On Location: Promoting Healthy Habits in Papua, Indonesia
Papua is the largest province in Indonesia located to the eastern side of the archipelago. Although this island is blessed with various mineral resources, it has the highest rate of poverty in Indonesia with the lowest income per capita for health and education.
With support dfrom Sesame Workshop and the Open Society Foundation, the Jalan Sesama team held an outreach program for promoting healthy living habits to local children and families located in the highlands of Papua. Promotional items created for supporting the program include DVDs and print media, such as posters and playing cards.
Various health messages were promoted through fun and exciting games and tools. The main messages promoted by Jalan Sesama included Nutrition by introducing and promoting healthy food locally available in the region; Health and Hygiene by promoting a healthy living environment in addition to handwashing and bathing using soap; and Illness Treatment by explaining how to treat illnesses.
I arrived in Papua after a five-hour flight from Jakarta along with four crew members and one puppeteer. We continued our journey to Wamena on an ATR-72 aircraft carrier for 45 minutes. We were quite lucky that day as the weather was nice and sunny enabling the airplane to fly through the cracks of the mountains surrounding Baliem Valley, all the way to Wamena.
Wamena is the largest city in the highlands of Jayawijaya famous for its everlasting snowy mountain peaks. It is isolated so our only option for traveling to the location was by air. Once we finally arrived, we were welcomed by the city’s cool air, green pastures, lush forests, and bright blue sky. The locals were quite friendly and open to our arrival and many greeted us along during our journey to our first destination.
After a 15 minute journey from Wamena, we arrived at our first destination, a village located in the Pikhe area. The village was a complex comprised of traditional homes/ buildings named rumah honai by the locals. Rumah honai is built using materials derived from nature. None of its walls have any windows as the home functions to protect its inhabitants from the cold weather outside. Village Chief Mr. Ambrosius Walilo was incredibly kind enough to let us use his home – a rumah honai he inhabits along with 30 other members of his family – as our location for the shoot. One of the unique things about our first experience entering the village was that our host did not open the door of the gate surrounding the village to let us in. Instead, we followed his footsteps and climbed over the gate to enter the village!
At the village’s kindergarten named Koinonia, I held an open casting session aided by the school’s principal, Mrs. Dorce Ndiken. Mrs. Dorce also played the role of a health cadre in Jalan Sesama’s videos targeted for the locals in Papua’s highlands. She was a host along with Jalan Sesama’s own muppet, Momon. I was extremely satisfied because I found the children to be very passionate, outgoing and enthusiastic during auditions.
During the shooting session, however, a funny thing happened. When I tried to direct the cast, all the local children did was stare at me in silence and confusion. Apparently, they couldn’t understand the national Indonesian language I was using, which was a different dialect from their daily language. Thankfully, Mrs. Dorce and some parents were quick to respond and helped me explain what I needed to the children.
Momon’s presence was also highly entertaining for the Papuan children and local villagers. They always laughed when Momon moved or acted in a silly way.
We had no difficulties obtaining clean water for the handwashing and showering scene because there was a spring not far from the shooting location. The garden located in the middle of the residency area consisted of a lot of plants and food grown by the locals so we also used this as the location for one of our segments on nutrition.
During a scene on cooking Papuan traditional food, 15 adults from Walilo’s family helped prepare and shoot the scene. They heated up the stones used for cooking arranged on top of burnt firewood in their yard. These hot stones were then moved using long wooden tongs to a hole that has been covered with long grass. They then started to cook sweet potatoes, vegetables and meat on top of the hot stones and then covered the food with more long grass and poured water over it. After about an hour, the food was cooked and ready to eat. This was the first time I witnessed such a colossal way of cooking.
After four days of filming, we spent the last day shooting our final scene in a honai home late into the night. During the shooting session, some occupants of the honai home did not leave their house as the weather was too cold outside. This proved to be quite a hassle as each time we turned the angle of the camera, the occupants of the home were forced to move to another part of the house to avoid being captured by the camera. I was thankful to them for cooperating with us despite us intruding into their home.
I am entirely grateful for this extremely unique and interesting experience and to the people of Wamena for helping us with our production of the segments for Jalan Sesama. I hope the final DVD filled with local content and valuable messages will be able to aid the children and parents located in the highlands of Papua and lead them into becoming a stronger and healthier community.