“I wish every child could be whatever they want to be…” says a card hanging from a branch of a “wishing tree” UNICEF Indonesia set up to celebrate the organization's 70th anniversary.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, was born on 11 December 1946, just over a year after Indonesia proclaimed its independence. In a sense, the two grew up together.
In the decades since, as UNICEF’s work has shifted from service delivery to capacity-building and knowledge generation with Indonesia’s rise as a middle-income economy, UNICEF has striven to ensure children lay at the heart of the Government’s development agenda, helping lift millions out of poverty and combat deadly diseases and malnutrition.
The core mission has remained the same at every juncture: to provide every Indonesian child with the opportunity to grow up healthy and protected from harm and exploitation, and to develop her or his full potential.
On this year’s Universal Children’s Day UNICEF gathered 250 youngsters at the Dutch Embassy’s cultural centre in Jakarta to discuss how to reach those children still excluded from the country’s impressive progress and to celebrate UNICEF’s 70th anniversary.
By the end of the afternoon, it was clear that Indonesian youngsters were clued in and dreaming big.
“I hope that every child in Indonesia has access to education, even when they are in remote areas,” one participant wrote, “and that they will have the same opportunities to explore the world, to unfold boundless experiences, and to learn from the best teachers who will make a positive change in their lives.”
The wish was written down and hung along the branches of the “wish tree”, along with dozens of others.
The call for progress was apt: Despite enormous progress in improving access to schools and other social services for Indonesia’s almost 90 million children, millions are deprived due to regional, gender, and income inequalities. Children from the poorest households in Indonesia, for instance, are four times more likely to drop out of school before moving to secondary school than those from the wealthiest families.
“I hope that adequate basic needs and sufficient resources are provided to achieve an equality of opportunity, #FOR EVERY CHILD,” wrote one participant. “Equal education for all!”, wrote another.
Other participants also called on the government to create an Indonesia “free from corruption, collusion and nepotism, so that justice becomes real for Indonesia’s children.”
Nutrition concerns came up as well. In Indonesia, more than one in three children are stunted – one of the highest rates in the world. “I hope in the future there will be more Indonesian children assisted with education, health and sufficient nutrition,” one participant wrote.
In all, nearly 150 wishes were hung on the tree, creating a moving reminder of the future youth want for Indonesia’s children.
Like many of those present, Lisa, a 20-year-old from North Jakarta, is already taking action to realize her dream, which is equal access to wonder and imagination among Indonesia’s children.
“In my free time I hand out books to kids on the streets of Jakarta,” she said, “to give them a sense of wonder and encourage them to follow their own dreams.”
“We should remember that we can make big changes for children with small actions.”