Yohana Susana Yembise: A first for Papua


Yohana Susana Yembise is the pride of the Papuan community, particularly Papuan women, for being the first female Papuan to achieve the highest academic rank.

Yo, as Yohana is affectionately called, was installed as professor of syllabus design and material development by the rector of Cenderawasih University, Festus Simbiak, in Jayapura on Nov. 14, 2012.

Yo is also the fourth Papuan professor after Frans Wanggai, former University of Papua rector in Manokwari, West Papua; Balthazar Kambuaya, former Cenderawasih University rector in Jayapura and now environmental affairs minister; and Karel Sesa, current rector of Cenderawasih University.

Along with Yo, one other woman, Onnie Mentang Lumintang, was installed as professor on the occasion.

“I hope these distinguished ladies, the first two female professors at Cenderawasih University, will continue to produce monumental works like the ones in their scientific orations and set an example to be followed by the teaching staff of this university,” said then rector Festus.

For Yo, it was a long and winding road to professorship with many hurdles to overcome. “But all the barriers had to be removed in order to reach the peak of my career. I’m not the type of person who likes to boast. I’m cool but I keep moving ahead without fear, clearing the way of all snags.”

In Papuan culture, women have to submit to their spouses, which is even more the case if brides receive gifts from their grooms at their weddings.

“This tradition prevents most Papuan women from further career advancement as they may think that women will eventually return to the kitchen. But I resisted and got past all the restrictions and managed to achieve this rank, in spite of being ridiculed,” she said.

Yo became a professor after earning her doctorate in 2007 from the University of Newcastle in Australia. “For the status of professor I had to gather 850 points, which I accumulated for six years through various activities like seminars, research and international journal writing,” she said.

In her scientific presentation, she dealt with English language teaching in Papua, focusing on Papuan children.

“The English language curriculum in Papua should be changed, without following the national curriculum, which requires a command of Indonesian before learning English. The curriculum should allow for the use of the local language to help students better understand,” she said.

In her inauguration speech titled “English Education in Papua: Ongoing socio-cultural issues, groundbreaking solutions towards a new Papua”, she said that although English is taught from an early age, only a small number of college graduates in Papua can really speak the language.

“It’s because the study material given comes from outside Papua, so teachers find it hard to teach local students. By using the local tongue, it will be easier for them to teach English,” she said.  
Apart from English teaching, her speech also referred to the importance of cross-cultural local curricula not laden with too many global theories, and the application of teaching methods through cultural approaches.

Born in Manokwari, West Papua, on Oct. 1, 1958, Yo has lectured at the school of pedagogy and teacher training at Cenderawasih University since 1987.

After earning an applied linguistic diploma from the Regional Language Center (RELC), SEAMEO Singapore in 1992, she completed a Master’s degree program in the Education Department of Simon Fraser University in Canada in 1994. In 2011, she was a member of the joint selection team of the Australian Development Scholarship in Indonesia.

Yo’s childhood friend in Padangbulan Jayapura, Lien Maloali, now executive director of the Cooperation Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations in Papua, described Yo as a strong Papuan woman capable of surmounting all obstacles to pave the way for her achievements.

“She’s a woman who dares to challenge storms. While women’s lives in Papua are packed with limitations and constraints due to customs that can be likened to storms, she can overcome all obstacles, which makes us wonder if we can still find other such storm challengers,” Lien said.

Yo has three children: Marcia, 27, who obtained her Master’s degree in information technology from Loyola University in Chicago; Dina Maria, a third-year student at Buper Waena Senior High School; and Bernie, a third-year student at Jayawijaya Kuala Kencana Junior High School in Timika.

Although she was born in Manokwari, Yo’s parents are from Biak, and at present she is a candidate for regent in Biak Numfor. In Biak, posters and banners bearing Yo’s photo are now up in all corners of the city.

“The local community has asked me to run for Biak regent so I’ve registered for the candidacy. If later I’m not elected to the position, I will remain on campus,” she said.