Table of Contents

2012 • Indonesia Peace Team, John Michaelis

Notes From Indonesia – John Michaelis

June 2012

Getting here

On arrival in Jakarta (Island of Java) on the evening of May 30th 2012 after a gruelling forty hours of travel and the hassles of lost luggage and sore back muscles I was met by Nadine Hoover at the airport and we travelled by car to the home of old friends of hers for the night.  Nadine is from upstate New York but has lived much of her life in Indonesia and speaks the language like a native. Her ex-husband is Indonesian and her children grew up here. She carries a doctorate in international development and education and is a highly experienced Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) facilitator. It is she who invited me to co-coordinate the Friends Peace Team’s initiative in Asia West Pacific with her. She arrived here a few days before me, and like me is trying to recover from flu.

To Langsa

Our transport back to the airport arrived promptly at 6:00am the next day and we boarded a plane for the two hour flight to Medan in the North of the Island of Sumatra, but shy of our destination in Aceh. We were hungry and thirsty so we stopped at a local café for sustenance and libation before beginning the drive to Langsa, the former capital of East Aceh. The food at the café was served in ten or fifteen small dishes each holding a different food.  You take what you want, and after the meal the waiter counts up what is left and charges you for what was eaten. The level of precision is quite high. He counts the number of potatoes left on a dish and calculates the difference. The food was quite spicy – I must adapt to such food or go hungry.

The drive time to Langsa was six hours but our driver made it in four! It was not a positive achievement! The road was packed with vehicles, mostly motorcycles and scooters. In a game of chicken, those on two wheels have more to lose that those on four. We bore down on our two wheeled victims and they scattered like flies, often forced into the rough ground at the edge of the road. On one occasion a little girl ran across in front of us and we had to break hard! I arrived with many sore muscles from the tension and a new realisation that driving can be a dramatic expression of violence.

On the way we stopped briefly to meet up with Mislan, one of the local AVP facilitators. We will be staying at his home when we move to the mountains to be among the refugees there but before that he will join us in our workshop in Langsa. He farms, heads up a preschool and was previously and still is one of the seven heads of security of the group of seven thousand refugees.  The refugees moved up into the mountains of North Sumatra when they were driven from their homes in Aceh in 2000 at the height of the war. It seems his family are very supportive of is involvement the workshops because AVP changed him from being an angry controlling man into a loving and caring father.

Langsa is the city in Aceh province where Nadine developed and first facilitated a trauma healing workshop. Aceh had been in a war for thirty years before the 2004 tsunami hit. It is the long duration of war that is the primary cause of trauma among the people here. Many of the older inhabitants were killed in the violence – everywhere I look I see young people and very few who are old. The trauma from prolonged exposure to violence causes significant changes in the brain. In many, the cortex has decreased in size and the limbic system has expanded significantly. The limbic system is where the memory of trauma resides. It has no access to the speech and language centre of the brain and is not equipped to process the memories stored there. It makes it hard to stay focussed and impedes memory, concentration and decision making. People with such trauma live from day to day and are not able to plan for the future.  Sadly it is too easy to recognise those who are from the Acehinese community – they struggle to be on time to the workshop sessions and to stay with the content. In contrast, those who are new to the region manage these issues relatively well.

We made our way to our destination in Langsa, we were greeted by Bowo and other members of the facilitation team and shown our rooms. There are four of us on foam mattresses on the floor in my room. The Indonesian style bathrooms comprise a large brick open water tank that is filled from a tap with a hose. I think the tank serves two purposes – there is water available even when the electric power is off as frequently it is, and it gives the opportunity for any sediment in the water to settle on the bottom of the tank. The water is cool – a huge benefit because the heat and humidity are constant and overpowering. I seem to spend much of my time trying to keep cool, but it is a losing battle and my synthetic fibre clothes that have served me well around the world are a disaster here. Muslim sensibilities prevent me from wearing shorts and I find myself pouring sweat and struggling to find the energy to do anything. Frequent trips to the bathroom to pour water over myself help are only a temporary respite.

Those of you that are familiar with AVP know that a traditional AVP Advanced Workshop focusses on how to reach consensus in group or community around a concrete decision such as the subject focus for the remainder of a workshop. The Workshop on Discernment is different. It explores how a community or individual makes positive choices in life and how we support each other in making those choices and living by them. It seeks to harness the collective wisdom of everyone and focusses less on how to make a specific choice here and now in the workshop and more on how to seek direction and make the best choices every day for ourselves and as a community.

Trying to lower the bar




















AVPers are familiar with transforming power – the principles we follow to reduce violence in our lives. These include achieving a healthy balance between care for ourselves and care for others, not reacting impulsively but expecting the best by working together for a non-violent solution.Friends Peace Teams to Indonesia

But it keeps going up!



















Here in Aceh, the AVPers have embraced Transforming Power as a way to live, not just as a way to reduce conflict. These (mainly) young people meet together to support and challenge each other, share successes and failures and figure out how to change themselves and the world around them. They have all done AVP Basic and/or AVP Trauma Healing workshops and have joined this workshop with the shared commitment to transforming power as the basis for living and growing. They are hungry for ways to be more effective and enthusiastically share personal stories from their daily lives about what worked and what did not. They are sharp, creative, perceptive, energetic and courageous and they are changing their community.

Moments in the discernment workshop in Langsa





































To practice discernment the workshop uses the Claremont Method, a process where each issue is presented to the group as clearly and precisely as possible. The group works together to find the best direction or decision. Each person may speak to the issue only once until everyone has the chance to speak. The focus is on openness and understanding the problem. There is no place for voting, preconceived solutions or defending a cherished position. Nor is it required that everyone reaches the same conclusion. The value of the group wisdom is a gift to everyone including those who might disagree.

Those of the Quaker persuasion may recognise aspects of this process, but in a group mostly of Muslim AVPers the process stands on its own merits as a wise compassionate way to seek wisdom and direction – i.e. discernment. They approach living with a freshness, openness and commitment that is challenging to me. I miss a fair amount of what is going on because I can’t speak the language, although the facilitation team makes every effort to include me.

Food and Thinking of England

Eating here is a succession of new experiences. Familiar staples like rice and cabbage are interspersed with unknown concoctions. An apparent delicacy served at most meals is ‘outside of fish’. Everything inside is removed leaving a shell of skin, tail, fins, eyes and teeth that smells fishy and looks at you. It is fried until crunchy. I find I am able to chew it, swallow and think of England. I am trying to eat some of everything – so far successfully, although the spiciness is a problem because it triggers heartburn for me almost continuously.

A Shopping Expedition

AVP and Friends Peace Teams in Indonesia have been involved in the development of preschools. Our original plan was to equip a new preschool in Bagok, East Aceh, and to facilitate a workshop for preschool teachers in the region. One of our facilitation team was also in the process of opening a preschool in the Langsa area so we spent a day buying preschool equipment for two preschools.

The shopping process was an educational expedition in its own right. Nadine had an entourage of teachers, AVP facilitators and me. We started at a hardware store where we purchased sheets of thin plywood that we cut into rectangles and painted black to serve as chalk writing boards for the children.  We bought a type of roofing nail that was safe for children to handle, clothes pegs of various colours, hand operated water pumps, sponges, locks of different sizes – equipment that would not have occurred to me for preschool developmental play.

Nadine explained the purpose behind each choice – pumps developed children’s hand muscles so they could hold pencils and chalk, as did sponges when they squeezed the water from them. The padlocks provided learning as children found which key sizes fitted each lock.

We progressed to a plastic and cooking equipment store where buckets, bowls, whisks, small pans and other cooking implements, racks and drawers were acquired. Our itinerary included many other stores including the obligatory stationary store and a store for dolls and other toys.

There had to be at least two of every item. Children share if there are two or more – they fight for possession if there is only one. If there is more than one colour, there must be at least two of each colour.

Because we were now equipping two schools we were way over budget and we were unable to include the expensive sets of construction blocks for the school in Langsa that would have completed their equipment.

Bagok, East Aceh

Bagok is on the coast two hours north of Langsa in East Aceh, “the heart” of the former war between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Republic of Indonesia. We made the journey with the facilitator team on Monday June 7th and stayed at the home of the Dahlan, founder of the new local preschool. The facilitation team included Nadine and me; two Javanese staff members of SHEEP, Bowo and Tina; two from Langsa, Riski and Ita; and one from Tamiang, Fauzia, representing three districts of Aceh. The following day, participating preschool teachers from across the region arrived. Two teachers from Dahlan’s school which will open in July were joined by others from two additional preschools in this area of East Aceh, along with teachers from Langsa, Kuala Simpang in Tamiang and extremely isolated villages in the upper mountains of Tamiang. By the time we had a full complement, there were two dozen people, plus babies, toddlers and children. When everybody lay down to sleep for the night there were people covering much of the floor in the sleeping and living areas of Dahlan ‘s home.

The training began as an AVP Basic workshop on non-violence with some trauma healing activities, then morphed into a workshop on developmental play for pre-schoolers. In the aftermath of the war, domestic violence in East Aceh is endemic and in many cases extreme. In Indonesia, public schools did not arise from the local population. They were established by a state seeking to impose a national language and control through militaristic drilling and recitation. Harsh drilling and corporal punishment are common, even expected, in schools.

To learn, a person must feel safe and calm, have access to adequate drinking water and opportunities for gross motor movement. Starting teacher and parent training with the concept of living without violence is a necessary foundation to prevent and heal from multigenerational violence and to create conditions necessary for learning to occur.

The intimacy of living and sharing together for four days builds a caring community, even stronger than the communities that I have experienced in previous AVP workshops. It was difficult for me to follow everything because I couldn’t speak any of the local languages (at least six were involved). As an example of the level of caring, the facilitators noted that two of the teachers from East Aceh were exhibiting symptoms of tuberculosis, and arrangements were put in place for them to be tested and treated.

At the end of the workshop we brainstormed a series of next steps. These included setting up regular support meetings in the four geographical areas that comprise the region. Some of the villages were quite remote – one was an eight hour boat trip up the river, others were on an island off the coast.

The feedback from participants throughout the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers shared how this way of learning was far beyond anything they had experienced in their lives and wished the workshop could have been much longer. In total, the training lasted four days and we could have used more time.

Water from a Well

In the afternoons, local children would gather outside and haul themselves up to watch the goings on from the windows. From inside we could see only disembodied heads and curious eyes.

The venue has no running water but there is a well with a bucket. I wanted to use the facilities (a small separate building at the back) and since the bathroom tank was dry I planned to draw some water. The well is in a small room adjacent to the bathroom. I mentioned my intention to Nadine and she looked at me thoughtfully and said “Have you ever drawn water from a well?” I couldn’t remember having done so, but I’ve seen pictures of wells (most of them in fairy-tale picture books) and I was sure I must have seen a real well or two in my travels. Not that I’ve ever had occasion to use one. There are taps everywhere; turn them on and you have water! Anyway how hard can it be to draw water from a well? Wells have handles that turn a cylinder with a rope around. Crank the handle and a bucket drops into the well and comes up full of water.

Nadine looked at me quizzically.  The first thing you must do is to make sure you have a VERY good hold of the end of the rope. The bucket floats, so you must throw the bucket at just the right angle to get it to go into the water otherwise it bounces on the surface and all that gets wet is the outside of the bucket.

I went out to try my luck. It was a lightweight white plastic bucket. It had a metal handle with a thin red plastic rope attached and a knot at the end. I tied a loop, placed it around my wrist and threw the bucket at the water as hard as I could. It flew down the hole, ricocheted off the side of the well and stopped well short of the surface. The rope was too short – not long enough to reach the water looped as it was around my hand. So I untied the loop, held on tight to a knot at the end and aimed again. Still the bucket didn’t reach the water. Either it was designed for orangutans or the water level was much higher when they added the rope. So I leaned over the edge of the well jamming my feet at an uncomfortable angle so I wouldn’t follow the bucket down the well. I didn’t want to throw with both hands because one was holding the side of the well to keep me from falling in! I tried many times with varying degrees of success and eventually scooped enough water to keep the bucket upright. I then tried jiggling the rope and dragging it sideways but succeeded only in losing the little water I had gained. Back to square one! After many more tries I eventually harvested a few cups of water which I carried next door and poured into the tank. Spread across the bottom of the tank it was barely a quarter of an inch deep!

I am an engineer and this was an engineering problem – there had to be a better solution. I considered adding stones to the bucket to keep it upright. How many stones? Well stones are about two and a half times as dense as water, so the volume of stones would need to be two fifths the volume of the bucket to get it to sink.  If I allowed for the space between the stones perhaps two thirds of the bucket would suffice. But what if they fell out; depositing stones on the bottom of the well would be a disaster – and where would I find stones. Everything had gone quiet. I looked around and suddenly became aware that the children who had been watching the goings on in the workshop had somehow lost interest in the events inside. Instead they had turned their attention to me. They were grinning from ear to ear and providing lively, if unintelligible commentary in the local dialect. A strange foreigner had travelled thousands of miles to provide the best entertainment they’d had in months. I abandoned my efforts to draw water and retreated to the workshop to contemplate a new career as a stand-up comic.

A Sense of Scale

Now that I have seen a portion of the work here and met the people face to face, I realise that I had no concept of the scale of the AVP and Friends Peace Teams initiative here in Indonesia. Nadine is a well-loved, respected and a significant public figure in this part of the world with an extensive network of supporters. Friends Peace Teams and AVP have a strong history here in East Aceh following the war where other NGOs or foreigners are rarely seen. It has sufficient number of trained and committed facilitators to continue and grow the work in several centres in Aceh and North Sumatra and on the island of Java. AVP’s influence ranges from grass-roots to the leadership of the community and in some cases the national government, with particular involvement in schools, preschools and parenting.

Yatno’s Release

Yatno was Secretary for the mountain community of Barak Induk in North Sumatra, south of the border with Aceh. The seven thousand refugees in the area moved here after being forced from their homes in Aceh during the war in the years 1999 and 2000. The powerful Forestry Department persists in trying to throw them out. Friends Peace Teams and Nadine in particular have for many years been working with the refugees in their struggle for the right to continue to live in the area and in 2008 there was a provincial high court appeal ruling stating that they were not on forestry land.


The police barricade shortly before the shooting began




















In 2011 the Forestry Department used elephants to uproot rubber trees and destroy homes in the region. Over five thousand refugees ran to see what was happening. Thirteen hundred Forest Rangers, military and police personnel stood in the way and opened fire with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Seeking to draw on the transforming power of nonviolence they’d learned in AVP, this formerly closed community had opened up and invited media to what they thought was going to be a dialogue, so the incident was videoed and transmitted live to the networks using solar power. Eighteen refugees were shot. The incident made the national evening news and the response of the senior military command in Medan that had refused the Forestry Department’s request for support that day and was taken off guard to see so many of his personnel at the scene.

As Barak Induk’s Secretary, Yatno has kept meticulous records of every stage in the process. The Forestry Department has resisted every claim of residency, ignored the court ruling and instigated the arrest of Yatno two months ago, supposedly for living on forestry land.

When we landed in Medan, the capital of the province of North Sumatra on Thursday June 1st, we were greeted with the news that there was an order from the court for Yatno’s release. Mislan’s leading of the protests of Barak Induk residents – first taking sixty mothers to the Provincial Congress and later taking eight hundred residents – seemed to have borne fruit.

Later, as we travelled to Langsa, we heard that Yatno was still being detained on the orders of the Forestry Department and later still, we heard that the head of the Forestry Department was himself threatened with arrest for failing to comply with the court order for Yatno’s release. On Tuesday June 8th, while we were in Bagok, Yatno finally was released. Two days, Barak Induk was terrorized when eight incendiary bombs were planted in homes there. Only one detonated and fortunately there were no serious injuries and the fire was extinguished after destroying a wall and roof.

Our original plan was to travel to Barak Induk on Saturday, June 12th following our only scheduled day of rest, but after the planting of the bombs, their leaders pleaded with Nadine to bring our travel forward a day so that she could assist in documenting the incident for potential submission to Amnesty International, the UN and relevant embassies.

From Bagok to Barak Induk

For me, the journey was an event in itself. Public transport here is primarily by private fifteen seater minibuses. Fifteen is the number of passengers the minibus is designed to carry, not the number considered economically viable by the driver. Passengers signal the driver to be picked up and set down and each pays for the distance they travel. A three person bench seat holds four people and various small stools have been strategically placed to maximise the load. At one point, in the heat of the Sumatran day our vehicle had a load twenty-two people plus luggage. The bus trip took about four hours. We were then picked up by two motorcycles for the hour long trek up the mountain to Barak Induk. Nadine and I each had two pieces of luggage – I carried one on my back and the other was positioned in front of the driver. It was raining and the road was very rough, very slippery and very muddy, but my driver was quite skilful although we came off once, shortly before we reached our destination. Neither of us was hurt although I had quite a bit of mud to wash off.

Our trip to Barak Induk was much anticipated and news of our arrival spread from village to village as we rode up the mountain. This is very much a closed society but because Nadine is loved and respected we are greeted with welcomes and smiles wherever we go.

Barak Induk

Barak Induk houses seven thousand refugees who are spread widely but well organised. They have divided the land so that each home sits on a 4,000 square metre plot and each family farms an area of two hectares. We were staying with Mislan and his wife Ida. Mislan is one of the leaders of the community. Most of the active leadership have participated in AVP workshops and are committed to living non-violently. Three of them are now trained as facilitators.

The refugee leaderships’ response to the recent bombing attempts has been calm and measured. Several of the leaders have commented that it would not have been that way were it not for AVP and the community’s transformation through their commitment to practicing non-violence.

On Saturday June 9th, my second day in Barak Induk I was invited to a meeting of the leaders of the community at the home of Darmo, the region head. Also present were some outsiders – Heru, an political advisor and activist and three members of a pro-bono legal team from the Legal Aid Society. At issue were ongoing attempts by the Forest Rangers to evict them, plus human rights violations such as Yatno’s arrest.

In July 2011, Friends Peace Teams supported Barak Induk by emailing a report to Amnesty International about their situation and the human rights abuses. A local NGO that had undertaken to submit a report to the U.N. last year failed to follow through. In light of this, we worked with them to update and translate their report to the United Nations. We also offered to serve as a communication bridge to the U.N. because none of these farmers have computers or internet access, let alone know how to type.

The Forestry Department receives significant funding for forest preservation from foreign governments, most recently the Government of Norway. Nadine and I are hoping to visit the Norwegian, US, British and Australian embassies to present reports on the misuse of funds for forest preservation.

A Different Point of View

It is interesting to see how my views are changing in the few days since I arrived. A case in point; at quarter past four on my first morning in Langsa, I was wakened by the sounds from a nearby minaret. As time passed, more and louder calls to prayer could be heard from every direction, each singer in his or her own voice (yes, some of the callers are women and some children), differing songs, keys, levels of amplification, cadences, timing and expression. The cacophony was unique and the only point in common among the songsters seemed to be the urge to share their insomnia with as many people as they could.

Later in the week the evening call to prayer sounded during one of our team meetings. One of the Muslim facilitators asked us to pause the meeting until the call to prayer was over. As we listened quietly together I realised I had totally ignored the power and purpose of these shared times of prayer. In Barak Induk this morning I woke to the sound from just one minaret and lay in bed and listened to the intricate chromatics of the singer and realised the skill some of these songsters bring to their call. Waking in the early hours, relaxed and in prayer is adding a new dimension to my morning.

A Model Preschool

Behind Mislan’s home is a preschool that Friends Peace Teams built and equipped. It is a peaceful space I love to sit here and write, especially when two dozen children are playing, learning and singing around me.

It serves as a model of how preschools should be set up and run. Teachers from other preschools come here for training and to experience modern developmental play techniques. Generally throughout Indonesia schools are run with military style discipline, often with a strong religious theme and Madras-style learning of the Quran (Madrasah). A school where learning takes place through structured play and learning circles and no one yells at the children is a totally new experience for visiting teachers.

Each day after the children leave, teachers gather up all the drawings paintings and other creativity for the day and note any advances in development for each child. Today we had a two hour parent-teacher meeting where the stages of child development were discussed, the different types of developmental play were demonstrated and the idea of non-violent relationship between parent and child was shared.

Watching the children draw and paint brought back memories that helped me for the first time to understand my own strong aversion to drawing and painting. I recalled that at a young age I set myself a photographic standard against which I compared my artistic attempts. Such a standard was unreachable and I remember now the feelings of frustration and failure that followed my attempts to draw and paint.

Yesterday Nadine and I were transported by the ubiquitous motorbike to a wedding reception for a preschool teacher. It was held about an hour away by rough mountain roads and paths. Like all weddings, the participants were decked out in their finery. I was definitely the worst dressed guest. Nevertheless we were persuaded to feature in the photographs with bride, groom and family. There were many delicacies ranging from fried tapioca flowers to drinks made from Indonesian fruits that were pleasant, cool and unfamiliar. I drew the line at a fermented stinky rice concoction wrapped in a banana leaf.

After the wedding reception we were proudly shown a local preschool modelled on the one in Barak Induk. It was similar in many ways although it lacked the set of wooden blocks that are so expensive in Indonesia. A set of 500 blocks for a preschool, costs the equivalent of about $340 here – way outside the budget of these preschools where most teachers either volunteer or make between $6-12 per month at most.

From Barak Induk to Suka Jadi

Our destination after Baruk Induk was Suka Jadi, a village close to the old town of Stabat on the coastal road to Medan. This was the same coastal road we drove on our way to Langsa with a driver who bore down on two-wheeled vehicles and scattered them like flies. Now the tables were turned and we were among the scattered. On the way up the mountain I had no crash helmet. I was happy to be wearing one on the way down. I would have been happier still if it had a strap to hold it in place in the event of an accident.  The two-hour journey was mostly through palm oil plantations, which were formerly rainforest.

These palms are very lucrative but disastrous for the ecology, draining the soil of moisture and nutrients but not holding the soil in place; any heavy rain washes it away causing erosion and mudslides. The palm oil crop is harvested twice a month – by removing a couple of branches then cutting out the section using sharp knives on poles and hooks to pull it free. A few of the palms are owned by small farmers but vast areas are owned by conglomerates.

Suka Jadi

We slept and held the workshop at the home of Ibu Nining and Pak Selamat. She is principal of the local preschool. They live on a busy road so the noise of passing motorcycles sometimes made it difficult to hear yourself think. On the corner, a couple houses away, is a café where you can enjoy refreshment and music from speakers that were sometimes loud. On the final evening a market area was setup and crowds gathered in the street outside the home. Clothing and other goods were sold late into the evening. I enjoyed watching toddlers and small children having fun on a well-used roundabout and miniature Ferris-wheel – no machinery – all operated by hand.

After Graduation In Suka Jadi


















All the participants stayed in the home – the floor was covered with people. I had a double bed which I shared with Milan. We kicked each other only occasionally.

The workshop was an AVP Basic and was totally new for many of the participants. Some of the participants were teachers who have been learning from Tunas Baru Preschool in Barak Induk. The rest responded to an invitation sent to the twenty three counties in the district – one invitation to each county. Registration was closed after twelve accepted but there was a strong reaction from those who were excluded so there is an opportunity for more workshops in the future.

We ended up with twenty one participants; all women and all preschool teachers (except for Nadine, Mislan and me). Once again the feedback from the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. They had never experienced anything like it before and shared with enthusiasm how it would change their life and the life of their families and preschools. They can’t wait to try many of the activities in their homes and preschools. We spent as much time as was available training the facilitation team. They are the ones who will be responsible for continuing the work when Nadine and I board a plane and leave.

Living Close to the Earth and Your Neighbour

Mostly we have been staying in people’s homes. By no means are they the poorest of the poor but the living standards are very different from those of developed countries. The windows have neither glass nor mosquito screens, so the world outside is the world inside, and many of the kitchen floors are bare ground. I had not recognised the degree that our homes have become cocoons. We can shut out weather, neighbours and the world. Here, insects, spiders, the odd frog or two, the occasional poisonous black centipede, geckos, chickens, geese and ducks and even a baby monkey are all part of life inside and out. You are in intimate contact with your neighbour and everyone knows everyone else’s business. There are no locks on the doors. Children mix freely and roam neighbours’ homes as though they were their own. Bedding, motorcycles and crockery are shared freely as need occurs. The sense of caring for and supporting your neighbour in the community is palpable. I noticed this everywhere, but especially in Baruk Induk where the community of refugees shared a common history of the pain of losing their homes and livelihood when they forcefully evicted from their homes and land.

The homes vary greatly. In Dahlan’s home in Bagok, the well is in the kitchen and is used to fill the open tank in the bathroom which is a walled off section. When you stand up in the bathroom you can see what’s cooking. The bathroom tank has fish in it to reduce the mosquito population and I took care not to scoop any of them out – not easy when the water level is low and you are trying to flush the toilet by flash-light in the middle of the night.

At Mislan’s home in Barak Induk, the water is murky and when the tank is full, you can’t see the bottom, but there are geckos skimming across the surface, buoyed up by the surface tension. To add to the interest, there was a mole in the bathroom in the early hours of one morning.

Barak Induk’s only electricity is from local generators that run for a few hours in the evening, so there are no fans. There is also no ceiling and no roof vents; when the sun shines, the heat radiates from the tin roof making it impossible to keep cool.

We experienced a tropical afternoon thunderstorm that brought back fond memories of my childhood in central Africa. I love the noise of pouring rain beating on a tin roof. There were two deafening claps of thunder and lightning strikes, one very close. I was sitting on the floor against the wall and realising there were no lightning conductors and lightning current would flow through the walls, I moved quickly to comparative safety in the centre of the room.

At, Nining’s home in Suka Jadi, the well is in the bathroom. It boasts a rope and a pulley and a bucket that tips over on its own when it hits the surface and comes up half full of very murky water. There is also an electric pump that works when power is available, but no tank – just a large plastic bowl for the water.

I have been washing my clothes using a bowl and brush, placing the soapy clothes on the concrete floor and scrubbing them with a brush. This followed a demonstration from one of the younger children who became very concerned I when I skipped the brush part of the process!

I have found a new way to cool down from the overpowering heat in Sumatra; lie on my back on the floor with my arms and legs spread out and absorb the relative cool of the concrete. When I am on my own I take my shirt off to cool down even more. I can’t do it as often as I would like but when I do have the opportunity, it’s such a relief that I often drift off to sleep.

Suku Jadi to Pati

Pati is in the centre of the island of Java. To get there we went by motorcycle to the main road, a two hour minibus ride to central mosque in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, a taxi to the airport, a two hour flight to Jakarta the Indonesian capital, a one hour flight to Semarang in central Java then an hour and a half road trip to Peace Place in Pati. We arrived tired in the early hours of the following morning.

Mislan having fun with a pre-schooler



















Peace Place, Pati, Central Java

I found Pati quite different from Aceh and North Sumatra; much more industrial, better roads, better infrastructure, fancier homes, more of the homes had cars rather than motorcycles; all signs of more money.

Peace Place is well named. It is a sanctuary in a busy city. It is one very large (11 meters 2) room with a terra cotta rather than tin roof, a white ceramic tiled floor and a sense of peacefulness. A preschool meets there in the afternoons (they are about to switch to a morning schedule). A house is under construction on the property to serve as the home for Nanik and Petrus’ family and Friends Peace Teams’ guest house. The ground floor is mostly complete but we lack the funds to finish the kitchen roof and second floor railings. I slept on the ground floor. Nadine slept in the room above and had to negotiate her entry and exit with care; without railings a misstep could result in catastrophe.

The second Workshop on Discernment was held in Peace Place the day after we arrived. We were fortunate to have a strong facilitation team so Nadine had much more time to translate for me. I ended up with a much better understanding and appreciation of the workshop and could contribute much more to the facilitation.

For those unfamiliar with AVP, new participants begin with a basic workshop where they will experience affirmation and communication in activities that rapidly build community. One of the principles of AVP is that we are participants, including the facilitators, who rotate facilitation responsibilities. Activities draw content from all participants. Key subjects such as violence and non-violence are defined by the participants in a brainstorm process. The participants soon develop a sense of ownership of the content.

The learning process is experiential; each participant’s experience is different because each is at a different point in their life journey. This becomes clear early in the workshop as activities are debriefed and participants share what happened for them in an activity. The diagram below shows the stages in a basic workshop:

A workshop agenda is not fixed – facilitators monitor the progress at each level and choose activities accordingly.
















The Workshop on Discernment is an advanced workshop and conditions for participating are completion of a basic workshop and commitment to practicing non-violence in daily life – not only physical but verbal violence and the put-downs we inflict on ourselves and each other, even in jest.  Each participant agrees to live by a set of community ground rules that are worked through and agreed upon in the Basic Workshop and are honed further in advanced workshops such as the workshop on Discernment.

Discernment is a community commitment rather than an individual activity. Violence is a way of life in our world, at the individual, family, community, national and international level. To live without violence is very hard – I for one need all the help I can get. I found that practicing discernment in a committed and supporting community makes it much more possible for me. When I considered co-coordinating Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific at the start of this year, I invited a small group of friends who are part of my life to help me discern whether the opportunity was authentic, whether it was right for me and how it might fit in my already over-committed life. We spent several hours together and as I responded to their thoughtful questions I was able to reach clarity on what I would need to lay down to make this commitment. One of the friends took notes that Anthea typed up as a record of the queries and responses that were raised in the process.

Discernment provides opportunities for each member of the group to test with one another what is needed or must be let go of in day-to-day life to stay aware of what’s right and true at any moment. If the group recognises it as right for someone, it’s recorded in their name. If, on the other hand, the group feels a commitment is right for all, it’s recorded as shared. Such a community becomes a tremendous resource ever-present in the ordinary perceptions and decisions of daily life, much less when facing significant life decisions, transitions or challenges.

Once again, many of those attending the workshop were practising Muslims and we planned the breaks during the day so that the prayer times could be observed. Several facilitators and participants took advantage, dressing in their traditional white during the time they were praying. As I watched these men and women work through the process of supporting each other in their commitment to discernment, I was envious – I soon would leave; I wanted to participate in their community experiment.


Discernment for Peace Place, Pati

There are new opportunities for Peace Place in Pati that have been part of the discernment process. They include offering AVP workshops, including discernment, trauma healing and developmental play; setting up a model preschool like the one in Barak Induk in North Sumatra; offering after-school lessons to school-aged children; and setting up an acquisition, production and distribution network for developmental toys and books.

As funds become available to complete the railings on the house there will be sufficient room to accommodate about ten guests. In addition to visiting AVP facilitators, preschool teachers, and sojourners, Friends Peace Teams is helping Petrus explore a study abroad opportunity for college students at Peace Place and the surrounding region. Such a program would benefit Peace Place financially and would provide valuable cross-cultural experiences for both the students and the local team.

During our team meetings in the early evenings we were loudly interrupted by what I took to be a noisy bird on the roof of Peace Place. It was a most distinctive call quite unlike any other I had heard previously. It turned out to be Tokay gecko – large with distinctive orange Spots.

Click here to hear a tokay calling

Small groups at a discernment workshop





















A Side Trip to Tondomulyo and Bapat

Outside the small preschool in Tondomulyo



















About forty minutes by motorbike from Pati is the village of Tondomulyo. Sun and his wife Zum, two of the facilitators at the discernment workshop, live and run a preschool there. It is an ultra-conservative Muslim enclave. When Sun and Zum first attended an AVP Basic, they were ostracised by their community for attending a workshop with Christians present. When Sun invited Nadine to visit the village two years ago, he cancelled then reinstated numerous times. When she did visit, Nadine insisted she met the local Imam. He has slowly warmed to our visit and this trip was the first time he went so far as to shake our hands. Such a courtesy is no small concession for a man living under a Muslim code that allows him no physical contact with heathens. We toured the preschool and spent time providing coaching for teachers and going over plans to extend the small building, which have been discussed over the past year. Friends Peace Teams was able to provide the wood for the rafters in the extension at a cost of $700 plus an additional $100 towards bricks and cement for the floor.

Inside with Zum, Sun, and blocks




















While in Tondomulyo, we toured a small bio-gas facility that was installed by SHEEP (Society for Health, Education, Environment and Peace). The bio-gas system converts cow manure into methane for cooking in local houses.

Sun, Nadine, and John discussing building extensions




















Nadine and I and a group from Tondomulyo made our way in a caravan of six motorcycles to the village of Bapat where a new preschool has opened up its doors run by Sri and Yayuk, two of the participants in the Discernment Workshop at Peace Place. They have a tiny, hot room 10ft by 13ft (3 by 4 metres) with a typical attendance of 31 children with the mothers outside the door watching everything. They are hoping to move into a larger space that has gone into disuse, but the renovations necessary will take a while. They have limited equipment and a particular need for blocks. We spent time there with the teachers going over some of the basics of child development.

Pre-school teachers catching a ride on a truck to a workshop



















From Pati to Japara and then to Jogjakarta

The drive from Pati to Jogjakarta is about seven hours. We chose to break our journey at Jepara to see Petra and his wife and the woodworking team who make the blocks for preschools. Entering Jepara is an experience – it is a medium sized town entirely devoted to woodwork. Every shop front is devoted to wooden articles ranging from furniture to sculpture to decorated construction facia to toys to ornaments. Most of the town is Mennonite. We saw many churches and our visit included a visit to the local Mennonite pastor and his wife where we drank a sweet red liquid of unknown origin. The manufacture of the blocks requires a high degree of manual labour and this adds significantly to the cost. With my previous experience running a manufacturing wood shop I was mentally calculating a much lower cost of the blocks using efficient high-throughput machinery. Sadly the market is too small for such methods. We took a full colour spectrum of bead blocks away with us to test the paint for toxicity.

Petra with wood blanks ready to be cut into children's blocks.



















The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we arrived in Jogjakarta late in the evening to stay at the home of Andreas, managing director of SHEEP- a comparatively plush abode after our previous places of rest.

We spent the time in Jogjakarta at the SHEEP headquarters reviewing with Rina and Tony, the work on low cost water filters. Friends Peace Teams has set up a small ceramic and microbiology laboratory that is working to develop low cost water purifiers combining filtration technology and silver coated ceramic or sand particles that act as a biocide.

Yuyun Showing some of his art.



















I was delighted to meat Yuyun, a young artist of amazing skill who is illustrating Indonesian children’s books that Friends Peace Teams is developing, particular for preschools. I missed seeing some of his best work because it was on display at a local exhibition and we hadn’t time to visit there. We are hoping to pay his way to travel to Alfred, NY on an arts scholarship. Subject to his passing the English test for a student visa, he plans to come to the US in August.























Our relationship with SHEEP has grown stronger over many years. A major problem for NGOs based in the developing world is struggle against corruption. SHEEP is impressive in its vision and the controls that are in place to ensure donated money is distributed as intended by the donors.


Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific is committed not to spend money that we don’t have. We have a dedicated base of concerned people who contribute regularly to the stability of our ongoing work and even more who readily respond to need as we make them aware of specific opportunities. Sometimes we come across opportunities, especially during a trip such as this one, when there is a large benefit for a small expenditure and it is needed immediately. Typically the team carries extra funds for these opportunities. At the moment, our funds are low for a number of reasons—we’re seeking new outlets for the sale of Acehnese bags, Nadine’s time was turned to writing rather than the speaking tours that bring in funds, we’ve added my travel costs as coordinator prior to organizing specific support networks for me, many of our resources have gone to the water filter development over the past year, among others—so for the first time Nadine or I have chosen to advance personal funds to cover the cash flow necessary to respond to such opportunities, although we expect to recoup the funds quickly and hope to not repeat this approach.

Generally we will not take on expenditures that require ongoing funding. Such funds exacerbate the complexities of wealth, poverty, power and subservience embedded in the culture from centuries of colonization coupled with global commercialism that are damaging to the relationships we are building with people. Funding of recurring costs can postpone dealing with issues of long-term viability. The exception to this is college scholarships, currently to two key preschool teachers at the model preschool in Barak Induk in early childhood development and to an administrative support person in psychology.

Nor does our relationship with donors involve a long-term commitment, although many of our donors have been contributing for a long time. One of the statements in the Cooperative Agreement at the Discernment Workshop is “Use what you need and share the rest”. Many of our donors live by this principle and we are grateful for their contributions.

Friends Peace Team in Asia West Pacific’s primary mission is to build principled relationships and to strengthen them over time. We are able to watch lives change as people commit to living non-violently. The vision, commitment and development of opportunities such as new preschools, Peace Place in Pati, water filters, developmental picture books and toys and so forth comes from people here. They share the fruits of their labours with us and discuss the opportunities to improve or expand the work. As trust develops and if the opportunity seems right, we share it with our donors. We do not fund where there is no relationship or where funding is likely to damage a relationship. Building these relationships before we fund new activities greatly increases the effective use of funds and the guidance, support and feedback we can provide as an opportunity develops and grows.

We do plan for the future – we are planning future trips to Indonesia: Nick Rozard hopes to return to Jogjakarta in September or October to check on the results of the first round of research results for water filter development; Nadine Hoover will take a team into Aceh, North Sumatra and Java in January; and we’re considering possible trips to Nepal or Korea, which will require individuals testing their leadings, our discernment as a group and the discernment of our donors, so we’ll stay in touch on this as we gain more clarity. We will not proceed unless the call is clear and the funds are available.


Below is a summary of opportunities for Friends Peace Teams Asia West Pacific for the next year:

Anticipated expenditure August 2012 to February 2013

Scholarships – Mislan, Ani, Ririn


Transport – Mislan


Ramadan recognition awards for teachers – Barak Induk


Preschool equipment (3 schools, not including blocks)


Preschool unit blocks (6 school sets)


Nick Rozard – trip to Jogjakarta research follow-up


Scholarship – Yuyun’s


Yuyun’s children’s storybooks


Railing for Peace Place housing


January trip to Indonesia – Nadine




Additional initiatives (2013 March-August)
Trip to Kathmandu to support AVP there


Trip to South Korea to support AVP there


Scholarships for Southeast Asian participates at Peace Place


Visit – Nadine with Australian Friends (March 2013)


Water filter research assistants (2 people for 10 months)


Visit – Nick and John to visit CAWST (Canadian water filters)


Trip to Indonesia – Nadine





You can donate help with any of these upcoming expenses here:



After our day with SHEEP in Jogjakarta, we flew to the capital for a couple of days where we met with the UN, UNESCO, the Indonesian Human Rights Commission and the Norwegian, British and Australian Embassies to discuss the Human Rights abuse at Barak Induk.

Our reception was very warm at each of the meetings – much more so than I had anticipated. UNESCO was aware of the issue and had accepted the Forestry Department assertion that the Barak Induk area was in the UN protected forest. They had no maps of the area and we arranged to provide them.

We tried to meet with the US embassy without success but at our meeting with the British embassy, the vice consul had a copy of the email we had sent to his US counterpart. He knew about of the situation but was pleased to receive the written report we had submitted to the UN and said as we left that we must keep up the good work.

The Norwegian representative had never heard of Barak Induk. He confirmed that one billion US dollars had been pledged by Norway to rehabilitate the forest but that the money was conditional and had not yet been disbursed. He accepted the report and indicated he would enquire further.

The Australian embassy representative knew about Barak Induk but our report provided much more detail. He indicated he would follow up.

We were invited to contact the embassies again on future visits and asked to make the Consulates aware of our entry Indonesia.


Home again – but I cannot forget, nor leave behind the relationships that have become part of my life in Indonesia –Bowo, Ferry, Riski, Ifau, Mislan and Ida, Petrus and Nanik, Yuyun and so many others. I will – I must return.