health items and toiletries.

Kalsoom herself has recently been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Lupus, due to environmental and lifestyle factors, namely stress and a poor diet. She suffers from painful and swelling joints and has not been able to start a course of medication due to lack of funding.

Although she is unwell, Kalsoom has been extremely proactive and has used her time in Indonesia to help other refugees and asylum seekers better their lives.

When she first arrived in Bogor, she noticed some children playing outside. When asking the parents why they didn’t send their children to the only refugee school open at the time, they replied that they couldn’t afford the transportation costs.

This inspired Kalsoom to do something. ‘I went to a stationary shop and bought some notebooks and pencils.. I felt that if I didn’t do this, nobody would support them. It cost Rp.110,000, which is a lot of money for me, but the peace I felt inside me was unique. I can’t explain it.’

Children learning English at the volunteer-led Cipayung Refugee Educational Center, founded by Kalsoom

With the books in hand, Kalsoom informed the parents in her neighbourhood that she would be teaching the children in the evenings. Starting by teaching English to three students in her home, the size of the class continued to grow to 40 students today, with classes taking place at a small rental-home-turned-school called the Cipayung Refugee Educational Center. Classes were even extended to the children’s mums, who today come twice a week to learn sewing and crocheting in Kalsoom’s living room.

The women, who now go by the name Refugee Women Support Group, are equipped with the skills to make pouches, pants, purses, and even dresses. Handicrafts made are sold in different bazaars in Jakarta and via non-profit online organization Beyond the Fabric, run by a group of friends.

‘We do this to empower the women. In our culture back home, these women are not allowed to go outside alone or make an income; men have authority.’ The women, who are from Iraq, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, love coming to class and would never miss a session.

Most of the women who take Kalsoom’s classes had never touched a sewing machine prior to joining, and are now able to make beautiful creations. They are able to express themselves keeping busy at the same time, while earning a little bit of pocket money.

Kalsoom has empowered women refugees by teaching them how to sew at the Refugee Women Support Group

Through personal donations from expat friends she’s made in Jakarta, Kalsoom has somehow managed to keep her school alive, as well as continued to pay rent and electricity in her humble home where the women meet.

Together with her friend Mohammad Baqir Bayani, Kalsoom has started the Health, Education and Learning Program (HELP) for Refugees project, with ambitious plans to open a refugee school in South Jakarta. The school plans to provide an education for children, teach computer literacy to young adults, as well as provide health workshops to adults. Activities like sewing and handicraft classes will also be offered to mothers to advocate for the creation of further income-generating activities.

Kalsoom’s refugee friends who teach at the Cipayung Refugee Educational Centre in Bogor

Kalsoom has become a very respected figure in her community in Bogor. Although she comes across as extremely strong, it is clear her past and present hardships and future uncertainties are taking a toll on her. ‘I miss my home and my family, but I am not safe there. Here I’m safe but my loved ones are not with me,’ she tells me with sadness in her eyes. When asked what her fears are, she answers, ‘Even if I’m tired I cannot sleep. I fear too much about what’s going to happen and I worry about the safety of my family back home.’

First published in Inside Indonesia. 

 

 

HELP to Open a School for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Jakarta!

Health, Education and Learning Program (HELP) for Refugees needs your help to raise funds to pay for rent and electricity for a new refugee school in Jakarta.

Indonesia is currently home to over 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers waiting to be resettled in a third country. Under Indonesian law, asylum seekers and refugees are not allowed to work; they do not have access to social support from the Indonesian Government and most schools and universities will not accept them.Many refugees are deprived of a sense of purpose and dignity, which can be provided by work and study. They continually face the feelings of being trapped, unable to return to their country, whilst having no prospect of settling lawfully in Indonesia, which for many may have been the country of choice after building a life here. Lack of education in refugee communities and detention centres is one of the biggest problems individuals and families face.

The Health, Education and Learning Program (HELP) for Refugees in Jakarta, run by the community, for the community, is a collective of passionate refugees, working to better the lives of fellow refugees and asylum seekers living in limbo.

The program will help by providing education for children, teaching computer literacy courses to young adults, while presenting a range of Information and technology skills alongside health workshops, focusing on common health issues and family planning education. In conjunction with these classes and activities, HELP will provide an extra curricular component to the program in the form of sewing, embroidery, knitting and handicraft workshops, which will be offered whilst advocating for the creation of further income-generating activities.

Providing refugees and asylum seekers with a space to use their time productively and positively will help prevent asylum seekers and refugee children, adults and families from being trapped in their homes, left to deal with traumas of the past, reflections of the present and fears of the future. With a focus on empowering individuals, HELP will work to provide individuals with the skills, positive energy and support that they need to engage with the knowledge, tools and focus they can access within themselves, creating the confidence and momentum to move forward into their unknown futures.

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Objectives

1. Providing classes for the children to ensure they continue to be engaged with reading and learning.

2. Providing adults with english lessons to encourage preparedness for resettlement, and the encouragement of intergenerational learning of English.

3. Providing opportunities for learning new practical skills or practicing their old skills, with a strong focus on these skills leading to potential income generating activities in the future. Women will be given the top priority.

4. Conducting health workshops most common health that are particular to the area of residents, including family planning workshops.

5. Encouraging and teaching computer literacy as a way to get individuals involved with career development activities.

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Budget

For conducting our voluntary activities, HELP For Refugees will need to rent a space. As asylum seekers and refugees are dispersed throughout Jakarta, with the majority of them residing in Tebet, it has been decided that this will be where the program will be based.

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The proposed budget is an estimated minimum cost of what will be required to establish and run the school and program for up to a year. We need your support to raise the funds to make this education centre a reality!

Program evaluation

Assessment tests will be conducted every three months to determine the progress in children’s studies. Interviews, questionnaire, case study, surveys or focus group discussion will be used to evaluate our outcomes in health and learning areas.

Who is behind The HELP For Refugees?

Mohammad Baqir Bayani and Kalsoom Jaffari are Co-founders of HELP For Refugees, both refugees who have been living in Indonesia for the last few years and have devoted their time to helping fellow asylum seekers and refugees. Baqir is co-founder of The Refugee Reflect Circle (RRC), a group of photographers who use their experience and skills of visual storytelling to tell the stories of asylum seekers and refugees, he is a creative writer, and the co-founder and co-director of Refugees Of Indonesia project.

Kalsoom Jaffari works tirelessly to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers in Cisarua have access to education, essential health information and any translation services. Her previous work experience includes working on health programs with UNHCR in Pakistan and as a Community Health Education (CHE) with Mercy Corps Pakistan’s Integrated Health Program. She conducts monthly health workshops ensuring that women have knowledge on Gender Based Violence, providing them with health and education packs.

Kalsoom is also the founder of the Refugee Women’s Support Group, giving women access to sewing and handicraft activities to encourage the initiation of income-generating activities, supported by Beyond the Fabric. She is also the founder of the Cipayung Education Centre, a small school providing education to refugee children in Cipayung, Bogor.

DONATE NOW! 🙂

Voices for the Orangutan

Seeing an orangutan in its natural habitat is a rare and magical experience that, for many, will only happen once in a lifetime. 96.4 percent of our genetic makeup is shared with these Great Apes found in the wild on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo only. Due to mankind’s continued encroachment of their natural habitat—particularly  for palm oil plantations, hunting and capture for the illegal wildlife trade—the Sumatran Orangutan population sits at critically endangered (6,500 left in the wild), and the Borneo Orangutan at endangered (54,000 remaining in the wild). Although they are protected by Indonesian, Malaysian and international laws, it is estimated that between four and 5,000 wild orangutans disappear every year.

Dr. Gary Shapiro was the first person to teach a symbolic communication system to an orangutan at Chaffee Zoological Park, California, and the first person to teach sign language to orangutans in their natural environment in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan). “When I spent two years in the forests of Indonesian Borneo teaching sign language to a group of formerly owned “pet” orangutans that were learning to return to the wild, I became much more interested in the species and their plight,” Dr. Shapiro tells me. One particular orangutan named Princess adopted Dr. Shapiro as her father. “We did many things together as she learned her signs and became a free-ranging juvenile orangutan. It was during that time I knew I would devote my life to helping the species survive.”

At the time, Dr. Shapiro felt that not enough money was being spent on education and community outreach to address the root cause of the orangutan’s dilemma. It was clear to him that more had to be done to educate people about the species and their plight, which is why the Orang Utan Republik Foundation (OURF) was founded.

OURF works towards saving orangutans from extinction in the wild by funding education and outreach programs in Sumatra and Kalimantan, through the Orangutan Republik Education Initiative (OUREI), an Indonesia-registered non-profit project active since 2004. These organizations were born of the belief that saving orangutans can only be ensured by the people of Indonesia and Malaysia.

One of the foundation’s unique programmes is university scholarship funding to Indonesian students of biology, forestry and veterinary science. Students receiving these scholarships are required to work with local organisations, becoming more knowledgeable about orangutans during their schooling. They graduate as advocates for orangutans.

Another OURF project is Orangutan Caring Clubs of Indonesia, where the message of conservation is brought to schools, government offices and the wider community. Outreach projects include visiting schools in Jakarta and Medan with film and education materials, engaging local and national government officials in conservation issues, and recently, partnering with other orangutan advocacy groups to fund an educational forum with environmental advisers to the Indonesian presidential candidates.

Ridhwan Effendi is Director of OUREII and ensures all aspects of their programme run according to plan. He feels that due to ignorance, there is no sense of urgency among Indonesians to protect the orangutan. “Orangutans are an endemic species to Indonesia, but many Indonesians are not even aware of them,” he explains. “They often see the orangutan as a problem that must be eliminated, causing damage to crops and plantations. Even at managerial levels of palm oil plantations in Central Kalimantan, they consider the orangutan an enemy.”

Although the government has passed laws to protect the species, Effendi believes the problem remains in law enforcement. In 1990, the government passed UU No. 5 1990, article 21, where it states that a sentence of up to five years and a fine of 100 million rupiah will be given to those who capture, harm, own, kill or sell a protected animal, including orangutans.

In 2011, instructions were passed down from the president (Intruksi Presiden No.10 tahun 2011) to stop any further destruction of rainforest and peat land, however there has been no follow through – in the first three years since its passing, 6.4 million hectares of protected forest were cleared. Effendi believes the new government is more focused on political issues rather than the environment. “It does not seem that the new government is doing anything yet to protect the remaining rainforests and natural habitat of the orangutan. According to national statistics, 48.8 million hectares of ancient rainforest remain on Kalimantan, however Greenpeace’s figures are much lower, at 25.5 million hectares,” he tells me.

Wild orangutans in Central Kalimantan
Wild orangutans in Central Kalimantan by Angela Richardson

Although it may feel like a lost cause, due to the hard work that non-governmental organisations such as OURF and OUREII do, there is still hope. “For every person who might have purchased an orangutan and decided not to because of our programs, six to eight orangutans may have been saved,” Dr. Shapiro explains. “Our field education program helps save individual orangutans that might be killed as pests when they wander into a farmer’s garden or orchard. Peoples’ attitudes have changed and many who would have poached or killed an orangutan are not doing so anymore.”

According to Dr. Shapiro, we can each help to make a difference by paying attention to the contents of our grocery shopping. “Stop buying products made of conflict palm oil, which is produced under conditions associated with the ongoing destruction of rainforests, expansion on carbon-rich peat lands, and human rights violations, including the failure to recognize and respect the customary land rights of forest-dependent communities and the use of forced labour and child labour,” he says. Choosing products that are orangutan-safe will require some investigation, but Dr. Shapiro assures us that there are guides and apps available to help us.

Partaking in ecotourism can also make a difference. Dr. Shapiro urges us to join small groups that visit orangutan viewing areas near and around national parks in Kalimantan and Sumatra, as this helps to support families and small businesses that have an economic interest in keeping forests and orangutans alive. He adds, “It also sends a message to local officials that forests are worth saving for their tour value.”

For those in Bali who would like to help support the orangutan, OURF will be holding a fundraiser, Voices for the Jungle, on March 6th in Seminyak. 

Contact balifundraiser@orangutanrepublik.org for more information. If you can’t attend, please make a donation online: http://orangutanrepublik.org/donate-now

Visit www.orangutanrepublik.org or www.orangutanodysseys.com for more information.

 

Treating a Growing HIV and AIDS Epidemic in Indonesia

Yayasan Kasih Suwitno at Ruang Carlo Community Centre: Non-discriminatory, friendly and free services for people with HIV and AIDS in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

World Aids Day took place on 1 December 2014 and according to UNAIDS, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in Indonesia is one of the fastest growing epidemics in Asia, due to the lack of awareness, lack of education and health services, not to mention the social stigmas attached to having HIV or AIDS. Indonesia’s first case of the HIV virus was reported in 1987 and in 2011, 310,000 were reported to have the virus, with 8,700 annual reported deaths.

Today, the highest concentration areas are Papua, where 2.7% of the population have contracted the virus, followed by Jakarta, East Java, West Java, Bali and Riau. In Wamina, West Papua, 30% of the population have HIV, and nearly 100% have either Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, as these particular STDs are closely linked with the HIV virus.

Steve Wignall, Founder of Yayasan Kasih Suwitno (YKS) in Jakarta and Yayasan Bali Peduli (YBP) in Bali, has been working in Indonesia for 30 years and is an expert in HIV and AIDS. Due to an increase in cases in young people, in 2011 Steve and Dr. Emon Winardi (Director of the clinic) and their friend Johan set up YKS at Ruang Carlo Community Centre to provide services to patients that were friendly, efficient, easy to access and most importantly, free.

The clinic is located in the Saint Carolus Hospital and is a comfortable and discreet area, closed off from the rest of the hospital. Walls are painted a calming cream, service is friendly and knowledgeable, and there are different areas where patients can wait in peace.

“For young people with a chronic sickness, it’s very hard. They don’t have a lot of disposable income; the system often doesn’t respect their time and the cost of transport back and forth,” Steve tells me on my visit to the clinic in the centre of Jakarta.

Today the clinic has six full-time staff and is a wonderful example of a public-private partnership, working with the government who provide the reagents and drugs, and the NGO providing the environment and resources to make it accessible to people.

A common misconception is that HIV is a death sentence, when this is no longer true. If a person is tested early, before their immune system is damaged, medication is free and they will be able to live happy, healthy lives, have families and not infect other people. People are afraid to come for testing because of the stigmas associated with the virus.

Steve Wignall and Dr. Janice of Ruang Carlo Community Centre, Jakarta
Steve Wignall and Dr. Janice of Ruang Carlo Community Centre, Jakarta

Dr. Janice Tandraeliene works at Ruang Carlo Community Centre and believes stigmas are the main reason why people don’t take the test. “Some people are afraid to come, not just here but to all health facilities that test for HIV. There are many reasons, including the stigma, because they’re alone and don’t know what to do. When people come here alone, we try to consult and explain about HIV and make them comfortable so that they want to take the test.” If the result is positive, patients will be guided by therapy and given medication, which they are expected to take for the remainder of their lives.

The medication given to HIV patients is called anti-retroviral therapy and works by suppressing the virus and stopping the progression of the disease. Killing the virus is not possible, but these drugs stop it from developing. HIV is different from other viruses and infections because it becomes one with the DNA, integrating and hiding within it. Patients do not die from HIV; they die from infections, viruses and funguses, which are able to attack the weakened immune system.

“Unfortunately, HIV goes for the dalang (mastermind) of our immune system, the CD4 positive T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. We’re all exposed every day to viruses and funguses but our immune system takes care of that,” Steve explains.

HIV is transmitted in key infected populations: injecting drug users – a problem that is decreasing in Indonesia as people are switching to amphetamine-like substances –, female commercial sex workers – 10-15% of whom are HIV positive -, and men who have sex with men – a rapidly expanding population of over 1 million individuals. In Jakarta in 2003, studies showed that 2% of gay men were found to be HIV positive; in 2007, 8%; and in 2011, 17%. At YKS today, an average of 27% of young men tested, are HIV positive.

What is the reason for this growing statistic? Social medias are providing a new platform for young people to meet and sex is happening at a younger age. Unfortunately, this is not coupled with adequate sexual education in local schools, and not at an early enough age, by teachers who are able and willing to talk openly about sex.

One of the fastest growing groups in Indonesia are housewives infected by their husbands who are visiting sex workers or are having sex with other men. In Bali, one in 200 pregnant women have contracted the virus from their husbands.

Steve believes the focus should shift towards men. “The focus often goes to the women, but it’s really the man that’s the problem. There’s only a sex industry if there’s a market to sell sex; if men didn’t buy it, there would not be women selling it. Getting men who buy sex to use condoms is a challenge and we need to continue to work on that; the best we see is 40-50% condom use.”

Antonio giving a consultation to a patient at Ruang Carlo Community Centre
Antonio giving a consultation to a patient at Ruang Carlo Community Centre

Antonio is Case Manager at Ruang Carlo Community Centre and is HIV positive. He’s passionate about helping others who are going through what he has. “My life has become more positive, living healthily, and getting support from family and friends. Of course, I want to be a role model for other friends so they do not feel despair and can continue to enjoy their lives by giving and sharing information about the ups and downs of life with HIV, and supporting each other.”

The only way to break the process of infection is for people with high risk behaviours to get tested. “We’re only going to be able to break this chain of infection if people know their status,” reminds Steve. Recently, the team at YKS have been bringing free HIV testing to certain high-risk establishments in Jakarta, resulting in a much higher number of people agreeing to be tested.

How to help

YKS would like to provide more mobile testing, and welcome your donations to help them continue to run their operations. 

Donations can be made to: 

Yayasan Kasih Suwitno

Panin Bank

148 5 017678

Harco Mangga Dua Blok I no. 5 A-B

Swift Code PINBIDJA

 First published in Indonesia Expat December 2014