The people of Indonesia are some of the kindest and warmest that I’ve met anywhere in all of my travels. They live in a country full of diversity, life and beauty. This overwhelming kindness and natural beauty make it hard to believe that our work for the last two weeks in Central Sulawesi with SERASI has focused on conflict mitigation in the aftermath of devastating religious conflicts over the last ten years. Much of the conflict in this region occurred around the city of Poso. For many years Poso was a peaceful city located on the Tomini Bay whose residents were almost evenly split between Christian and Muslim. Although there are a variety of stories from the locals about why the conflict started, the results of the conflict have left the most lasting impression.
Driving through Poso there are still entire neighborhoods where only the charred foundations remain of houses once occupied by their Christian owners. Although the lots remain untouched, the owners of these homes have rebuilt; however, many of them have done so an hour away in the town of Tentena. What were formerly two inter-religious towns are now each distinctly homogenous in their religious character. Although there are mosques in Tentena and churches in Poso, they remain empty and are far outnumbered by churches and mosques respectively. The damage was equally caused by both Christians and Muslims and the effects have been felt by both groups as well.
The old market in downtown Poso sits nearly empty as both Christians and Muslims refuse to return to shop along its streets. Those streets are now safe and the conflict has subsided, but this peace has come mostly through a program of segregation and separation. The impact of the conflict also stretches far beyond geographic relocation. Many people were killed and families’ livelihoods were impacted. Farmers who were forced to leave behind their farms have cleared new land wherever they relocated with severe impact to the environment. While in Poso and Tentena we were able to work with a variety of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and CBOs (community-based organizations) that are trying to address these situations.
Some of the most rewarding time was spent with several local youth groups. Each has a unique approach to help mitigate the conflict, ranging from an environmental awareness jamboree to a youth exchange program. One group is even planning to implement a talent competition to promote messages of peace that they are calling “Pamona Idol.” The youth in charge of these programs show an incredible maturity and reality about the harm caused by the conflict and their creativity in addressing the issues often far exceeds their adult counterparts.
Even in the face of constant reminders of the conflicts of the past, the people of Poso District maintain a positive attitude. The picture included in this post is of a local dance from Poso called the dero (deh-ro). We were able to learn the dero from representatives of several local NGOs with whom we met in Parigi. The dero is a community dance only performed with a large group. It is now one of the few ways in which men and women, Christian and Muslim can celebrate together.
The conflict and its memory are still very real, but many people and organizations in this area are ready to write a conflict-free future for Poso, and SERASI is helping to make this dream possible.