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empowerment Tag

On a small island out on a lake in West Papua, a group of women are crafting themselves out of poverty by keeping a disappearing local art tradition alive.

The banks of their lake home skirt the far limits of Papua’s most modern city, Jayapura, but people here still travel between the islands using wooden canoes.

Traditional bark paintings (malo) have been produced by women from this area for hundreds of years. They spend weeks together making the canvases out of the beaten bark of fig trees, and then paint designs that express their culture, highlighting the theme of ‘harmony between all living things.’

Ask them how they learned the designs, and they all say, “our ancestors taught us.”

But despite everyone in their cooperative being talented artists and hard workers, they struggle to make a living, and their wider community lives in grinding poverty. The isolation of their island and their lack of business experience means that many of them work two jobs while raising children. Most of their husbands are fishermen, but fears of local overfishing has pushed their work out to sea and into the city where they make meagre earnings.

We wanted to invest in the women’s skills and see their business grow. So, after consulting with them about what they need, our local partners have been running business training and are helping them buy industrial sewing machines to help them expand their business to include bags and clothing with their traditional designs.

Together we’re helping them do what they love, get a fair price for their labour and lift themselves out of poverty.

My colleague Meilany, a local project manager, told me that empowering these women has huge flow-on affects for the community.

“You can’t make positive change for women here without also affecting all of society,” Meilanny says.

“These women work hard so that they can afford to send their children to school; many of them never had the chance themselves.”

“And if you teach a woman practical or artistic skills, or to read and write she will teach her family, her children. That knowledge is passed on.”

West Papua has a staggeringly high number of people living below the poverty line. Upwards of 27% live on less than $2 a day. Our local partners are working to change this at a community level, through strategies that invest in critical aspects of life: food security, health, women’s incomes and the future of children.

They need our support to continue to make projects like these a reality. Invest in these skillful women and projects that are helping people grow a new future in West Papua.

 

Visit www.unitingworld.org.au/papua to make a donation.

In hope and peace,

Marcus Campbell
UnitingWorld

 


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In a place of extraordinary hardship, people still rise

I was in West Papua recently on my first field trip with UnitingWorld, where I had the unique opportunity to meet with our partner, the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua and visit their P3W project (short for Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Wanita).

P3W is the Training and Development Centre for Women in West Papua and it aims to empower and support women in remote and rural areas. Founded in 1962, the centre today has three regional offices comprising four units: Education and Training, Research, Documentation, Information and Publication; and Counselling and Income Generation.  With the help of 30 staff and 12 field workers, the centre currently has 30 active projects. One of them is the Livelihoods Project, which is training women in the highlands to understand the potential resources of their land and supporting them to grow crops – in particular soya beans to produce tofu and tempeh.

While at the centre, I asked if I could interview the head of P3W. Unbeknownst to me, the stylish woman I’d asked was exactly the person I was looking for – Ms Hermina Rumbrar.

“The church built this centre so that the women would not be left behind” said Hermina.

Ranging from raising awareness about HIV and domestic violence, to providing dormitories and information courses to students from remote areas, the centre has a strong focus on helping women. Towards the end of our chat, Hermina reflected upon the journey of the P3W and the positive impact it has had on the lives of countless Papuan women. I was moved by the genuine devotion she had for her work and the lives of her fellow Papuans.  I could tell that for her, this was much more than a job – she was investing her heart and soul for the future of West Papua.

At its head office, P3W runs courses teaching basic maths, crafting, women’s leadership, nutritional information, cooking and more. This basic knowledge is beneficial to the women of West Papua, especially when they return to their villages to spread what they’ve learnt. The centre also houses facilities for children who are too young for mothers to leave behind. While at the centre I had the opportunity to play with a little boy just under the age of three. He was one of the most active little ones I’ve ever met. We ran around the centre together and took selfies making funny faces. A special moment I will keep with me for years to come.

Later I spoke with Christina*, a 23-year-old student from the course. “Here I can learn to cook, learn about women’s leadership, nutrition and how to save. It really helps me”. Christina* had lost her parents by the age of 12 and is the youngest amongst ten siblings, three of whom have died. As she was telling me her story, she couldn’t hold back tears no matter how much she tried. Christina* will be going to university next year to study farming and wishes to help empower fellow Papuan women.

At P3W, I saw the tears of two brave women and learnt so much about the role of each in empowering women throughout West Papua. Above all, I learnt that our work cannot be done in isolation. We will continue to work alongside our brothers and sisters from GKI Church in West Papua and we appreciate your support in further strengthening the lives of these women.

 * The name has been changed to protect the identiy.