Enrico Aditjondro’s love of storytelling began in West Papua, the undeveloped, fought-over region of New Guinea where he lived from age 6 to 11.
“West Papuans have a tradition of oral storytelling,” Enrico said. “My neighbor was a famous curator who managed to gather musicians from all over Papua to tell their stories through music—in different languages. I can remember the evenings where they would all sing songs from one corner of the island to the next.”
West Papua, an autonomous region controlled by Indonesia, has mountains, remote rain forest and pristine beaches, and is rich in resources including gold, silver and natural gas. The environment is radically different than Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, where Enrico was born.
Enrico’s father, George Aditjondro, was a journalist-turned-human-rights-activist, who moved frequently for work and to escape harassment from police and the military. As a result, Enrico spent his childhood moving every few years back and forth between Indonesia and Ithaca, New York, where his father attended Cornell University.
By the time Enrico graduated from high school in Indonesia, his parents were in exile in Australia where his father was teaching. He joined them there to attend college at the University of Murdoch and the University of Newcastle. Bernadetta Esti, Enrico’s mother, was an assistant researcher, and she taught Enrico that wherever he was living at a given time was the best place for him at that moment.
While Enrico calls himself a “global citizen,” he most identifies with and returns to West Papua.
“I fell in love with West Papua. It’s a beautiful land, but it is cursed in a lot of ways because of the natural resources. Living there was my first political education. The Papuans are second- or third-class citizens in their own land. But I’ve come to love the place. I try to identify myself more like Papuan rather than whatever I am.”
As a young adult, Enrico sought to become an architect or an environmental scientist, but he hated the exactness of working with rulers and couldn’t stand chemistry.
“Being an only child to a father with huge character, I always tried to be different from the old man. However, the more I tried, the more I got stuck in the same passion and circle,” he said.
Enrico wound up working as a writer and photographer—for a maritime magazine in Sydney, for the United Nations in Timor Leste, for Transparency International and others. He had a stint as ABC News stringer, covering stories ranging from terror bombings to natural disasters.
He was then an early employee of EngageMedia, an online video platform for activists that started in Australia, just as YouTube was also beginning. When EngageMedia was looking to create original content, Enrico knew the best place to find it.
“I was so eager. I thought, ‘I have to go to West Papua.’ We went to work with community groups, did a lot of video workshops, storytelling workshops, taught them about production, distribution and engagement. We taught them to see how their videos are making an impact. We hoped that once they got hooked, hopefully they will continue with their own video hobby.”
In 2013, a seven-minute documentary out of West Papua called “Love Letter to a Soldier” won a documentary film award. It was Enrico and his colleague’s idea to tell the true story of a woman who had a baby with a soldier, was abandoned by him and subsequently harassed by her community, through the lens of writing the soldier a letter.
In 2014, Vital Strategies, then World Lung Foundation, hired Enrico to develop media campaigns on tobacco control in Indonesia. Each campaign has required careful negotiating with government partners so that they take ownership of the funding and work. Enrico is most proud of how many millions of people the campaigns he has worked on have reached, and the specific campaign that told the story of Ike, a mother of two, whose name he was given by an advocacy organization.
The campaign featuring “Ike,” along with another campaign Enrico helped create, led 3.2 million Indonesians to call a hotline to quit smoking.
“She was living two hours by plane from Jakarta. I just went there,” Enrico said. “Ike had never smoked a cigarette in her life. She was a secondhand smoke victim. She had throat cancer. She was just whispering. I was trying to negotiate, and tell her we want your story. She could barely speak. Just by seeing her, with my photographer’s eye, I knew she’s perfect.”
In addition to wide-reaching PSAs, Enrico has experimented with more narrative social media campaigns and created workshops to train people whose health and livelihood have been affected by tobacco to tell their stories.
In 2017, Enrico was promoted to Associate Director, Southeast Asia. While he still leads work in Indonesia, together with a small but mighty team that meets in coffee shops, at his home and virtually, he has been charged with bringing together Vital Strategies’ work in the region across all relevant priority areas including tobacco control, road safety and environmental health.
“I’m excited about the work in other countries. I do quite a bit of work with Kaloi [Garcia] in the Philippines. We’re trying to translate some of the good initiatives we’ve done in Indonesia in other countries. That would be my joy. If we can do some of the social media engagement campaigns and tell stories.”