Friday, 2 December 2016

‘For Every Child’: UNICEF Indonesia Talks Equity

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer, UNICEF Indonesia

Every child in Indonesia deserves a chance to participate in building the country’s future.

That was the call issued by four prominent activists and social entrepreneurs gathered Monday in Jakarta for UNICEF Indonesia’s Third ACTIVATE Talks, a forum that aims to spark dialogue and action on the urgent issues confronting the country’s children and adolescents today.

The audience, comprised of some 200 youths hailing mostly from Greater Jakarta, answered the call with gusto, voicing their own dreams for Indonesian children in kind.

“My hope is that one day soon, Indonesia will decide to care for all its children, including ‘street children’ who are often made invisible,” said Andik, a 21-year-old mechanic from the gritty port of Tanjung Priok, two hours north of the Dutch Embassy’s Erasmus Huis Cultural Centre where the event was held.

The day’s event, themed “For Every Child,” was held to celebrate Universal Children’s Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November 1989, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.

While celebrating the progress made in recent decades, the forum probed the problem of equity in Indonesia, where uneven progress between regions, cities and rural areas, rising income inequality and gender discrimination means that for many of the country’s 85 million children, the promise of a brighter future remains a distant dream.

“Inequalities are passed from generation to generation in a vicious circle that has significant economic, political and social consequences – leading to an unequal and unfair world,” said UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson.

“With the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aiming to end poverty, hunger and inequality, we really have a wonderful chance to include all children in everything we do. With smart investments and targeted actions, every child can have a fair chance in life,” she said.

The four invited speakers -- Veronica Colondam, founder of the YCAB Foundation for children’s empowerment; Yenny Wahid, Executive Director of the Wahid Institute for interfaith dialogue; Azrul Ananda, CEO of the Jawa Pos media group; and Sherley Mega Sandiori, one of three winners of this year’s Asia Innovation Challenge for social development -- discussed how their work strove to reach children left behind.

For Ibu Veronica, the key is empowering marginalized youth through education and training.

Highlighting the story of former domestic helper Kristanti -- a woman who, using skills she acquired through YCAB outreach, was recently named employee of the year at a big international company, Ibu Veronica said she was in the business of “transforming realities” and creating opportunities.

She offered a practical tip for those who employ chefs, drivers and gardeners at home: “Make sure your helpers’ kids graduate from high school -- that’s the most practical thing you can do.”

Inequalities not only limit the opportunity to rise, said Yenny Wahid, but fuel a feeling of exclusion that leads to alienation and intolerance. “Where there is no sense of a future among children, there is no hope,” she said.  Parents must teach children how to empathize by doing it themselves; by seeking to understand negative emotions and problems experienced by children, thus sowing the seeds of a stable society. “It all starts in the home,” Ibu Yenny said.

Azrul Ananda said his commitment to youth culture in the pages of Jawa Pos, as well as his slew of youth conventions and basketball competitions have generated a shared experience for thousands of youngsters, building bridges between children separated by lines of wealth, gender or geography. “The important thing is to keep children occupied with something positive,” he added.

Many of the young people present were already doing important work. Dewi, a young woman from Jakarta, for example, is a life skills trainer who runs courses on youth character development in West Java. “We’ve already reached 1,000 youngsters, she said, adding that many now continued their education at the university level. To ensure equality of opportunity for every child, “the formal education needs to pay more attention to life skills training”, she said.

For Johanna, a student at the University of Indonesia, part of that would mean helping teachers learn to better connect with students’ real-life experiences so that more of them could ‘teach from the heart’,” she said.

Mbak Sherley, the Asia Innovation Challenge winner, reminded the audience that youth could be a major force in tackling disparities among children. Her project seeks to enlist young volunteers to help residents of Pulau Seribu -- a collection of remote islands off the coast of Jakarta -- improve their access to healthcare, supplies and expertise.

On one of the islands, Pulau Kelapa, just three doctors and eight nurses attend to some 16,000 people, which means that hundreds of inhabitants are excluded from the government’s universal healthcare scheme.  “We too must be the agents of change,” she said.

Using the organization’s upcoming 70th global anniversary, UNICEF asked the audience to write down their hopes for Indonesian children on a “leaf” at a “wish tree”. These “leaves” were then collected and hung along the branches of a “wish tree”, symbolizing the hope that with collective effort, a more equal future for Indonesia’s children might be planted.