Indonesia, a first hand look: interview with Bernard H. Arputhasamy S.J.

In a recent visit to our Head Office, Bernard gave us an x ray of the current situation in Indonesia after nature's attacks caused millions of victims. In December2004, an enormous tsunami close to the Indonesian island of Sumatra hit the coasts of 8 Asian countries and ended the life of almost 300.000 people. A year later, in May 2006, an earthquake in the island of Java left more than 5.000 dead.

But nature is not the only handicap of these islands. Their weakened economy, the religious conflicts and the independent nationalism are also great conflicts in the international community. Although, in spite of the August 2005 agreements between the government and the guerrilla group Free Aceh Movement (GAM) a certain political stability has been recovered, the issue of the Aceh autonomy still demands great efforts from the Executive.

According to Bernard, in addition to these conflicts, Indonesia faces the requirements of a reconstruction process. The JRS has completed 80% of the projects set up for assistance in Banda Aceh and Yogyakarta, but there is still a lot to do. "The main problem form the beginning," says Bernard, "has been the coordination of the international aid, that was a real tsunami". The JRS tried to work along the urgency and effectiveness "loosing" a little time in previously evaluating the real needs. "It is important" says Bernard, "to talk to the people and ask them what they need, but it is also important to look at the problem from another perspective, because sometimes people ask for a house, when it is more important to give them a fishing boat". This comes from the medium long-term reconstruction policy of the Jesuits. A policy that leads the to consider that in addition to immediate resources as housing or drinking water, it is convenient to recover economic activities in order for them to recover their autonomy.

Main actors of their own development

The JRS granted subsidies to various carpenters to build doors and windows for the new houses that were being built. Now these carpenters have not only re paid their debts but they have developed businesses. Another activity of the JRS was to train agricultural workers in alternative activities so as to enable them to work in spite of their forced unemployment.
The degree of destruction is still the main obstacle for aid distribution. Many key roads have still not been repaired and this slows down the transportation of materials form one end of the island to the other. Communication difficulties are also hindering aid coordination, forcing the location of the more than 300 NGOs to the most accessible areas.

In addition to these logistic difficulties there are also social conflicts that rise when it comes to re distributing lands and re locate people who have no home because of the new Government law forbidding building in the first 500 metres of coast. "Everything was lost with the catastrophe, documents, public deeds, etc. and now, how can on prove that the land is yours?" says the Jesuit.

"What is worth pointing out" he concludes, "is the inter religious dimension that has arisen in these circumstances. From the beginning, Christians and Muslims jointly started to re build infrastructures and help the victims". In view of this, Bernard insists that the Indonesian mentality has changed, that confidence in plural intentions and in the development of the JRS has grown.

In any case, the truth is that during these two years, a lot of progress has been made and the work of the JRS, supported by Entreculturas, has been essential in helping out this devastated territory. And the best news is, that thanks to the autonomy concept allowed by this Jesuit network, it may be well possible that the responsibility of managing their own development may be soon exclusively in the hands of the population.