July 2012

 

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Barce Rumkabu: ‘Before I Just Thought That People in Papua Live in Poverty’

Bruce Van Voorhis
 


Barce Rumkabu

Barce Rumkabu was one of two participants from Papua attending the 2012 School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in Bangalore, India. It is the first time that anyone from this part of Indonesia has taken part in the 14-week program that was held this year between Feb. 1 and May 14.

Prior to attending SOP, Barce was involved in educating people about HIV/AIDS through the work of the government organization Komisi Penanggulangan AIDS (Commission to Prevent AIDS), or KPA, in Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua. When he joined KPA in 2003, he was a volunteer peer educator to young people in the community about this disease. He sought to raise the awareness of youth about HIV/AIDS through lectures that were targeted at a wide age group, from pupils in middle school to university students to parents above the age of 30. He sought out those who had dropped out of school as well as those still attending classes.

After five years, his role in KPA expanded. He became a staff member in 2008 and was given the responsibility to produce videos, posters, brochures and the organization’s publication about the disease.

HIV/AIDS is now a major problem in Papua, Barce says, with the number of cases markedly increasing in the past three years, especially in the regencies of Jayapura, Timika and Wamena, so much so that the province of Papua is presently ranked No. 1 in the country with the highest percentage of the population now suffering from the disease in Indonesia.

Barce shares some statistics produced by the national government in Jakarta that indicate that, as of June 2011, there were 180.69 people with HIV/AIDS per 100,000 people in Papua. To understand the depth of the problem in Papua, the second highest figure for people afflicted with HIV/AIDS in the chart was 51.46 people per 100,000 people in West Java. That same month—June 2011—the statistics reveal that 602 people had died of HIV/AIDS in the past year in Papua. Before he left for SOP, Barce said there were more than 10,000 cases of HIV/AIDS in the province. He estimates that 500 people in Papua are affected by HIV/AIDS every three months, or 2,000 new cases per year.

He explains that the disease in Papua is primarily transmitted through sexual contact, especially through prostitution. The men, he adds, then pass the disease to their wives, who subsequently pass it to their children who are born with the disease. This cycle occurs, he says, because of a lack of awareness.

For a variety of reasons, medical treatment is difficult, says Barce. First of all, in Wamena, access to the isolated and mountainous areas presents an obstacle, making the provision of medical treatment a challenge.

Secondly, most people cannot afford the expensive anti-viral drugs that are necessary to treat the disease. The Indonesian government subsidizes the cost of medicine for five years, says Barce, but then the subsidies are cut. What happens after that? Most people eventually die, he replies, because they cannot afford the medicine.

After 14 weeks as an SOP participant, Barce says he has changed, that his attitude has changed. He has more self-discipline now, he explains, and has more structure to his life. He believes that SOP has opened his mind; he now looks at life more broadly, he says. He also has learned from the issues and experiences of the other SOP participants from other countries and from the people of India through the program’s field trips.

“We can see the reality in [Indian] society,” he says. “Before I just thought that people in Papua live in poverty; but after seeing and hearing about other realities, I can see that other parts of the world have similar problems. Now I see that people suffer in a similar way in other parts of Asia.”

SOP, Barce adds, has helped him understand the reality of life in Papua he has observed in other ways. He now understands about social systems and how political and economic systems link and influence each other, he says. Papua is a rich land, he says, but the people suffer.

“After SOP, I can understand how this problem happens—maybe a problem with the government, with the economic system, political system—these two systems influence each other,” notes Barce.

“In Papua, the regency leader and MPs [members of Parliament] are rich people who get elected,” he explains. “They pass laws and make policies that benefit them through the budgets and the laws and the rules.”

“For example,” he continues, “one family has an airline company. One family member is in Parliament, and two brothers are the head of the regency. They fly rice to Wamena through a government contract. Earlier, it was not like this; but after he became head of the regency, his airline company began getting government contracts to ferry food and other necessities to remote areas of Papua.”

Barce explains how this system perpetuates itself in Papua.

“His brother is in Parliament, and he pays the army and police to collect the ballots [at election time]. He rents an airplane and flies the army and police to a remote village in the mountains where they collect the ballots. They then dump the ballots out of the airplane. Consequently, ‘no one’ voted in this village,” says Barce. “These brothers, who are from the president’s political party [Partai Demokrat, or Democratic Party], also bribe the tribal leaders to get their people to vote for them. They then promise that the village will get rice or a road or electricity or water, etc.”

Barce shares another case of links between Papua’s economic and political systems from the 2010 election.

“One candidate from the Democratic Party from Timika got money from Freeport [a large gold and copper mine company], which is based there,” he says. “He used the money to advertise his campaign in the media, hold talk shows on TV, sponsor a singing contest, etc., and he gave money to build churches.”

He knows about this electoral system, he says, because he was part of it in the 2010 election when he worked for a candidate in Wamena from the family he mentioned above. The politician, he says, promised him a government job or employment in his company if he got elected as the head of the regency; but when he got elected, Barce says, he forgot his promise.

“One day before the election,” he explains, “me and a friend were told by the candidate to mark official ballots with his name. There were many bags of ballots. We used nails and a hammer to punch a hole in the ballot under his name. We marked 5,000 ballots. We began at midnight and finished in the early morning. The intelligence units of the army and police then took the bags of marked ballots to the villages and gave them to the leaders of polling stations.”

“I had customized computer software designed by my friend,” he continues, “with a graph that showed the number of votes in each precinct and how each precinct was voting. We knew we were slightly behind one other candidate so we decided to add votes for our candidate to boost his vote totals and our candidate won.”

This scheme was made possible, he notes, because the candidate had bribed someone in the Election Commission to give them the vote tallies in each precinct during election day. Thus, in the middle of election day, they were able to implement their plan and to know where to stuff the ballots, Barce says.

In yet another episode, Barce explains how a small group of Islamic fundamentalists came to Papua and forged links with Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS, or the Justice and Welfare Party), a strong political party in Indonesia, and helped their party members get elected at the regency and provincial levels. Afterwards, Barce says, some of the Islamic fundamentalists got good positions in the government, especially posts that allowed them to manage money at the provincial level.

Subsequently, Barce and others from his church sought to make a proposal to the provincial government for funds for education projects and church programs, but the government officials with the Islamic fundamentalist background, he says, blocked the proposal from being considered. Meanwhile, a friend of his from an organization for Muslim students, Himpunan Mahasiswa Islam (HMI, or United College Students Islam), received money from the government easily, and Muslims who worked with the Islamic fundamentalists for the candidate they supported attained lower level government jobs.

When he returns home to Papua after SOP, Barce says he intends to change his job. He says he would like to form a new organization that will combine his previous work with people with HIV/AIDS and human rights. He believes it is important for people to know their rights, and thus, human rights education will be part of the work of the new organization he envisions.

He also wants to raise awareness among the people in Papua about justpeace, he says. Related to this objective, he adds, is his desire to work toward building a better political system in Papua that is more honest, transparent and democratic. Part of this effort will entail protecting the election process, raising awareness among people about elections and informing them about what constitutes a good political leader.

Lastly, he concludes, he wants to continue the learning process that began at SOP.