“My cultural awareness and passion for gender and social inclusion comes from years of living in Indonesian communities and working with remarkable people”.

For Sarah, life and career have entwined on a journey marked by three values: care, compassion and commitment.

Manokwari, West Papua, Indonesia

In the early 2000s I lived for two years in an urban neighbourhood with Papuans from the Cenderawasih Bay area. They helped me care for my three children – 4 years old and under – while I worked on gender mainstreaming a USAID sustainable agriculture project. I also did some work for the local university and an HIV project. While I worked, my oldest enjoyed diving for tropical fish and, as he told me, ‘swimming with mermaids’.

Wamena, Papua, Indonesia

In the mid 1990s I lived in the remote highland town of Wamena for three years while working closely with Dani people on various small-scale development enterprises including traditional medicine, eco-tourism and livelihoods. I also did some work for a women’s’ health project for World Vision/AusAID.

Wakunai, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea

In 1999 I lived for almost a year in this post-war town for an AusAID project, engaging local women in capacity building activities and strategic planning for the future. There was no markets, electricity or phone line and I became pregnant with my first child. I named him, as the locals insisted, after a volcano in central Bougainville.

Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

In 2017 I lived in Central Jakarta in humble conditions while working for the UNFPA as their gender policy and research officer. I brought two of my teenage children. Bored, one moved in with my Sumatran single mother friend in an industrial zone in West Jakarta. My other child became a volunteer teacher, aged 14, in a centre for street children and orphans.

Jogjakarta, Java, Indonesia

In 2016 I spent time in a village in Jogjakarta interviewing women about their participation in, and perceptions of a community-based waste management / eco-village project for a Monash-University research and writing project. I took my middle child, then 15 years old, who embraced a nearby language school. Now 20 he is doing an anthropology degree in Manado, North Sulawesi.

Sexual Health in West Papua
PhD research, The University of Melbourne

Between 2003-2011 I conducted a total 27 months of residential, ethnographic research to understand the reasons why young coastal Papuan women (15-24 years old) make different kinds of decisions about sexual activity. By delving deep into their understandings of risk, health, and dreams for the future, my dissertation data and findings are of critical importance to any policy and project that aim to advance gender health, equality and empowerment in a complex cultural context.

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