First published in The Jakarta Post, December 18, 2005
VOLUNTEER GROUP SUPPORTS ACEHNESE TO EMBRACE FUTURE
Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor/Jakarta
The first time when the team from Al-Azhar Community Development in Aceh (ACDA) surveyed the catastrophe in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, the members were deeply disturbed by the palpable feeling of disorientation emanating from many of the survivors.
However, they were further surprised with the fact that many children there were still able to demonstrate enthusiasm and spirit, particularly when they came together in a group and played.
As reconstruction progresses, many who lost their children and families are now looking determinedly to the future, with some experts predicting a baby-boom in the region.
This spirit is indeed an invaluable capital for them to rebuild their life and bury their wounds.
It is because of this that ACDA—a volunteer based organization founded by alumni of Al-Azhar Mosque’s youth organization in Jakarta—has followed an approach of transformational relations, which is designed to restore and nurture intrinsic capacity of the community to identify their own problems, to manage their resources and to communicate solutions that would enable them to comprehend their present and future lives realistically.
The ACDA program places the civil capacity-building efforts ahead of infrastructure establishment in disrupted areas by adopting a transformation process called Community Driven Development (CDD). Accordingly, the expected goal is for the affected community to develop the confidence and ability necessary to recognize problems, suggest solutions and plan their own future, along with any physical deployment, such as social and economical infrastructure proposed by working institutions in their surroundings.
A cultural approach has also been adopted, and under this approach, the ACDA uses mosques as its base, considering that the staunchly Islamic province employs a certain degree of shari’a in its law.
Mosques are used not only as a center of worship, but also a center of cultural, social and economic development.
The ACDA accompanies and assists the community in responding to government policy in rebuilding their devastated province. The main tools used in this are focus group discussions and participatory methodology, which motivates women and men from all strata of life to raise development issues and evaluate the impact on them, generate information based on their own personal experiences and broach issues of concern that demand collective efforts both through education and advocacy.
For the first year-program, from July 2005 to June 2006, the ACDA is focusing on community service and community relations, which is to be followed by long term community empowerment program. The organization is focusing initially on Nagan Raya district to develop model of participatory development.
This short term program is being pursued through reconstructing and activating local social and cultural infrastructure, such as physical restoration of meunasa—small mosques—mosques, and schools and libraries for children and students; facilitating kindergarten and primary school education through assistance in formal and informal education for children in cooperation with local governments, non-government organizations (NGOs) and awarding educational scholarships; donating emergency aids; and organizing small groups of local people to guarantee the sustainability of the programs.
Long term programs focus on community empowering, which is aimed at nurturing societies that are well organized and possess the capacity to systematically solve their problems. Activities towards this end include conducting social and economic studies that can be used to help refugees in entering reconstruction phase of Aceh as is outlined in the National Development Planning Board’s blueprint; providing technical assistance to local residents to run small-and-medium scale businesses, such as in drawing up proposals, business planning and business organization; and in facilitating aid distribution offered by other NGOs or individuals that particularly target economic and educational rehabilitation.
In appreciation from the locals for this long-term project, the ACDA has been granted a two-hectare plot of land, which will be followed soon by another plot six hectares for the purpose of building schools.
Many challenges still remain, with survivors bearing the psychological scars of the devastating disaster, as ACDA program director Chaidir Amin said: “We often find that the children sob at night, surely remembering of how their beloved parents were tragically swept away by the tsunami. And some of the adults still find it hard to forget the cheerful faces of their dead children. To tackle this problem, our volunteers try to build deeper personal relationships with those affected individuals, by becoming their close companions and persuading them to busy themselves with positive activities.”
Another pressing challenge is, he said, “how to convince the Acehnese that, although they have been victimized by Jakarta for too long, we non-Acehnese do embrace our brothers and sister in Aceh with sincere heart.”
The contributor is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University, and volunteers as an educational consultant for the ACDA.