Papuan student accomplishes first commercial pilot licence in NZ

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Papuan pilot Nickson Stevi Yikwa
The first West Papuan pilot to graduate in New Zealand, Nickson Stevi Yikwa ... "my people are waiting for me to come home as a pilot and serve them." Image: Nickson Stevi Yikwa

By Laurens Ikinia in Auckland

Nickson Stevi Yikwa had a dream. As a Papuan student, he wanted to gain a commercial pilot’s licence in New Zealand so that he could go back home to help his fellow indigenous Papuans at remote highlands villages.

His dream was shared by Papuan provincial Governor Lukas Enembe and his deputy, Klemen Tinal, since they were elected in 2013.

And Nickson Stevi Yikwa, “Stevi” as he is known, has done it.

He completed his commercial licence from Ardmore Flying School earlier this month.

“I need to be a pilot because my people in the remote villages need me and are waiting for me to come home as a pilot to serve them,” he says.

Since 2014, the provincial government of the Indonesian-ruled Melanesian province Papua has been sending a steady stream of indigenous Papuan students abroad, including to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States.

This year, several Papuan students will be graduating from New Zealand universities as undergraduate and master’s students. Yikwa’s achievement as a pilot is the first success story of this year and several students will follow him.

Grateful for governor’s support
Yikwa, the second oldest of six siblings, says he is really grateful for what he has accomplished.

He extended his gratitude particularly to Governor Enembe and all those who have helped him on his study journey.

He has faced many challenges since he first came to New Zealand in 2014 – such as the language barrier, cultural shock, education system, weather, family burden, and other issues.

“When I first came to New Zealand, I couldn’t speak English at all. What I knew was only several sentences like, ‘what is your name, my name is, how are you, and I am fine’,” says Yikwa.

He carried the burden of setting an example for his siblings. As he completed his elementary to high school studies in Papua, Yikwa struggled to adjust with the materials delivered in class, given that he did not have good English.

Yikwa says he was lucky to be surrounded by supportive teachers, instructors, people from the churches he attended, and friends he “hangs out with”.

Faced with the challenges, Yikwa says he was close to giving up his studies, but he always put his people in West Papua ahead in his mind and their need for him to come home as a pilot.

‘Trust in God’
“While holding onto this kind of thought, I always put my trust in God. I got support from great people around me and I really committed myself towards my study,” says Yikwa.

He says that while doing English programmes at IPU New Zealand Tertiary Institute, he tried more than 10 tests – both TOEIC and IELTS – to enable him to get into aviation school.

It wasn’t easy to do as English is his third language and he did not have basic English when he came to New Zealand.

On behalf of Yikwa’s family, Amos Yikwa, says they are extremely proud of what Stevi has achieved. Amos Yikwa also thanked Governor Enembe and the provincial government for granting Stevi a scholarship.

“All Stevi’s family are extremely grateful to Lukas Enembe and all the people who have contributed to his success,” says Amos Yikwa.

Amos Yikwa, who is former Deputy Regent of Tolikara regency, says that as far as he knows, Stevi, is the first student from the regency to officially complete a commercial pilot’s licence.

Amos Yikwa says Stevi Yikwa was an obedient child and he didn’t play with friends. His daily activities were going to school, helping his parents at home, participating in church activities, and playing soccer.

Needed in remote highlands
“I hope that when Stevi returns to Papua, God will use him to serve his people, particularly in the remote highlands area that desperately an aviation service,” says Amos Yikwa.

Sutikshan Sharma, Yikwa’s instructor at Ardmore Flying School says it was an honour for him to help students achieve their dreams to be a pilot. He says having a student like Stevi Yikwa is encouraging.

“What I can tell you about Stevi is that he is very hard working, honest and he knows his purpose. He knows what he wants, and he works for it. It is always good to have students like him,” says Sharma.

“He has come through a lot, he had to learn English as English is not his first language. Coming to a country where English is not their first language and doing a hard course like aviation is an achievement in itself. And I really praise him for that and what he has achieved, good on him to be honest,” says the instructor.

Sharma says that when Yikwa was having a flight test, he passed with 85 percent. This is a really good standard and it is really tough for the student to reach to that level, he says.

Marveys Ayomi, the Papuan provincial scholarship coordinator in New Zealand, who selected Stevi Yikwa as a Papua provincial government scholarship recipient in 2014, says that the study success of a student cannot necessarily be viewed from academic capability alone.

He believes that self-strength is also one of the attributes that has contributed to the success of Stevi and other Papuan students.

Motivation to succeed
“Being an academic myself and being in this position as the scholarship coordinator sometimes we overlook the importance of one’s inner strength and an individual’s drive and motivation to succeed,” says Ayomi.

Ayomi, who is also the first indigenous Papuan to become a lecturer in New Zealand, says that mental strength is a key because he believes that when students have the right academic skills then they are bound to succeed. But that’s not the only attribute that contributes to success.

“It takes much more than that and I think the mental or inner-strength that Stevi has was probably the key driving factor behind his success – and the faith to believe that ‘I can do it’.

It wasn’t an easy journey, but I knew he was capable of accomplishing his goal,” says Ayomi.

Ayomi, who has been working as a coordinator of the scholarship programme since 2014, says that serving Papuan students is a great honour and having seen Stevi accomplishing his dream gives him great pleasure.

He says all the parents in Papua would like to see their children doing well on their studies.

“As Barack Obama always says, ‘Yes We Can’. I believe that Papuans also can make this world to be a better place,” Ayomi says.

“So, what Papuan students should do is not only being proud of being Papuans but they need to take it seriously and show it through their studies. With that in mind, we shouldn’t be at the back of the queue, but we should be in the front line,” says Ayomi.

Stevi Yikwa says that if other people can do it, “we also can do it”.

Laurens Ikinia is a Papuan Masters in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology who has been studying journalism. He contributes to Asia Pacific Report.

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