Report from the NGO Coordination Meeting in Aceh Timur
Thank goodness I have a great staff in Aceh. Before I left we coordinated a meeting between all the NGO’s involved in assisting the Rohingya refugees, the local leaders (camat, bupati, vice bupati), and various governmental bodies. We had to do some fast talking to convince everyone that we weren’t interested in “taking over.” What we do really well is respond, and we get a little impatient waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to move. I’ve always felt that if there’s a vacuum and you can fill it, you jolly well go fill it, so we took up the slack regarding coordination and much of the early public information. This has been seen as muscling in, I guess, so my ever-so diplomatic staff worked with participants to smooth some feathers.
The meeting happened day before yesterday, and here’s part of their email report to me:
The meeting was well attended, local NGOs, gvt, TNI, police, and the local UNORC representative.
Each agency took turns to say its bit, and so we laid out our concerns. I think everyone was in agreement about why we were having the meeting and we all wanted the same outcome from the meeting, which isn't always the case. After a rocky start where they assumed we were going to take over, it all worked out well. We explained that we had no interest politically or in taking control. We only wanted to make sure that things were running smoothly enough on the ground so that outside NGO’s and other agencies would donate and feel comfortable helping. We explained that we were really there to help them use the correct reporting methods and to build capacity. They loved that idea and then it settled down to a good meeting.
It was interesting having so many different NGO’s in the room, and we were all sort of suspicious at first . . .I mean, everyone’s trying so hard and naturally there’s some defensiveness about what your group has done so far. It took a while to build some trust but at the end it was agreed that we all needed to work together, the camat acknowledged that accountability to donors was needed,
At first he felt that he was being accused of being dishonest. But when it was made clear that the reporting methods and record keeping were established to get more funding and donations, he cheerfully agreed, and the doctor from the hospital was happy to work with assistance. I think they’re actually all a bit relieved since it had been an extra burden on them.
We also worked on establishing a unified approach to refugee camp management, which was trickier, since it’s customary for the camat to be in charge of everything that goes on in his village. However,. He agreed to participate in a working group meeting on Tuesday, which will clarify roles and responsibilities of all parties. It will also establish some firm timelines and delegations of specific tasks and responsibilities The group was happy that we'd all met and had the chance to air concerns and suggestions for how to move forward. So D will begin teaching people about how to keep proper records on donations, inventory food in storage, etc. warehousing of food etc. She will be our regular representative at the meetings, especially during the time close to the election when foreigners shouldn’t really be travelling back and forth along the roads to Aceh Timur.
Regarding donations, there have been donations from a lot more people/organisations that we've been aware of. There is apparently enough rice for 2 months. FPRM buys fresh supplies on a daily basis (veg and fish) and other supplies when needed, like paraffin. FPRM estimates there is enough money for 5 more days’ worth of supplies.
Interview with a Refugee in the Camp
From another staff email that day (my responses are in blue):
I spoke to one of the refugees and he spoke broken English-- not good enough to translate but he knew some basic grammar and was able to tell her that they played volleyball, that there was one guy who was the volley champ, that the toilets were smelly and there wasn't always water to wash.
We are still having an awful problem locating a translator.
The toilets are full to choking and urgently need replacing with latrines with a bigger pit. I’m also extremely concerned about the lack of water for washing. It was 2pm when we were there and the water tank where they get mandi water was empty. So there isn't water to wash after they use the toilet, nor to wash hands.
Get in touch with the head of Muslim Aid who we met and tell him we are in serious need. He also has food but is going to wait till after there is proper reporting in place before he brings it (a good idea).
Over lunch we talked about the toilets (that sounds awful I know!) and agreed that what we should do is to put in semi-permanent toilets at the tented camp immediately, because it could be several weeks before there are barracks, if there indeed are. Just my opinion but I don't think shallow pits will hold much more, they are almost full. We will ask the camat if semi-permanents can be installed (hopefully by Muslim Aid). We have to ask him now.
Pemda are providing Mandi water free of charge, 2 times a day but its clearly not enough. I suggested to FPRM that we pay them for more but they didn't think that would work. An alternative is to drill a borehole . . . more expensive, not always successful and not a lot of space in my opinion.
Forget the borehole-- it is too much and by the time we hit water they will have moved. The cost is really high. Talk to FPRM and again tell them they we need water and that we have the funds to pay so please let’s get in more water or else having better toilets will not make a difference since without water to clean themselves the same illnesses will prevail.