Church activists in Papua have erected a makeshift school so hundreds of children who fled fighting between troops and separatist rebels in December do not miss out on their education
. Classes began last week in specially erected tents more than two months after thousands of men, women, and children fled into forests to flee fighting with government soldiers and members of the Free Papua Movement. The fighting erupted after the rebels killed 20 people
working on a road in Nduga district on Dec. 2. The activists have set up 15 emergency tents in the compound of a church in Wamena, the capital of Jayawijaya district. Father John Djonga, director of the Lotus Heart of Papua Foundation who launched the school, said 406 children had been registered for classes from elementary to senior high school level. "We expect more people to join classes soon," he told ucanews.com. The priest said the need for lessons was urgent, because some of the children have to take their final exams in April. Janes Sampouw, the chief education official in Nduga district, said her office would handle the teaching and the upcoming final exams. Patrina Mabul, who accompanies some of the children to and from the school, said parents were concerned about their education. "Their lives have been disrupted already and going without an education would make matters worse," she said. An estimated 22,000 people fled their homes in 12 sub-districts in Nduga. Many are still in the forest, some live with their relatives in Wamena, Asmat, Lani Jaya, and Timika. They cannot return to their homes, because it is not safe and security forces cannot guarantee protection. Frantinus Nirigi, a humanitarian worker, said there has been no serious effort to look out for the people’s welfare. Medical care was a serious problem, he said. “Many refugees are sick and in need of medical treatment
. But they do not know where to find help,” he said.
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There were 14 pregnant women among those displaced, one of whom died during child birth because there was no one to help her, he said. Three babies have also died from starvation, he added. Father Djonga said the refugees are struggling to survive in the forests and depend on relatives and donations for help. "The government needs to step in and prevent further suffering," the priest said.