Upon hearing the name ‘Papua’ in Indonesia, people usually think of two things: ‘independence struggle’ and ‘Freeport’. They both might be valid examples to describe what’s going on in Papua, but they are also over-simplification. West Papua, like any other place in Indonesia, is multi-dimensional in its character and in terms of the problems faced by the people. Only that the problems are worse.
For example, large scale economic development is taking place right across West Papua in the form of logging, agricultural plantations, mining, and gas extraction. The Papuans enjoy very weak or non-existent land rights and many are losing vast areas of land with little compensation. Everywhere this is creating conflict and hardship for local people.
And although a significant number of Papuans work in public service, senior positions are mostly held by migrants while most private sector employment is also in low paid jobs. Business and economic activities are dominated by non-Papuan migrants.
Education and health services are also very poor in most regions with few doctors and medical staff and a few teachers who actually turn up for work. The HIV-AIDS rate in West Papua is around 2% (although the data is incomplete), making it the worst affected area of Indonesia. The Papuans are the poorest, worst educated, and most unhealthy population group in Indonesia, even though their province is the richest in the country in natural resources.
Freeport is widely considered to be causing the most exploitation and environmental devastation, there are also plenty of other corporations that do just that. Take the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program, for example, whose propaganda claims the planned large-scale cultivation of rice-fields, integrated with other food items would provide for Indonesia’s food security in the future. Activist groups such as awasMIFEE have documented that 2.5 million hectares of now under the control of MIFEE was seized from indigenous people.
Instead of food security, West Papuans now face food crises, socio-cultural problems, and several other issues. The story of MIFEE is told in one of the films from the first Papuan Voices collection, Ironic Survival (featured below).
Information that comes out of Papua today is limited. International media remains banned in West Papua, as seen with the recent arrest of two French journalists who now face five years in jail.
From 2011-2012, we ran a project in Papua called Papuan Voices, which was a project that combined capacity building and video production by focusing on training and producing content by citizen video journalists and human rights advocates in Merauke and Jayapura.
For the second edition of Papuan Voices, we worked with participants from Wamena and Sorong. It is currently in the process of post-production and is set to be released in January 2015.
One of the films in Papuan Voices II, Mutiara Dalam Noken (Pearl in the Noken), tells the story of a Papuan woman who was fortunate enough to get a higher education and became a doctor. She then devoted her life to treating the ill in very remote areas in Papua. And she does that to carry on the legacy of her parents who did the same when they were young health officers.