Table of Contents

News 28 Feb 2009

Aceh is braced for upcoming elections in April, which will seriously test the standing peace accord. Prayers for peace and advocacy for U.S. withdrawal of military aid are requested. The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) that resisted national rule for nearly thirty years has formed several political parties. Many questions hang in the air: Will people feel intimidated by either or both sides—the Acehnese parties and/or the national party, Golkar? Will the Acehnese parties win? If they win, will they be allowed to operate fully or be tethered by the national government? If they win, will they actually bring change or just take their turn at taking advantage of the populace? Will provocateurs take advantage of the tension to reengage armed conflict? Only time will tell.Still, the tension is real. I obtained a special visa that allowed me to enter Aceh. No one ever said I needed to report to the police, but I was very aware that I was entering an isolated area that seldom sees foreigners who aren’t associated with a major logging or mining concessions and was formerly the central stronghold of the Free Aceh Movement during the war. Although there is a great deal of new construction, stacks of grass roofing sheets and brick factories lining the main road and rice fields and fish farms back in operation, still burnt out houses and businesses are apparent. People introduce them self by name, where they’re from and immediately how many times and how for how long they were captured, beaten and tortured and by whom. Many locations trigger stories of who was killed where, how many people and where their bodies were disposed. I reported to the head of the district police. They were very appreciative and issued a letter allowing me to work in the area. Still, several participants did not attend the basic Alternatives to Violence workshop because they assumed the police would not allow our workshop. The army and the marines are both building large new barracks that can house thousands; they don’t build like that if they don’t plan to use them.

I feel very inadequate in expressing the degree of distress I feel knowing that the U.S. government funded the war here through military aid for decades and I fear may do so again. The stories of atrocities against civilians, especially in areas where the war was most heavily fought are heart breaking. Manti, who runs the Children’s Media Center as an arts and cultural center mostly for teens living on the street, always has fifty to sixty teens around the office practicing dancing, music, painting, drama and so forth and another fifty or sixty small children hanging around. His mother is also a massage therapist. She makes traditional medicine and made a six months supply of herbs for Dad’s diabetes. Whenever I pass through Idi Reuyuk, I stop in and give her some massage. In 2001, two soldiers were killed in front of her coffee shop. The military asked her what she saw. She said she saw nothing. They beat and tortured her from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm. She was bedridden for two years. She is still trying to recover from the beating. The government has given compensation to victims of the war. She sees who gets the benefits depending on whom they know or how well they pretend. People like her hardly ever get any compensation. One exception is my friend Dahlan who lost a tooth when he was beaten by the military with a rifle butt. The military has given him a false tooth. For me, there is absolutely no excuse or reason to fund wars like this one. The issues are straight forward for them and for us. 1) Recognize that the Indonesian and U.S. governments orchestrated a coup in 1965 to wipe out communism in the third largest communist state in the world AND to disable the Islamic political power that had its historic roots on the north shore of Aceh. The Acehnese in this area saw the Indonesian military turn on them and slaughter their fathers, elders and leaders. This happened. It was wrong. It should not have happened. As long as history does not acknowledge this, it means that it is not yet history and victims are still not safe and cannot heal and rebuild trust of others. 2) Acknowledge that the military actively defending the Exxon Mobil plant and that illegal logging (sold to the U.S. and Europe) is rampant.

Preschool Teachers in Jaring Halus complete the equivalent of an Associates Degree. Although they were very hopeful that we would continue to support them through a bachelor’s degree, it was agreed among our Indonesian spiritual companions that their development to date is apparent and has greatly strengthened their teaching. They are serving about sixty children who are enrolled and paying monthly fees of about 50 cents. Their preschool program is now recognized by the National Education Ministry and the elementary school has recognized that these children’s development is demanding that the elementary school teachers provide much more advanced activities for them. I strongly encouraged them to focus on parent and elementary school teacher education evenings and on working with the children to write their own books starting with A, B, C books and working up through “A day in the life of …” to local children’s stories.

Mothers from Barak Induk Refugee Camp go to Jaring Halus to learn about developmentally appropriate activities for young children. Mislan’s wife, Ida, Sabaruddin’s wife, Ati, and three other mothers, Parti, Kartin and Sri went with Amir, Mislan and myself to Jaring Halus, a traditional fishing village in North Sumatra, to observe the preschool. I went over some basics of the value of play, three kinds of play, supporting children without anger or punishment, brain structure and development and so forth. They observed the teachers at Jaring Halus and then they rotated through the centers—messy play, dramatic play, blocks, and readiness for reading—playing themselves with the materials. They came home very excited. Mislan, Amir and myself had to go straight to Aceh, but upon our return the women, their husbands and I all went shopping. It took all day! We got buckets, sieves, funnels, sponges, bushes, clothes pins, mung beans, soy beans, etc… all kinds of ordinary things for children to play with. We got corn starch, flour, salt and oil to make paint, finger paint, playdough and obleck.

A dearly loved grandmother in Mislan’s family passed away. We had come back from Aceh a couple days early and she passed away the day we got back. I had been giving her massages before I left and visiting the family. When I got back I showed them how to help calm her breathing. The whole community gathered. The men pray for three days and then the women. Today is the community kenduri where everyone gathers, eats and prays. The family members from Aceh have all arrived and we will cook all day, so we will wait until tomorrow to gather the children to play. The women and children are all very excited.

Mislan and Amir from Barak Induk accompany Nadine to Aceh to facilitate a basic Alternatives to Violence workshop for 24 new participants. We went to Aceh to conduct the first ever advanced workshop. Many people wanted to join, but had not had a basic workshop, so we added a basic workshop. We had 24 very enthusiastic participants most of them in their twenties and early thirties. We held the workshop at Dahlan’s house on the main Banda-Medan highway in the area of Bagok. It is relatively easy access for people from the city of Langsa as well as people from the mountains. We had eight people from the mountains of Bagok and Alu Merah, several from Idi Rayeuk, the closest large town and several from Langsa, a capital city. Their enthusiasm will greatly strengthen Alternatives to Violence in this area. The advanced workshop was cancelled for a couple reasons: 1) Ferry misunderstood and thought that only facilitators could come, so invitations were not sent out to everyone; 2) the schedule was so tight that not everyone could do all the workshops and those who wanted to chose more training for facilitators over doing an advanced;; and 3) the advanced by chance was scheduled on the last weekend of the month and two of the large international donors scheduled strategic planning workshops and many of the key facilitators and  participants for the advanced had to be present at the strategic planning meetings. Still, this gave us a few free days to do some organizing our selves and to come home early to see gramma before she passed away and be with the family.

Bricks, cement and rebar provided to Al-Husni Preschool in Bagok in time for a community “school raising.” We have been supporting the Al-Husni Preschool since 2006 when we set up the preschool at the pesantren. When Tengku Syarwani left as the director, the preschool had to move. They secured land and rented a very small house for the program, but have struggled with getting the funds to build the school. I have offered to try to help, but it has taken awhile to get a design we were all comfortable with. We ran into what they call the “second tsunami,” the effect of the massive influx of funding. Tengku Syarwani and the people of Bagok had been completely isolated for many years by the war. They could hardly go in and out of their own village. They quit working their fields because it was too dangerous. They planted what they needed close to the house and when they went to the forest for wood or rottan everyone prayed they would return. Opening up an area after extreme isolation is difficult, but add to that seeing international donors driving cars the cost more than they will make in a lifetime with expectations that outstrip their imaginations. The donors often require that trainings occur in hotels in the city where they spend more on one participant in three days than the participant spends on his entire family two months or more. The scales of money just are too far apart. What is “reasonable” has no reference point any longer. Our friend, Nasruddin called it “the season of entertainment” and reminded his friends that “the season of foot walking” would come back very soon. Tengku Syarwani has secured $1,600 from the government to build the preschool. With an additional $400 from us, they are able to add a cement foundation reinforced with rebar and a yard high of bricks. This is called a “semi-permanent” structure that secures the building from flood damage. The value of the materials in the school clearly warrants this protection.

I questioned the size of the school. They only have about 30-40 students right now, but Tengku Syarawni explained that they had had around 80 before the left the pesantren. The current location is not large enough, so they had to limit the students. The teachers are hardly paid, so the teachers could not add class rotations since they also have to go to the fields. If the structure is large enough, they will 80 students or more, he is certain. There is competition for local elementary schools. Typically those with money are the ones who get into the best schools, To their great surprise, four of their children got into what is considered the best elementary school because of the school recognized their developmental level and said it would greatly enhance their classes. Everyone in the area was shocked and the demand for their preschool has skyrocketed even though they are located in one of the poorest areas.

Loans were provided to Dahlan and Fachrurrazi to restart fish farms and to Mislan to purchase a motorcycle. Daahlan and Fachrurazzi both live in Bagok and inherited tambak, or fish farm pools from their fathers. They each have a number of pools amongst a large stretch of pools along the ocean at the outlet of a river. This was a strategic location during the war and was taken over by the Free Aceh Movement. For years they could not go to the pools. Having thousands of soldiers living there also created a great deal of damage to the dikes and the irrigation gates went into disrepair. They feel that if they can get the pools operating again, they would have enough to feed their families that would also allow them time to volunteer for AVP and other humanitarian work. We lent $700 to Dahlan for pesticides, fertilizer, feed and starter fish called bendeng. This is a staple fish with a very stable price, as opposed to most other choices where the price varies quite a lot. This allows him to start up two sets of pools. The process uses a set of three pools. The first pool for fish up to a month old, the second for the fish in their second month and the third for the last two months. The first couple months they just have to be checked occasionally, but in the last couple months someone sleeps and stays at the pool permanently. This guard takes 20% of the catch. Still, each set of pools should produce a couple ton or more of fish every four months. We lent $750 to Fachrurazzi to start up one very large set of pools and to repair an irrigation gate. Fachrur has been living very much hand to mouth, working as a day laborer on a palm oil plantation. This is a huge new lease on life for him. Although he was severely tortured for a month and incurred fairly severe physical and brain damage, his brilliance still shines in his insight, understanding, humor and sensitivity.

Mislan has put in enormous hours helping me build the house in Barak Induk and with every other aspect of life. His family has taken me and made me part of the family. To compensate him for his time would be a lot and they have taken on the commitment to simplicity and volunteerism. Still, the degree to which he has put in his time for our work and also the work of Barak Induk—settling disputes, keeping the electricity running, organizing road crews, etc…–means everyone here including me look for ways to help him and his family out. Since the government does not recognize him as a citizen anywhere, he cannot get an ID card. Without an ID card, he could not buy a motorcycle. So he borrowed someone’s ID card to buy a motorcycle. As a “gift” for paying on time every month, he was offered the opportunity to borrow $1,000. Clearly out of his range, he did not borrow the money. The man whose ID card he used said he would not borrow the money as well. I told Mislan I would give him $350 for two months for full time work to assist me, which is enough to pay off the motorcycle, but when he went to pay it off it turns out that the man had borrowed the money and has actually borrowed money everywhere for gambling and is now fighting with his family and does not go home, so no one can find him. If Mislan continues to pay, he will still not be able to take the motorcycle until the additional loan is paid. He still has $700 on his installments, which is more than enough to buy a motorcycle if you have the capital. So I gave him the $700 need to buy a used motorcycle outright. We have agreed that half is payment and half is a loan that he can pay back in cash or work. His work has always been above and beyond and very consistent, so I hope that he will work it off rather than try to pay for it.

Organization was strengthened to support routine AVP workshops in three locations: Mislan and Amir coordinating in Barak Induk, North Sumatra; Ferry and Nasruddin coordinating in Langsa, Aceh; and Dahlan and Fachrurrazi coordinating in Bagok, Aceh. Ririn will continue to support communications in North Sumatra outside of Barak Induk and Ferry will continue to coordinate overall documentation and communication in Aceh. None of these people have much money for their daily living so even small amounts of expense on any routine basis become a burden. They would like to have monthly AVP refreshers with facilitation of one session followed by discussion. They will try to do small AVP workshops among their family and friends that do not require funding and six larger workshops per year that require some minimal funding. Workshops that draw from a larger pool may occur when I am visiting and I will take care of those funds, which include transportation for participants from a distance. We also calculated about forty days a year of work among the pairs for coordination, communication and reaching out to areas of conflict to arrange workshops in those areas. This was estimated based on two days pre-workshop and one day post-workshop for six workshops plus one day a month plus one day for each monthly refresher (for ten months). The coordinators will:

  • Keep a list of people who have attended workshops and which ones
  • Keep a list of facilitators
  • Write up the news after workshops including photos with captions and stories
  • Check materials and restock for the next workshops
  • Print manuals, Transforming Power cards and certificates
  • Keep a log of hours worked and tasks
  • Write monthly financial reports with receipts
  • Keep the files complete and make sure news and reports are sent to Nadine
  • Prepare an annual training schedule
  • Determine facilitation teams
  • Contact everyone eligible or interested 2-3 weeks prior to the workshop
  • Clarify registrar, food and lodging preparations and make sure the place is ready
  • Recruit teams for the monthly refresher

To support these activities, we budgeted:

$100      Coffee, tea, sugar, light snack, mosquito repellant, etc… $10 x 10 meetings

$720      Food, lodging, transport, facilities, etc… $120 x 6 workshops

$100      Phone and gas

$280      Coordinators’ time $7/day x 40 days

x 3            Three locations: Barak Induk, Langsa and Bagok

$3,600      Total annual for AVP in three locations ($1,200 per location per year)

They also agreed to encourage and support the activities for young children. If possible I would love to provide $300/year for supplies such as paper, paint, playdough and so forth and $300/year for six workshops so they can teach others what they know. They area also interested in learning about the Grameen Bank and supporting a lending program. Remaining activities to fund this trip are:

$1,800      AVP for six months in three locations

$   450      Preschool materials for six months in three locations

$1,050       Fish farm rehabilitation for Dahlan and Fachrurrazi (loan)

$1,000      Fertilizer, seed and pesticides for Darmo and his team of three others (loan)

$   700      Motorcycle for Mislan (half loan to be repaid in work)

$   300      Initial stock for a small general store for Amir (loan)

$   475      Complete degree programs for preschool teachers in Jaring Halus

$   250      Training for facilitators for Alternatives to Violence Project (35 people)

$   200      Mislan and Amir payment for work on the housebuilding

$   150      Trauma workshop in Barak Induk with friends from Aceh

$   200      Set up a preschool in Barak Induk

$   400      Bricks, cement and rebar for the preschool in Bagok

$   250      Developmental Activities for Young Children in Jogjakarta

$   500      Acehnese bags to raise funds for my return ticket (five-fold increase)

$7,725      Total ($2,350 of which are loans to be repaid; $5,375 for activities)

Sabarruddin would like to start a wood working shop and I told him I would talk to dad when I get back. Please thank everyone for the tremendous support and encouragement. If we are to support these loans to people here to restart their livelihoods, I still need an additional $1,725. Please let families and friends know that this is a great opportunity to reach out to some of the poorest of the poor in the world. They live on about $150 a month with rice prices at 55 cents a kilo, most of that is used for food. They can get loans for about 250 – 1,000 percent interest. Their lack of access to capital is the major obstacle to financial independence.