Indonesia is a vast archipelago in Southeast Asia that enjoys a tropical climate with good rainfall and increasing economic prosperity, yet many Indonesians face a severe lack of access to things that growing affluence generally brings, including an education, quality healthcare and the infrastructure and knowledge necessary for healthy living.
Five years ago, Asian Aid began a partnership with Adventist Indonesian Initiatives to run the Health and Education Lifestyle Project (HELP). The project is driven by the belief that a knowledge of, and right choices about, health, education and lifestyle can transform a life. Since then, skilled HELP staff and volunteers have brought health education, English language classes and lifestyle programs to hundreds of people in some of the most under-resourced schools and communities on the Indonesian islands of Lombok and Sulawesi. The HELP project has provided opportunities for children, young people and those struggling with addictions to enjoy a better life through good health, education and community-based programs.
Because Islam is the predominant religion in Indonesia, programs are run by local and international staff and volunteers who are trained to work in Islamic schools and communities in culturally sensitive ways. These programs have helped young adults find employment thanks to their proficiency in English and they have coached local community members on health principles and practices. The program is proving to be effective and 22-year-old Huswatun’s story is a testament to the impact HELP is having on lives.
Growing up in a community with limited access to health and education services and where young women often marry before finishing high school, Huswatun expected that would be her lot in life. Her dream of becoming an English teacher seemed distant, buried as it was under societal expectations and barriers.
Following the death of her father, life looked bleak for her family. Like many of their community members, Huswatun’s four older brothers worked as subsistence rice farmers, since they had not had the opportunity to complete high school. Eventually, Huswatun’s mother remarried. Her husband worked as a volunteer teacher at the local school Huswatun attended. The school had been built in the community to give disadvantaged students a chance to receive a better education.
Huswatun, pictured centre, with two of her high school peers who are now attending university and HELP staff
Huswatun was in Year 10 when she was introduced to Asian Aid’s Health and Education Lifestyle Project. The HELP staff had partnered with Huswatun’s school to provide students with the opportunity to learn English and valuable health and lifestyle principles. With encouragement from her stepfather, she remained in school, becoming the first person in her family to complete high school. She then enrolled in a university to pursue her dream of becoming an English teacher.
“When I finished high school,” she said, “I was faced with the tradition of my village that young women like me should stay home and get married. I decided to break with tradition and continue my education at the university level. A lot of my high school girlfriends didn’t pursue higher education because they got married when they were in high school or soon after.”
In Huswatun’s village, the belief of parents is that girls who can read and write don’t need to further their education. This belief, compounded by the financial burden of supporting their children through higher education, has prevented most of the girls in Huswatun’s village from pursuing their dreams. However, with the support of her family, and the skills and confidence she gained in high school, Huswatun entered university. But in spite of her determination and hard work, she has faced many difficulties—mainly the struggle to find tuition fees.
“I kept coming back to my old high school to help out, even though I didn’t get paid. It was during this time that HELP staff noticed my struggles and offered me a two-year scholarship so I could complete my studies,” she says.
She accepted the offer and is now looking forward to her graduation, after which she plans to return to her community as a teacher and help other girls pursue their dreams.
“I’m so thankful to the HELP program for assisting me through my high school and university years,” Huswatun says. “I know how important an education is.