Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part IXb

Part IXb: Aceh Village Survey, Last Part

 I hope everyone had a pleasant Labor Day Weekend.  In Aceh Timur JMD’s Field Officer is gearing up for our second in a series of 8 trainings to women cocoa farmers and community members.  This month: creation and appropriate application of organic fertilizer.  Take that, palm oil giants!  We’ve got you on the run now!

Okay, so before we get to my last notes from the Aceh Village Survey (which actually almost brings this blog up to a real-time diary of our quest to conduct a survey of the actual lives and hopes of people in Aceh Timur) I have 2 updates:

1.      I’ve written to Steven Shewfelt for permission to re-print some of his dissertation here.  Remember, he’d interviewed several residents of Aceh who had either been displaced from Aceh Timur because of the conflict and had returned, or who were still living in North Sumatra (probably Medan).  I also asked him if I could ask him a few questions about his subject pool (Javanese men).  I’m hoping for a lively discussion (as when am I not?) but I believe he has altered his career path a bit and so may not still be up to date on the demographics of that area.  We’ll see.

2.      The previous blog post cited the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Populations and that site, in giving an overview of Aceh’s history, says that the culture and traditions of Aceh include the practice of merantau: males leaving their birthplace to make money and “gain new knowledge and experience,” while the women are expected to remain at home and do all the work that is involved in the caring of the home.  This has meant that many men in Aceh leave the province, marry, and do not return.  We asked the director of JMD if this were true and frankly, he did not seem to ever have heard of this but told us he’d “look into it.”  Curious, if only to reinforce the maxim: don’t believe everything you read!

The first half of the Aceh Village Survey, as you will fondly recall, gathered data from all districts regarding perceived and actual damage caused by the tsunami vs the 30-year conflict.  It also began to explore questions about what residents wanted to see as far as government involvement went.

To eliminate the suspense, however, I’m just going to say here that for all the specific data collected regarding education (poor), nutrition (Aceh Timur ranks among the highest in districts where people eat one meal or less per day), or infrastructure, there was very little if any indication that the interviewers had measured citizens’ level of faith in their government, their outlook for the future and their children’s future, their desire to remain in Aceh Timur (or any district), or their specific thoughts on their own marginalization vis a vis their physical location at Ground Zero of the conflict.

As I mentioned earlier, and actually Steven’s dissertation also backs this up, the survey indicates that the majority of Acehnese (meaning people who live in Aceh and have done so for a long time) by and large did not have any negative social or political impressions of people who have either been or aided GAM combatants and have returned to their homes of origin.  The term the study used was “trust;” the term that Steven used was “polarization.” 

The study continued its subtle but effective pressing of the point that conflict affected areas and victims have received significantly fewer, if any, services than have tsunami affected areas. Poverty “remains widespread” (in 2007) and “relief and recovery efforts for tsunami-affected populations should not crowd out the need for assistance in other parts of the province. . . . .  Given the lingering effects of the conflict and the potential for future problems, renewed emphasis should be placed on the recovery effort in conflict-affected and other non-tsunami-affected areas.”

Sadly, that advice has never been heeded.

While I have some difficulty with the survey’s methodology producing accurate results (and I can elaborate on that if anybody asks me), I do applaud the thoroughness with which they acknowledged this impediment.  There are several factors mentioned that I think are really important and practically hold the door open for our documentary.  First, the survey indicates that responses from different people in the villages (as opposed to at the province and district level) were all over the map, so that it was nearly impossible to make generalizations about what was probably true regarding the community’s economic and social condition.  Second, women, youth, the elderly, and conflict victims were usually marginalized and, while included in the survey, were not included in many group decision making processes and so their opinions were not as strongly reflected in village leaders’ responses.  “This lack of consistency between respondents at the village level once again highlights the importance of programs that are flexible, inclusive, and responsive to local needs.”  In other words, Steven probably should not believe all of what his 20 male Javanese respondents said. And JMD is on the right track by focusing on individual responses to process-related questions regarding life, work and future.

50% of all villagers interviewed for the survey reported difficulty in attending meetings (and I can vouch for that, having had to make emergency 5-hour river crossings in bad weather just to get to the chief’s house) and because these meetings “are the main problem-solving mechanism in villages, it becomes very important to increase community participation in village decision-making processes to ensure that these differences of opinion are addressed.”

You betcha!

It should be mentioned here that the survey also acknowledges the 2007 flooding that obliterated much of Aceh Timur’s upland agriculture, and that since the survey had already been completed, data for Aceh Timur in the “poverty, education, and health” areas is probably inaccurate the situation being much worse than recorded (which I believe it is).

“In order to capture the needs of different groups that exist at the local level, it is important to give communities the opportunity to be more involved in development activities and planning processes.”

What strikes me about this state meant is that it is being made, courtesy of the World Bank, in 2007.  Is this a NEW idea for these international development professionals?

It seems to be.

And so, as we press on in our pursuit of information on the “real” Aceh Timur and sustainability, we are buoyed by the thought that an originally 5-member agency operating on a shoestring in the middle of one of the worst natural and man-made disaster combinations in history had a better grasp of how to address peoples’ needs than the multi-billion-dollar global financial and humanitarian network that oversaw reconstruction.

Hey, if it walks like a duck . . .


Next: updates (if any!) and how to begin planning for the Documentary



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