Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part III

Part III: East Aceh Post-Conflict

 Before we grab our administrative machetes and go deep into the Leuser Ecosystem to find out how the rainforest defines the people who live there, we’re going to talk a little about conflict, because as you will recall, I was wondering how to explain to potential donors that everyone in that area was conflict affected.  The thing about Southeast Asia and humanitarian assistance is that very little goes to trauma counseling, and so in areas like Aceh and East Timor you have people walking around literally like zombies, or else carrying these enormous psychic weights with them.  Different people have different ways of coping with tragedy.  But eventually I think that you have to acknowledge the bad thing, and what it did to you, and to your perception of what you thought this life was going to be like.  And if you are lucky there will be helpful people around who can gently guide you and support you as you come to your own terms with being a part of a club that no one wants to join.  And for many people, in fact the majority of Acehnese who lived through the conflict—I mean lived through it, as in it ran through their back yards and killed their animals and their husbands and then came back again and again, both sides, trampling over everything you ever owned or dreamed of—as far as I know, no agency or group ever came to them and said “So, how are you doing?  Would you like to talk about what happened?  Would you like to know it’s okay to cry and grieve and feel angry?” And don’t tell me that this culture does not need or want that.  I have seen this culture and these people want that, and not get it.

 So when I thought that we could develop a project that specifically targeted “children of conflict” (who are now In many cases in their 20’s and older) I thought that the first thing to do was to see if anyone had done any type of study or investigation into the specific region in Aceh where not only did the conflict take place, it was part of daily life.  Many families in Aceh Timur supported GAM.   Many communities felt that the peace accord would allow former combatants to join the provincial government staff and be part of the decision-making process, or be given pensions, or be offered services that allowed them to rebuild their lives as part of a “unified Indonesia.”  Ten years later, the majority of those people are still waiting for these things to happen.

 So far I found two possible places that will offer some assistance and shed some light.

One is an agency called Search For common Ground; it was founded in 1984, is very well-known and respected (I’d never heard of it), has an Indonesia component, and its mission “to transform the way the world deals with conflict - away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative problem solving. We use a multi-faceted approach, employing media initiatives and working with local partners in government and civil society, to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies' capacity to deal with conflicts constructively: to understand the differences and act on the commonalities.”

They did a radio program in 2010 for youth, engaging 2 stations in Aceh Timur.

I’m going to look at their web page a bit more closely to see if I know any of these characters from “the old days.”  They also seem like a good agency to partner with in our search for specific Aceh Timur-related info.  Will report back later.

 The other interesting person I found is named Steven Shewfelt and he received his doctorate from Yale in about 2010; he did his dissertation on post-conflict life in Aceh and North Sumatra. (“An examination of the return and reconciliation process for displaced people in a post-conflict setting with a focus on Indonesia”) His interviews were conducted in 2007, though, and so the views of people may have changed over 6 years. I read parts of his dissertation and I have to write to him and ask him for some clarification of terms. I don’t understand his use “polarization,” for example, and it seems to be quite important in his study of the perceived needs of IDPs (Javanese men living in Aceh who fled their homes in Aceh to another part of Aceh, versus Javanese men now living in North Sumatra (the area to the south of Aceh, whose capital is Medan). I also question his blind faith in the responses of his respondents; when people say “the only thing that bothers me is I don’t have enough money” he states something like “well, that’s good that they aren’t suffering PTSD.”  He does, however, focus on Aceh Timur and Bireun as the 2 “oddball” districts of the province in terms of how they see themselves in relation to the central government.  Still, it doesn’t seem as if he is asking his questions of a diverse group, a true community sapling.  People living in Aceh Timur are Gayo, Javanese, and other indigenous groups.  No women or youth were interviewed.  He does reference a UNDP/IOM survey, and he mentions the 2006 Village Survey in Aceh, called An Assessment of Village Infrastructure and Social Conditions by the Kecamatan Development Program, which I am going to curl up with right now and see if it answers any of the questions to yesterday’s blog entry.  But I wonder what Steven is up to now, and will try to track him down. I’d like to ask him if he’s done any recent research. He may now have some good info on Aceh Timur youth post-conflict.

Or he may have decided to open a pet store in Brussels.  We shall see.

 But as I was reading all this material, I got to thinking that maybe what JMD needed was something very, very simple, a la Jane Goodall. Someone who goes into the sub-district for a month or two and just starts hanging out with the kids.  A documentary. Yakking with them, asking them anything and everything, then talking a bit to their parents, following them to their hangouts, just sort of a field observer.  Of course, the observer would have to have a list of things they’d want to find out or make assumptions about based on interactions, but it wouldn’t have to be a formal study.  Plus, I’ll bet that once “in,” the person could learn of other people who had left Simpang Jernih who could give another perspective. In this way we could find out, on a micro-level, what would it take to make people want to stay and raise their families in Simpang Jernih?

 Next: The Cultural Survival web page (and perhaps a wee summary of the Aceh Village Survey, should I live that long).  Do not worry: forest info is right around the corner!

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