“We are the ones we have been waiting for!” exclaimed one of the village leaders during the evaluation of the course.
I have been through so many real life experiences in community awareness raising programmes but the one in Numfor speaks to me the most about the power of popular education. Numfor is selected and has become one of the BAPPEDA pilot sites mainly because of some socio-economic dynamics and the ecological challenges (BAPPEDA, 2011). Wikipedia locates Numfor, just north of Cenderawasih Bay (Geelvink Bay), between the island of Biak and the east coast of the Doberai Peninsula (Vogelkop/Bird’s Head Peninsula), on mainland New Guinea.
According to government census the population of Numfor is 9,336 people.
The people of Numfor are a combination of both indigenous and incomers from other part of Papua as well as from the outer islands.
Popular Education, applying the Training for Transformation method, was first brought to Numfor by the programme director of Training for Transformation, Ntombi Nyathi and Zunaid Moolla, an economist, one of the Training for Transformation facilitators. I called this training a process of liberating the soul.
They ran 10 days of training from 16th – 26th July 2013. The training included 25 community leaders and activists, 10 of whom were female. My role in that workshop was doing simultaneous translation. I really enjoyed this role as it allowed me to observe a lot and practice facilitation skills at the same time. I had to talk and act just like the original facilitator.
In my observation I was mostly struck by the level of trauma the community has been living with. One of the local leaders said “as local leaders we are under immense pressure from the system to function within the laws and regulations – even if they impact negatively on people” (Nyathi, 2013). The oppression that Numfor people have been facing is a mirror of the oppression all Papuans have been facing. Papua has been famous as an area where oppression and violence are part of our daily life. According to Chauvel and Bhakti (2004) the central government in particular relies on force to maintain its authority in Papua. Unfortunately the reliance on force produces powerful counterproductive dynamics. It fuels the opposition: hence, the aspiration for independence and the continuous conflict with central government. The training managed to get the community to see the power of being with each other to help overcome the individual and societal fear they have been sitting with as a result of psychological pressure by the military and the authoritarian government for many generations.
Furthermore the community also managed to see the great challenge they are facing is the inability to focus on the common good and not on differences. In one of the sessions on religious tolerance between Muslims and Christians, participants were emotionally shaken, and they became conscious of the root cause of social disintegration. There is no reason to think that the quality of life of Numfor people will be enhanced if only one religion is dominant.
The training was not only liberating for the island community, but also for the local government officials at both provincial and district level. There were 6 provincial and district bureaucrats attending the training. They witnessed how community rose above their fear and become motivated to take responsibility for themselves. The result was a group of community facilitators and a plan to facilitate a set of actions around the issues of selling land, debt, waste management, renewable energy, etc. Further to this is a full commitment of the local government to support a 3-year programme of Numfor community empowerment working in collaboration with Training for Transformation.
Last but not least, the district government is planning to apply this method in facilitating village development planning across the district, and the provincial government is planning to bring this method into two other districts.
The idea and the energy of bringing this method and applying it across Papua to me is a joy. But despite the joy of seeing such a powerful impact, I sit with the question of how to multiply TfT facilitators in Papua. I am the only Papuan who has been to the TfT Diploma Course. How could I support others to get access to the course? This question is my guiding star pointing towards a better future of Papua.
Article also in Training for Transformation in Practice, p. 138-9
By Maria Latumahina