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Uni Papua FC: a club for all Indonesians

Our photographer from Indonesia is Harry Widjaja from the Uni Papua Football Community in Indonesia.  Uni Papua transformed from a simple football club into a social foundation in 2011 in order to tackle pervasive social issues on its native island West Papua, but has since grown to reach all over Indonesia.   Its vision is to create “a foundation to nurture youths and adolescents to be able to keep them from alcohol, drugs, promiscuity and other social problems.”

Uni Papua FC: a club for all Indonesians

Our photographer from Indonesia is Harry Widjaja from the Uni Papua Football Community in Indonesia.  Uni Papua transformed from a simple football club into a social foundation in 2011 in order to tackle pervasive social issues on its native island West Papua, but has since grown to reach all over Indonesia.   Its vision is to create “a foundation to nurture youths and adolescents to be able to keep them from alcohol, drugs, promiscuity and other social problems.”

What does Uni Papua do? How did it begin?

Uni Papua is a NGO that uses football as a tool for social impact, development and peace. Our goal is to create children and youth with strong character. It began in Papua - Papuan children love football and it is like a religion to them. But there were not enough places to play and learn from football.

Our players are children and youth between 6 and 20 years old, in villages that are often remote and unreachable by others.

Who is in the photos? What are the stories behind the photos?

We visited the Elseng tribe in Engles village. Engles Village is in a remote area, three hours by car from the nearest village. There are only six houses, a traditional meeting house and a church.

The Elseng live in a remote area of Papua, Indonesia and still live as nomads. They wear their traditional dress; they do not cook, they move from one place to another to find their main food, sago. And they hunt to eat meat. Some people have created Engles village to help the Elseng tribe learn how to live in a village, plant food, and cook and live like other tribes - so they don’t have to move around the jungle to find food. But it takes time. Uni Papua has introduced football to them to help collaboration, equality and development.

Another one of our branches is in Getasan Salatiga, Central Java. The photos show a friendly football match between Uni Papua and the Indonesia Army after a program called “Save Merbabu” which planted 1,000 trees after a fire on the mountain.

Lastly we have a programme in Yakonde, Sentani, Papua. Most of the players here are girls who practice three times every week.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

Football is a language. When we cannot speak a local language, football speaks for us. The Elseng tribe cannot speak or understand Bahasa Indonesia. But when we meet and play football, there is a connection between us.

Football is a neutral tool to help development and peace. There are many issues in Indonesia. We cannot use religion for development and peace. We cannot use political parties. But wherever you go with a football the local people will welcome you, no matter what language you speak.

What role can Uni Papua and football play in Indonesian society? What is the future for Uni Papua?

We are not only teaching children how to play football. We build their character using football. We teach things they might never learn in school. We teach them to be happy, enjoy life and respect others. We teach them gender equality. There is much we can teach to society through football.

Some parts of professional club football in Indonesia think we are not 'real' football. Social inclusion through football is not popular yet here, but it is growing. Professional football makes a lot of money, but they do not prioritise social development. Our Football Federation still struggles with corruption.

Football is a language. When you have nothing to say, a ball always helps gather people together. The future for Uni Papua is to have a central academy and schools, which can be places for people to come and learn.