“A group of Acehnese youth activist try to develop their own society”
“ALLAH isn’t mountain, Allah isn’t star, Allah isn’t paddy’s field, Allah isn’t animal, Allah isn’t human being, Allah is Allah…” thus a referent of a song sang by a group of children in a veranda of school in Piyeung Menara, Aceh Besar, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. That afternoon, in the middle of April 2007, after heavy rain showered down on the land of Serambi Mekah, I saw teens of children was singing and dancing together form a half of circle. In front of them, a young man gave instruction and sign to make funny body movement while was asking those tsunami affected children to imitate such movement. Just nearby, on pillar’s border between school veranda and school garden, a woman with white scarf covering her head was smiling friendly while offered her hand and said, ”Welcome to TAS [Taman Anak SEFA = SEFA Child Garden] of Piyeung Menara!” I reached out her hand spontaneously meanwhile I just kept my surprise inside of my heart. Even more than tens time I have already visited Aceh, this was my first time an Acehnese woman shake her hand on me with her own direct initiative.
Then I knew her name is Dahlia, a 32 years old mother with two sons and one daughter. Her husband is a village based carpenter. Dahlia herself is working as SEFA’s Community Organizer staff under TAS project supported by Caritas
But now, after receiving training from SEFA, Dahlia confessed she has more self motivation to educate children and she felt happier. “This [the game] is a new thing for us. I myself never had such experience. We never sing a song followed by dancing and playing together like this before, imitating animal attitude with such funny body movement, it is really gratify. I am very happy seeing these children playing the game in joyful atmosphere,” she said. She committed herself to take cares the children so they will get proper education and can find good job also for their own future.
Childhood Memory and the Idol
Dahlia’s happiness may represent another happiness of thousands of families affected tsunami and conflict in Aceh. Tsunami in another hand had given a blessing in disguise. Since such dramatically event, suddenly the wind of change blew and covered to whole area of Aceh. Just like a magic game, social change occurred suddenly. From closed isolated area, Aceh become so open and busiest zone in the world, not only in term of politics, economic or culture, but also information and knowledge exchange. But it also brings another impacts and consequences for both short and long term. And the children, for sure, are very prone with this impact.
”In my childhood period, I played game so-called hidden stone in the river with my mate. I also visited my grandfather just after school time to hear some folklore, myth, legend or other story. I still remember a story of tomatoes and bananas grow from somebody’s head. Ha… ha… ha… this was really funny story but meaningful, full with moral values. I got a lesson learnt how to become a good human being from this story.” This was a sharing from Yuli when I suddenly remember him. Yuli of Yuli Zuardi Rais, a 30 years old former Acehnese activist acting as Director of SEFA now. As the son of Aceh born in Samadua, Aceh Utara, he really had experienced how hard living inside the conflict zone was. Mobility was very limited and it made him lost his zest for study. “The atmosphere in campus was very dry; I even did not have enough motivation to study. I saw children playing gun shooting with plastic weapon and plastic bullet. In the whole Aceh, this was the most popular game during conflict period,” he shared to me.
That was a time when I met him in his office. SEFA’s office is located nearby Ulee Kareng area. A zone which very well known with its coffee shop. Not because of the taste but also the way Acehnese made their coffee is also unique. From the main road to Ulee Kareng, office of SEFA is stayed in the right side of it. This office painted in sky-blue color with four working rooms, living rooms used as a small library and a kitchen behind. There are several children painting and photos of SEFA’s activities hanging on the wall. Yuli of Director’s room itself size 3x3 meter. A poster of Che Guevara, an Argentine-born Marxist and leader of Cuban is hanging on the right wall exactly on top of his computer set. It is no need to ask Yuli why he put such poster in his office room. For others Indonesian youth, from Sabang to Merauke, Che has been the icon of student movement fighting against unjust structure and authoritarian regime.
Different Model of Education
“Please have a drink, but it just a mineral water.” Yuli then shared with me some problem appear in the early phase of implementing TAS project. “When we started to introduce our method so-called TAS, at the beginning there were a lot of questions, critics and disagreements from ulama [moslem cleric], parents and cultural local leader. In general, they protested ask why we collected and brought the children out of the meunasah. This was against with the habit of Acehnese children where they should go to Meunasah directly to learn Quran just after school hour ended,” he said. Even though, such curiosity then gone slowly as time goes on. Many parents accompanied their children to go to TAS in order to see with their own eyes activities managed by SEFA through this TAS project. Finally, they are agreed and event gave support to SEFA to run this project in other villages.
Except meunasah, Aceh has its own local knowledge in term of education system inside the Dayah. Dayah is a model of informal education, indigenously very Acehnese and community-based. It is similar, but not the same, with ‘pesantren’ known in other part of
Education and leadership exemplified by Abu Beureueh is empowering, and to some extent, liberating. It was quite the same with the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” of Paulo Freire. Unfortunately, this valuable tradition has already gone now.
The goals may looks like quite same but there are some differences in term of method and approach. These the education system offered by Dayah and Meunasah which have already exist since long time ago, or TAS of SEFA as a “new comer”. “TAS itself principally has open characteristic. “We also involve parents and local leader to create any new method or interactive game together with us for their children. Of course in certain days we also teach the children about Quran. In this case, our TAS method is a combination of IQ [Intelligence Quotation], EQ [Emotional Quotation] and SQ [Spiritual Quotation] together by using interactive game and multimedia tools.” Yuli gave me further explanation while was introducing one of his colleague whom just arrived already. “Hello, please call me Alus,” a young man whose original named Jasman is the head of education department of SEFA.
Former Activist to Social Worker
Alus has athletics body but a little bit short, he is still young enough, 27 years old. During his student period, he almost got caught by Brimob [police military, attached with automatic weapon]. “That was the moment I involved in advocating IDPs’ caused by conflict. We helped some families on distributing clean water. Suddenly a group of Brimob appeared. They were asking us loudly and cruelty,” What are you doing in this place? You must student who help the combatant…!” We were very surprise and afraid and suddenly we run quickly. Those Brimob tried to catch us but it did not happen. We just arrived in IDP’s camp and some women helped us to close the gate and leaved them outside only some meters away,” Alus shared his unforgettable moment. I can feel the spirit of struggle and youth idealism from the eyes and gently speech of this Kapoh village-born activist in Kluet Selatan, Aceh Selatan. Story of Alus is just another “dark note” of Aceh conflict before tsunami.
During conflict period, the not-conducive condition has also disturbed motivation and concentration to study. In some of conflict-prone areas students has been “forced” to be the part of the conflict. Furthermore, their time to study has ironically been “seized” for being “child soldier” in various forms. Concerns of lost generation in Aceh are reasonable. One can obviously imagine what happen to the education in Aceh when 514 teachers left Aceh due to security reasons [Kompas, February 8th 2000]. Only in a five-year war [1998-2003] at least 546 schools were burned [Diknas Aceh, 2003]. Additionally, tens of gun-shot cases directly distracted, otherwise, killed teachers and university students.
The dark phase of education in Aceh due to the conflict culminated at the gun-shoot tragedies of the rectors of the twin universities,
Such obscure moment then became one of reason behind the establishment of an organization so-called SEFA later on which it concern related to child and youth issues. On September 11st 1999, SEFA officially declared and established. Mostly the founder and its initiator were former Acehnese youth activist like Yuli, Alus and their colleagues. SEFA then choose a dolphin as it official icon. Like a cocoon which becomes a butterfly, this group of activist transforms itself to become a group of social worker. And they are learning how to become a professional social worker now.
“We choose a dolphin as our institution symbol because in a common sense, as we all already knew, dolphin is a friend for people who get any accident or disaster on the sea. This is what we are doing now.” Alus smiled frankly while was offering me a piece of cigarette. I apologized I had to reject it because I have already quite as a smoker. He said eventhough SEFA is Aceh based NGO but deliberate to use English language for it official name because of security reason. “This is a matter of strategy. People will think this is a foreign NGO. If something happen with us, the police or military officer will consider and think many times before they do something that we would not want to be. And it work, they think we have many foreign staff,” Alus laughed.
Development Progress in Uncertain Atmosphere
So far, SEFA is covering eight villages affected by conflict and tsunami. SEFA is serving and assisting children in those areas. Poor children can play with modern multimedia and interactive innovative game. In certain day of each week, SEFA’s mobile library will visit those children as it is scheduled. Acehnese children in the remote villages then can have same experience with their peers in city or children from middle class family. They do not have to pay; it is free because of Caritas
SEFA method of education is inspiring children to become more creative and honest with their own selves. “We teach them how to work together, as a team, and not to compete to each other. SEFA has many thematic module related with current issue. This is a good way to transfer any knowledge and basic educational values into a game. We bring fantasy and reality together, down to earth and close with the world of children,” told Alus. Since this, SEFA then received many invitations and requests to assist children who are studying in the formal school. The teachers come to ask and want to learn something from SEFA. They ask SEFA to teach them how to deal with children by using this method.
More or less, it seems that every development projects both infrastructure or social are running smoothly in Aceh now. But Yuli and Alus still have similar anxiety deep inside on their own heart about the future of peace in their homeland. Alus hoped that the peaceful situation will be everlasting event somehow he thought it is still fragile. “I mean everybody must understand that change needs a process and for this we have to be careful and patient. Of course there should be many positive impact and opportunity for us to get a better live,” he said calmly.
“What should the former combatant do now? For example if they would like to become a police. People say that is possible but others say no way, it is not allowed. Somehow any little discourse can be a stimulus for any potential conflict; I do hope this will not happen,” Yuli continued his sharing directly.
But reality comes against these Acehnese young men expectations. When I am typing this story, an email from my friend is coming bringing news about Aceh conflict monitoring update. I read a paragraph like this; “This month saw the highest number of violent incidents since tsunami, with several mob beatings and revenge attacks coming as an urgent sign of widespread tension between KPA, communities, and the security forces. These dynamics are especially strong in Aceh Utara. Local level conflict also achieved a new high this month of 126 incidents. This update highlights two types of local level conflict. First, conflict related to integration fund. Second, conflict continues over the pilkada [local direct election] district Head result…”Pfuhh… I just stop my reading on such report. I myself then try to imagine that situation. But my imagination then quickly brought me to a group of children in a veranda of school in Piyeung Menara who sang another song as I met them last month. That time the lyric was different but I still remember it clearly, “We alive because of Allah, We die because of Allah, We meet because of Allah, We separated because of Allah…” * * *
 SEFA = Save Emergency For Aceh, an Aceh based NGO working for children and youth. At the beginning of it works during the conflict period, SEFA served IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] by providing advocacy’s assistance supported by KWI [Indonesian Bishop Conference]. Mostly staffs of SEFA are youths with 20 to 33 years old.
 Meunasah [madrasah in Arabic] is a lower level informal schools led by a leader called teungku. At this level, the students are taught basic Qur’an reading and Arabic writing. Presently, meunasah can still be found widely because almost each gampong [village] in Aceh has meunasah. Unfortunately, the function of meunasah has now become limited, so much so that meunasah can merely mean a simple building used for prayers. Nowdays, meunasah is only used for collective praying and for a meeting/hang-out place at the gampong level. For more detail please see an article named “Lost of Dayah Manyang” by Nazli Ismail.
 See Aceh Conflict Monitoring Update 1st-31st march 2007, World Bank/DSF.