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West Papua: A Journey to Freedom

My Trip to America, As I Thought About My Journey to Freedom

I Believe The West Papuan Struggle Is Blessed, And That Those Who Help Are Likewise Blessed.

Herman Wainggai
August 14, 2011

The day before I left Brisbane, June 2009

Before I travelled to New York I did not know what to expect, however, I believed that if God directed my friends and I to the safety of Australian shores when we escaped from West Papua, He would give me the same direction during my trip to New York.

On the 5th of May, I was issued with a travel document that enabled me to travel outside of Australia for the first time in three years. Sitting in my flat having now returned from America, I am amazed that I had the opportunity to travel to New York, and to be invited to the TUFTS University in Boston to attend the Advanced Study on Non Violent Conflict.


The city of New York is historically significant for West Papuan people because of the New York agreement, which ultimately handed control of West Papua to Indonesia.

During my stay, I met many interesting people and political activists from a range of different countries, backgrounds and organisations. I would like to share this story with my friends, the story of my experience in America

The flight from Australia to New York takes nearly twenty hours. I flew with United Airlines on an extremely large plane and made my first stop in San Fransisco. While in transit, I had to undertake a fifteen-minute interview with customs. I may have sparked the interest of the officers when they were checking my luggage since I had two dvd’s about non-violent struggle called ‘Bringing down a dictator’ and ‘A force more powerful’, as well as my book, ‘Escape from West Papua’ and a picture of the West Papuan flag. The officers began asking me questions about who I was and what country I came from. I explained that I escaped from West Papua to Australia in 2006, they asked, ‘So does that mean your country is still controlled by the Indonesian government?’ I answered yes, and told them it was not only me that fled to Australia, but many of my friends who are now living in Melbourne. I was glad to share a conversation and they both wished me luck for my travels in America.

I also started to think about creating a conference in New York or Washington for West Papua, and ideally, to organise this as soon as possible so that my visit to the U.S.A results in something meaningful and significant for the West Papuan movement. My people ask me, ‘what is the purpose of your visit to America? What will you do when you return to Australia? Is there any possibility that the West Papuan struggle will gain the support of the American people and their government?’

I arrived in New York at 11pm, and had to figure out how to get to the guesthouse I had already booked. I made my way to a seat in the airport and sat quietly and calmly, I said to myself, ‘God, what can I do now, I need to get to this address?’ After a considerable time, I asked someone how to get to the city and they suggested if I had the money, to go by taxi. I knew that New York was a large place and I did not want to make the wrong decision, so I decided to ask two other Americans and who said I could catch a train. Despite their directions, I managed to get on the wrong train twice- it was very confusing. By this stage it was 1.30am, I asked another American man for help who told me ‘catch the E train, get off at 53rd street, and walk uptown to Brooklyn’. Thankfully I was able to find my way to the Virginia Guesthouse.

The train station had been full of people but when I arrived at the guesthouse there was no one in sight since it was so early in the morning. I decided to sit in a nearby park and sing my prayer song, ‘Papa God yu tasol…’. Afterwards I looked up to see a 24 hour shop where I bought phone credit and called Louise Byrne to tell her that I was safe, I explained that initially I had been confused but managed to find my way. I also mentioned that there were two churches next to the guesthouse and this was a good sign for me. As I was speaking on the phone, I saw a cleaner emerge from the guesthouse and I quickly told Louise Byrne I had to go. I showed the cleaner my reservation number and she gave me the key to my room. At last, I had arrived. I opened the window and saw the moon, it was a crescent shape and I could see stars in the sky too. New York felt strange and unfamiliar, but I believed that God would give me direction and help. It was 4.30am when I lay down for two hours of rest, it was my first night in New York.

My first impression of New York was that there were no mountains, only tall building and skyscrapers.

Visiting the United Nations building was a high priority on my agenda. When I went on a one-hour tour the map of United Nations inside of the building surprised me because the title for Indonesia only covered the Java island, and was not on the West Papua area.

On June 16th, Jacob Rumbiak and I had been invited to attend a diplomacy dinner with UN secretary Ban Kimon, and Bill Clinton. The American Foreign Policy Association later informed Jacob and I that our invitation had been cancelled since the event was fully booked. Jacob and I decided that it would be better for me to travel alone to New York and Jacob cancelled his ticket.

On June 17th, I went to the Australian High Commissioner in New York to meet with the Australian Mission to the United Nations. The meeting went well and we discussed the mechanism of the United Nations protocol and how the system works.

On the 18th and 19th of June I had a meeting all day with the World Council of Churches based in New York. Our discussion addressed having a West Papuan delegate to attend the United Nations advocacy week in New York, on 5th – 15th November. On June 20th, I went to Boston by aeroplane to attend the International Non Violent Conflict conference. While I was in Boston, all of the participants stayed at the TUFTs University guesthouse. It was great accommodation.

From June 21st to 27th, I attended the conference at TUFTs University. The conference was good and I learnt new ideas. What was particularly interesting is that I was able to meet with a lot of people who had come from different countries to share their stories. This conference was an excellent way to connect with other people and strengthen our network around the world. The speakers were inspiring and innovative thinkers. The last night was especially great; all of the participants and speakers went on a two-hour river cruise, sailing towards the Boston Sea.

My story is continuing........not finished yet!

As I Thought About My Journey , My Hopes, My Ideas & All The Possibilities....I Realized, The Sky Is The Limit


© Scoop Media

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