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2006 • Friends in Conscience in Indonesia, Nadine Hoover; NYYM Spark: NYC, NY.

New York Yearly Meeting Friends are traveling to areas Indonesia ravaged by the tsunami and brutalized by the war, many of which were “black zones” prior to the Peace Accord signed on August 15, 2006. ‘, ‘We went twice in 2006. In February, Deborah Wood accompanied me and Fenna Mandolang came up from Central Java to assist with translation. In July, Pamela Hawkins, Molly  Tornow-Coffee and Stephen Slining-Haynes accompanied me and Sarah Rozard came up from West Java to assist with translation. Months later these companions say they are still learning things.

We are building friendships through Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshops, early childhood development training, preschool development, support for livelihoods, sharing understandings of trauma recovery and brain injuries and discerning, documenting and sharing concerns of conscience.

Friends who have gone are all AVP facilitators. Together, we facilitated five basic workshops and two training for facilitators in former war zones and with conflict refugees. We produced a basic workshop manual in Indonesian and have begun drafting a training for facilitators manual.

In North Sumatra a group asked questions about Quakerism endlessly of Molly and Stephen and announced to me later that I must do a workshop on Quakerism when I returned because they believe they are Quakers.

We have built two preschools for 80 to 100 children each. The first preschool was built in North Sumatra in a very isolated village of 700 families living over the ocean. They have become a wonderful demonstration school with many visitors. NYYM is supporting six of these teachers to obtain bachelor’s degrees through the Open University (a five-year program 2006–2011).

The second preschool was built on a pesantren (Islamic boarding compound) in Bagok, East Aceh. Last year when I met the Iman, Tengku Syarwani, he would not touch me because I was an infidel. After the AVP workshop, he threw his arm around me and said, “You have to come to my village!” In February he asked if I would help him work with young children, but he didn’t think the village would accept having foreigners involved in the pesantren, so if we helped it would have to be off the compound. When five of us arrived in July, we spent a whole week working on the pesantren grounds, training teachers in the preschool on the pesantren grounds, and eating at the village head’s house across the street!

This area was brutally isolated for many years and was extremely conservative and suspicious prior to our acquaintance. Tengku Syarwani once said to me, “You will NEVER imagine how much I have changed since I met you! There’s no way!”  This area is ripe for recruitment by Al-Qaeda and other groups. What can one expect if no one else comes to see them? Villagers often ask, “Why are people so concerned about the tsunami, it hit only one day; the war hits day after day after day for years? Why don’t people care about that?” They say I’m the only one who has come; even their local county and district officials have come. The personal touch means so much.

From both the AVP and early childhood training I see people change before my eyes. The trauma of war stunts people’s basic development. Teachers, parents and family members will do activities that support their basic development if they think it is to learn about helping their children. Yet while they learn to play, they themselves develop—a beautiful thing to watch.

Four men from North Sumatra came to Aceh. Two of them were going to stay for the training for facilitators. In the hall to the kitchen, Sarah said to me, “The two who are staying are the guy who talked so much and the one in the blue shirt, right?” I said, “Yes, how did you know?” She replied, “Their faces were so much clearer and brighter.” This was five months after their basic workshop, but you could plainly see astonishing changes in the participants.

As we work on the preschools or do AVP workshops I find opportunities to share with people how the brain functions, how brain injuries operate and how to support people with brain injuries. Many, if not most, of the men we work with have been tortured and/or beaten. Everyone has massive trauma. Understanding trauma and brain injury helps be more patient and effective with one’s self and each other.

We are also doing small supports for livelihoods. In July we helped one family start a chicken coup for 300 Arabian chickens that can be sold in the city market. In the Village of Idi Cut all the men fish, so those who get seasick have had no productive activities. They will be training seven young men who get seasick to raise chickens.

Pamela Hawkins, a companion in July, is also a video artist and interactive media instructor at Alfred University (AU). Three years ago she asked me to speak to the senior art students at AU about conscientious objection to war. Since then she has recorded my talks, including the one to NYYM Spring Sessions 2006: “Friends in Conscience: Quaker Service in Indonesia” (DVD for a donation of $15 or more to the Traveling Friends Fund, Alfred Friends Meeting, PO Box 773, Alfred, NY 14802).

At the request of Peace Concerns Committee’s Subcommittee for Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation we plan to produce a video on conscience. We have a number of teenagers, undergraduates, graduate students and adults who want to help. We plan to meet every Sunday at 3:00 pm for the coming school year to document the relationship of conscience to legal, defense, government and corporate structures and document a search of our own consciences.

Quakers believe the Living Spirit works to transform conditions and relationships both in the world and within us. Through an active search of our own consciences and a yielding to the still, small voice of truth within ourselves, we are called to direct nonviolent service that can topple Goliath. People, not corporations, governments or even organizations, have conscience, which we must exercise in our communities if we are to have peace.