Sex education, games & young people…Jameela Khan gives us the lowdown on her residency in Indonesia.

Over the last 2 years BOM have been working with Lifepatch in Indonesia. Supported by the British Council,  we welcomed three Indonesian practitioners to Birmingham in 2017 and this year artist Jameela Khan spent a month in Yogyakarta. Jameela was selected from an open call looking for a practitioner who would work with Lifepatch to enhance their research into Gender. Here Jameela details the 4 weeks she spent out there and what she learnt.

Week 1:

As part of ‘Sarinah, Apa Kabarmu?’ four Lifepatch members had spent 45 days travelling around villages in Nusa Tengara, Timor (NTT) and by the time I had arrived, they had just finished their trip and had arrived back home.

Over the course of the first week, I visited a number of arts spaces around Yogjakarta and got myself familiar with the house I was living in, the language, the heat and environment. As I spent time with Lifepatch and asked them about their time in NTT, I was made aware of the issue of teen pregnancies in one village they visited and a request from the mothers of Juminahan (a community by the river Chode) asking for Lifepatch to give their teenage children some sex education workshops.

Given my background in HPV and games design, I was asked to work on designing workshops around sex & relationships, which I gladly undertook as it was an important topic to cover and chimed with the work that Lifepatch do – responding to the needs of the community, through art, tech and science.

Week 2:

As I continued to meet with curators and artists, I shared with them the work I was about to undertake as part of the residency. The discussions became deeper and allowed me to gain a good insight into their experiences and work as Indonesians and people – some were familiar to me, others were specific to Indonesian life. A few things filtered into the design of the workshops and how I considered the dynamics of relationships and sexual experience in Indonesia.

I read ‘Sex and Sexualities in Contemporary Indonesia’ (edited by Linda Rae Bennett and Sharyn Graham Davies, published by Routledge, 2015) before I travelled out, out of interest and looking for an overview about gender and sexuality in Indonesia. It was an essential, terrific read, especially given that articles were written by Indonesians and by those who had studied medical and cultural anthropology specific to Indonesia. I became familiar with issues that faced Indonesian women and youth (and the elderly!), especially in terms of accessing sexual health care, the taboo of not being married in particular cases, behaviour in public and private especially with tradition, culture and religion playing a role in society here.

I could relate to the fact there was a lack of input from parents when it came to talking about sex; leaving it up to media, school and our own curiosity to educate us in what it means to have sex and to be in a relationship (in the context of religious and cultural traditions around me as a South Asian female although that was not always relatable as I lived in the West, which meant I could not necessarily fully relate).

Lifepatch did not want to focus on the religious ways to ‘get young people to look after themselves and others’ but science and everyday ethics. With this in mind and the need for a quick turnaround, I focused on making 3 games for three workshops. Digital games were shelved in favour of card/analogue games, which was ideal as resources (computers, mobile devices) was limited in some places, especially in places that have ad-hoc electricity.

After a week of considering the options and the time, I chose well known games and games that offered up a chance to reflect some of the topics and outcomes we wanted to cover. A variation of Cheat (“Vocalise!”), Taboo (“OcTaboo”) and Snakes and Ladders (name retained) covered the following:

  1. Confidence about talking about external genitalia – often sex-ed classes talk about internal organs…parts of the body you rarely see when you have sex!
  2. Awareness of boundaries, the ability to say no and respect for the other person’s body
  3. Navigating around the sensitive language to communicate – for example if there is a word or situation that is embarrassing, how else can you describe it?

Consideration about the consequences and permission when taking part in any kind of sexual activity.

Using a really great document from NHS Scotland, ‘An evidence-informed educational resource for use by teachers and others to support learning about Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood,’ I developed the content of Vocalise!

Key terms we wanted to cover were defined in OcTaboo, and a life size version of Snakes and Ladders – mapped out on the floor –  incorporated aspects of OcTaboo, and negative (Snake) and Positive (Ladder) scenarios that mapped to relationships and health were written. An additional square was added to Snakes and Ladders which came as a result of talking with Kampung Halaman. The ‘Anonymous’ square allowed the player to write down something that they wanted to discuss or get off their chest, and we would look at it as a group and discuss it if necessary.

Week 3

A Twine ( session was requested and so we were going through the use of online interactive tools with a participant, in the midst of visiting and testing the games out with the Juminahan teenagers and arranging a trip to Mollo, NTT. Although we wanted to trail the games with the teenagers at Juminahan, they were only able to attend the first workshop as it tied in with another meeting they had at the time, and so we focused on the next set of participants in a village that Lifepatch had visited during their 45 day trip.

In Taiftob Village, North Mollo, NTT we modified the games with our host Dicky Senda of the social enterprise ‘Lakoat Kujawas’. He really focused our thinking in terms of the context of some of the cards I had made (‘partner’ versus ‘someone who you like/who likes you’; ‘one day’ versus something happening today and so on). It was really productive discussing the games, and adjusting the tone. Coming from a relaxed western and older mindframe, it was interesting to re-consider talking about sex from the POV of an adolescent (with the hormones and troubles of puberty!) and what we were trying to achieve.

The participants in Taiftob Village were younger teenagers than in Juminahan and had been primed for our arrival and had been working through similar topics before we arrived thanks to efforts by Sandra Frans, who developed resources that educated peers to teach reproductive health to adolescents (a training scheme that Dicky Senda had attended and delivered to the participants at the time).

The workshops went well – each was introduced to set the tone and make them aware of the content and ended with a recap and discussion. This was really important. Some of the observations we made helped galvanise and pick up on issues that needed discussing (repeating tricky terms and pieces of information). Following the snakes and ladder game in the final workshop, it fell upon us to discuss a story from one of the participants involving a murder following a sexual assault in a forest. I watched the boys lean in as they listened, and everyone piped in to offer up solutions and suggestions about what to do and how to respond. It was overwhelming and encouraging to hear, especially from such bright and engaging school children. It made it clear that these workshops we created in response to the needs of the community and young people, helped create a dialogue with youngsters and allowed them to figure out aspects of growing up in healthy and safe spaces.


Week 4

We came back from North Mollo, and I spent most of the last few days in Indonesia wrapping up some of the content for the workshops (mainly translations to Bahasa and modifying the content whilst I was there and able to discuss things in person), planning and giving a presentation that gave an overview of my time there alongside the work from the Lifepatch members. The audience was new and fresh and interested to provide an insight into aspects of community responses to sex before marriage and transgender issues (people vs government).

In the midst of all of this work, there were everyday moments that offered up a chance to consider life in Indonesia. Spending time with people was – hands down – better than any visit to Borobodur. Saying hi to Merapi Volcano from a rooftop most days was enough tourism for me.

…There is a light that never goes out.

The Smiths