Friday, 14 July 2017

Roots Day Takes Aim at Bullying in Makassar

By Derry Fahrizal Ulum, Child Protection Officer

Students and I during Roots Day activities at one of the photo booths © Derry Ulum / 2017 

Makassar:“I believe that making friends with everybody is a good way to overcome [the problem of] bullying. When we show our closest friends how to behave positively, it influences all students to want to change just like us”.

The above statement was made by one of 30 student ‘change-makers’ during ‘Roots Day’ at SMPN 37 Middle School in Makassar, a regional port town in the southwest of Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island. Roots Day is the culmination of a student-to-student school anti-violence initiative piloted by UNICEF that seeks to eliminate bullying to optimize learning and enhance student safety.

Some 50 percent of Indonesian students aged 13-15 report being bullied at school. That’s one of the highest rates in the world. Youth engagement is the key to addressing the problem. By taking a stand against bullying and challenging norms that rationalize violence as part of the culture, Indonesia can provide its young people with greater opportunities to learn, grow and prosper.

As a bullying hotspot, Makassar is where UNICEF has centred efforts to test our Roots Day strategy. Some 58 per cent of students reported experiencing bullying at school in a pre-pilot study carried out by UNICEF in tandem with local partner, Yayasan Indonesia Mengabdi (YIM).

The programme focuses on fostering a safe climate in schools by activating the role of students as agents of change who can identify the roots of bullying and implement solutions. As agents of change, they design school-based anti-violence campaigns with the aim of changing attitudes among students.

The 30 change agents, selected through ‘closed polls’ by their peers, were tasked with delivering effective messages on positive behaviour. Due to their popularity, these 30 ‘influencers’ are thought to have greater sway over their peers, and thus the most potential to trigger behaviour change.

The 10 meetings that led up to Roots Day helped the change agents ensure their campaign had maximum impact. The students, guided by young facilitators and supervised by UNICEF, employed interactive activities like skits and films to internalize an awareness of the negative effects of bullying.

The second batch of meetings focused on honing a message and crafting a strategy for spreading it to students.

To that end, the 30 student ‘change-makers’ collaborated on eight separate exhibition booths, one of which was a U-Report Booth and another that visualized data on the negative impacts of bullying.

It was incredible to be in an atmosphere of such positivity, to witness youngsters standing up to become leaders on an issue affecting them all. The school administration was supportive, too. In addition to taking an interest in the booths, teachers allowed students to bring cell phones to school so they could document activities on their social media accounts.

These peer-to-peer approaches to preventing violence are a necessary supplement to classroom learning. They harness the powerful influence of peer pressure and transform it into a positive force that encourages young people to live violence-free. In the Roots pilot, this is pursued in a supportive, accepting environment that recognizes young people as resources.

Ending school-based violence is essential for the development of our children, but it is only when teachers and students come together to make physical and emotional safety a priority that such a goal can be achieved.

The future looks hopeful. The provincial Government of South Sulawesi (as well as local governments in the cities of Gowa and Makassar) have expressed a desire to expand the pilot to other areas of South Sulawesi.

Among students, the programme was well-received as a first step in addressing school-based violence.

“Ending bullying for me is a priority. I had such an amazing experience with the facilitators and the other change-makers. We need to make more and more friends,” said one change-maker.

“Every child matters at this school, so no one deserves to be bullied.”