Meet Rizka, the Indonesian teen behind a high school superhero

  • Rizka Raisa Fatimah Ramli was 17 when she won Unicef’s international contest to create a high school superhero
  • As she prepares to unveil her creation at a UN event in New York, she talks about drawing strength and inspiration from her experiences of being bullied

Rizka Raisa Fatimah Ramli, the Makassar-based comic artist, was 17 when she won Unicef’s international school-superhero comic contest. While that may not seem particularly precocious in an era when phenoms come out of nowhere and seem to be getting younger each time, winning the contest was no mean feat. Part of Unicef’s global campaign to help keep children and young people safe from violence in and around schools, it drew some 3,600 submissions from 130 countries.

Rizka is the youngest of four siblings. The age gap between her and her youngest sibling is nine years; she was a late gift to her parents, a thing simultaneously cherished and tamed, coddled and let loose upon the world. And as with many gifted late-born children, there is a whiff of the loner in her, an aspect that does not fit in anywhere. It is the corollary of her talent, as is her curious mix of irreverence and sophistication, inwardness and self-assurance.

In her old room upstairs, her older sketches and drawings hint at the artist she has become today. Most of them are manga-style, of various narrative depths. Her lone female figures are particularly striking, ranging from fairy-tale wistful to tomboyish and action packed. There is a steadiness and poise to her lines, a graceful understatedness in her colouring.

Rizka grew up on a steady diet of comic books, anime films and video games. She never took drawing lessons. Once, when she was very young, a friend of the family – an art teacher – offered to teach her. She refused. “I don’t like to be taught or told how to do things. I prefer the process, the journey,” she says.

Rizka working on comics in the canteen, her favourite place to draw at school. Photo: Unicef/Arimacs Wilander

Rizka working on comics in the canteen, her favourite place to draw at school. Photo: Unicef/Arimacs Wilander

While such words may strike one as lofty for a person so young, she has a dignity and eloquence about her that are quite beyond her years. She has big and wary eyes, a slightly nervous aspect, and a lovely face that can break into the sunniest smile when she feels amused or understood.

There is a reticence to her, a quiet watchfulness and an awareness of being watched. She speaks in rich, rounded sentences; her voice is controlled, with the occasional lilt.

But something seems to light up in her when she talks about Cipta, her winning superhero. Although not strictly biographical, much of Cipta’s struggle is rooted in Rizka’s own story.

“It wasn’t until a few hours before the competition deadline that Cipta materialised before me. It was one of those ‘ping’ moments,” she says, gleefully. “I suddenly could see it so clearly: what she looked like, how she moved in this world.”

Cipta is a junior high school student who doesn’t just draw like a dream, but can also see The Silence – a dark, ominous figure who forces victims and witnesses of violence into muteness. A nomadic figure who moves from school to school, Cipta battles the villain by drawing thousands of doves, breathing life into them and sending them all over the world. The doves are trained to coax those in need into drawing what they are reluctant to speak about, and to take the drawings to whomever they are intended for.

Rizka’s creation Cipta, also known as Rajwa, is a 15-year-old who can turn her drawings into real-life objects and control them to stop school violence. Photo: Rizka Raisa Fatimah Ramli/Unicef

Rizka’s creation Cipta, also known as Rajwa, is a 15-year-old who can turn her drawings into real-life objects and control them to stop school violence. Photo: Rizka Raisa Fatimah Ramli/Unicef

“For me, it is as important for witnesses, not just victims, of violence to speak up,” Rizka says. “And given my own experience with [being bullied], I always find it easier to draw what I feel than talk about it.”

Rizka was nine when she was first bullied. One day, as she was riding her bicycle alone in her neighbourhood, she was verbally assaulted by a group of older children. It took her a long time to work up the courage to walk the streets alone again. “But mostly I just wanted to disappear,” she says.

For a while, she found refuge in drawing. But it was both a bane and a blessing, particularly as her encounters with bullies and harassment didn’t stop then.

“There was even a time when I stopped drawing because I didn’t want to remember,” she says. “At the end of junior high, I deliberately ate a lot and got fat. It was as if I wanted to make myself unattractive so people would leave me alone.”

But it was also the time she found her way back to drawing, she says: “That was when I started thinking, oh, there is a way of articulating a problem without having to speak about it.”

Rizka at work in a room with her mother. Photo: Unicef/Arimacs Wilander

Rizka at work in a room with her mother. Photo: Unicef/Arimacs Wilander

When she decided to enter the Unicef contest – launched in October last year – something shifted in her. “It made me rethink my relationship with drawing, and how to turn art into a tool of resistance.” It also made her take a closer look at herself. “I realised I’m a non-confrontational person. It explains my choosing the dove as Cipta’s messenger.”

In April, Rizka started working with a team of comic-book professionals in the United States to produce Cipta, a 10-page comic book based on her concept. She feels she has learned a great deal from the team, which she likens to her “editors”. “Now I know a thing or two about plotting, pacing, and being more concise,” she says.

Since graduating from high school, Rizka has a lot of free time on her hands. For now, she is content with a few commissions that have kept her “drawing, drawing, drawing”. She is also excited about her upcoming trip to New York.

“I can’t wait to present Cipta,” she says, referring to the annual United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on July 16, when the book will finally be unveiled.

“In my head there are so many things I want to say, like I wish schools could be the safest haven, instead of breeding grounds for bullies. But really, I’m just so psyched up about the trip. And I hope people will like the book.”


Child marriage around the world

Child marriage – marriage before the age of 18 – is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the harmful practice remains widespread.

Child marriage can lead to a lifetime of suffering. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence.

Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s, and their children are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.

Infographic: Child marriage around the world


Latin America Losing the Battle Against Child Marriage: Unicef

Child marriages especially affect indigenous girls, added the report, girls living in rural areas, girls from poor families, among others.

Latin America and the Caribbean has become the only region in the world where child marriages have not decreased significantly over the past decade, according to a recent report by the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF).

Other regions such as South Asia record a 30 to 50 percent decrease in the past 10 years, while Latin America and the Caribbean only lowered by 25 percent.

“We are observing a real progress in other parts of the world to protect girls from child marriage,” stated in Panama City Maria Cristina Perceval, chief of Unicef for Latin America and the Caribbean. “However, this has not been the case in our region, where one out of four women are being married before 18 years old.”

As a result, these girls do not benefit from the same life opportunities in the medium and long term, with a higher risk of sexual violence, early pregnancies, dropping off school, in addition with the social exclusion from their peers, added Perceval.

Only four countries in the region have banned child marriage, with Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

In February, another Unicef report warned that there had been insufficient progress in reducing high teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean: although overall teenage pregnancy rates “dropped slightly” over the past three decades, the region has the second-highest rate globally.

The total number of girls married in childhood stands at 12 million per year and without public policies properly addressing the issue, more than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030, found the report.

Globally, about one in six adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) are currently married or in a union. West and Central Africa has the highest proportion of married adolescents (27 percent), followed by Eastern and Southern Africa (20 percent) and the Middle East and North Africa (13 percent).


Conflicts and disasters forcing 59 million young people into illiteracy – UNICEF study

31 January 2018 – Nearly three in ten young people between the ages of 15 and 24 living in conflict- or disaster-affected countries are illiterate, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday, calling for greater investments in the education, particularly for the most disadvantaged children and youth.

The situation is particularly dire for girls and young women in that age group, with 33 per cent of them in emergency countries failing to learn even the basics, compared to 24 per cent of boys.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children’s education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies,” said Henrietta H. Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, in a news release announcing the findings.

“An uneducated child who grows into an illiterate youth in a country ripped apart by conflict or destroyed by disasters may not have much of a chance.”

The findings, calculated using literacy data from the UN Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 27 emergency countries, also revealed that Niger, Chad, South Sudan and the Central African Republic – all with a long history of instability and high levels of poverty – recorded the highest illiteracy rates among those aged 15-24 with 76 per cent, 69 per cent, 68 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively, unable to read or write.

Globally, the number stands at 59 million.

Ensuring adequately funding for education programmes, particularly during humanitarian crises, is critical to improve these statistics.

At present, only 3.6 per cent of humanitarian funding goes toward providing education for children living in emergencies, making it one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals.

UNICEF estimates that over the next four years, it will spend approximately $1 billion a year on education programmes.

In its 2018 Humanitarian Action for Children appeal, launched on Tuesday, the UN agency called for $900 million for education in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters. Some of its key interventions include accelerated education and non-formal learning opportunities, training teachers, rehabilitating schools and distributing school furniture and supplies.

At the same time, UNICEF also called on Governments and partners to provide young children with access to quality early education programmes to support their development and set them up to continue learning throughout their childhood; and offer illiterate young people the opportunity to learn to read and write and further their education through specially designed alternative and accelerated education programmes.

“Education can make or break a child’s future,” said Ms. Fore.

“For all children to fully reap the benefits of learning, it is key that they get the best quality education possible, as early as possible,” she stressed.

The UNICEF analysis has been released ahead of the Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Conference in Dakar, Senegal, (1-2 February) which aims to raise funding for education from partner countries, and current and new donors in order to ensure that all children and youth are in school and learning.


BERDAYA PROGRAM: To reduce child marriage practices by empowering the role of policy makers, community leaders and families

An effort to reduce the practice of child marriage through the revitalization of formal and non-formal institutions, empowerment of community leaders and families in urban areas; Bogor, Cirebon, Makassar and North Jakarta.

Rumah KitaB cooperates with Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice (AIPJ2) held a workshop program introduction and team up for the BERDAYA program at Royal Padjadjaran hotel, Bogor, 2-3 August 2017.
Lies Marcoes, program officer said that the marriage rate of children in Indonesia is increasing. Citing data from BPS and UNICEF, one in four (1: 4) women married before reaching 18 years. One of the key elements of this practice is the institutions that become the entrance to the marriage of children.

“Research conducted by Rumah KitaB in nine regions show that formal and non-formal leaders are the main keys to prevent this practice, because in their hands the child marriage can take place or be rejected,” the director of Rumah KitaB confirmed in the opening.

All field coordinators and their assistants attended in the workshop. In addition, the workshop materials are strengthened by resource persons such as Ir. Dina Nurdinawati, MA from IPB presenting the results of Rumah KitaB, Rahima, and UNICEF surveys in Sumenep and Probolinggo. The survey with nearly 1,000 respondents sees significant differences between the two regions in terms of child marriage practices and emphasizes the importance of working with men in both formal and informal institutions. As the main tool of the program is the socialization of the media, there came three resource person regarding this issue; Civita from Matabiru who shared the website of run by AKSI Network and Rumah KitaB, Mulyani Hasan, senior journalist and coordinator of BERDAYA program in South Sulawesi and Mira Renata, AIPJ2 Communication Media Management Program.

Knowing that the selection of research locations is also related to efforts to prevent radicalism targeting families and girls, this workshop is discussed with a very deep logical thinking that connects fundamentalism and child marriage. One of the most important sessions in this workshop was the decision making of change indicator guided by Lia Berliana Marpaung, gender specialist from AIPJ2 and Mrs. Lies Marcoes from Rumah KitaB. By using the Gender Analysis Pathway strategy mandated by Bappenas, Rumah KitaB designed the indicators using the theory of change; Access, Participation, Benefit, Control.
Theory of Change is also used as a measurable parameter. The change ladder includes: