Vanishing nightmares of conflict-affected children

Years of conflict brings deeply sorrow among the children in Aceh. They learn to break the fears through traditional art performance.

Did you recognize the men in the uniform, buddy?

Have you recognize any men in the uniform, buddy?

DEDI Marlansyah’s (16) cheeks strained as he played a traditional flute called Seurune Kalee. His fingers moved from one small hole to another on the Serune stick. The flute’s wail was followed by a steady beat from the Rapa’i, a traditional tambourine. Fahrul Razi (14) and two other boys who sat next Marlansyah played the Rapa’i. They sat with legs crossed on a wide blue canvas at Lam Kunyet ex-emergency elementary school yard, rehabilitated by a UN agency.

Shortly after, ranks of young girls came from five directions, moving towards the canvas. They formed a letter ‘V’. Their hands and legs moved together beautifully. They followed the Serunee’s wail and Rapa’i’s rhythm.

“Stop… Stop! Let’s repeat!” Yusfarli (26) shouted suddenly. He had heard the Serunee’s wail become distorted. The children laughed at him. They called Yusfarli “Bang (brother) Jawi”. Jawi means left-hand in English. Jawi is one of the dance and music teachers for the children.

The other teacher is Irma Hasanah. She accompanied Jawi the children’s practice. They work at the Traditional Arts Lecture of Aceh (TALOE) organization. There are twelve staff in the organization who work as choreographers and traditional music teachers.

Jawi and Irma have different tasks at each training session. Jawi teaches boys to play traditional musical instruments such as Serunee, Geundrang (small drum) and Rapa’i. Irma teaches traditional Acehnese dances to the girls.

Teeeettreett… teeett…!
Dangg! Pak! Pak! Pak! … Pak! Dangg!

Marlansyah wailed the Seurune again, and Razi clapped the Rapa’i. The young girls continued to dance.

“One… two… Three…!” Irma yelled. She gave instructions by clapping her hands while moving around among the children. She would correct the girls individually when they made little mistakes in their movements. The rest of the children found it funny when she did this. The children laughed when they saw their friend make a mistake or listened to the Serunee’s go out of tune.

“Besides the training, we also hang out and engage with them. They can learn by playing and having fun. It makes them very excited,” Jawi said.

The method was effective in attracting children to the programme. In addition to the training, Jawi and Irma used to spend time visiting the children’s families.

“If they could not come to the village for a lesson, the children could send us an SMS using their parent’s cell-phone,” Irma added.

After eight months, the children were able to perform four different kinds of traditional dances, such as Ranup Lampuan, Meusaree-saree, Meuseukat, and Likok Pulo. The dance movements portray traditional life in an Acehnese community. Besides learning by heart the various movements, the children also learned to work together among themselves.

Living amidst conflict
Lam Kunyet, a village in Darul Kamal sub district, is located around 8 km outside Banda Aceh. The region lies in the foothills of the mountains. Most of the villagers are working as farmers. Their farmland is situated around the village.

However, armed conflict between the Indonesian military and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerillas caused people in Lam Kunyet to lose their livelihoods. The farmers preferred to stay at home rather than go to their farms.

At that time, the Indonesia military used to patrol around the village, looking for GAM guerillas. They also built a guard post in the village. The post was close to Abdullah Nyak Neh’s house. Mr. Nyak Neh worked as village secretary and has a son, Fahrul Razi. The Indonesian military used to question him about the guerillas. They also used to beat him, regardless of his young child being present.

“The military officers used to come to my house every two hours. I couldn’t sleep or work,” Nyak Neh recalled. Nowadays he is the Head of Lam Kunyet village.

Many households in the village were having difficulty earning an income. Some of them could not afford to finance their children’s education. The conflict had also affected some of the children’s educational courses. They were frightened when cross-fire occurred between the Indonesian military and the GAM guerilla, which could happen at any time.

Razi, Nyak Neh’s son, was born while the conflict raged in 1994. He remembers hearing gunshots while he studied at the local primary school. The violence meant that Razi could not play outside, and has also made him suspicious to outsiders. He rarely talked to anybody.

When the troops took his father to the post, Razi could only watch. On another occasion, he saw the corpses of four young GAM combatants who had been shot to death near his village.

Razi and some of the children in Lam Kunyet kept their fear in silence. The years of turbulence had affected the children’s development. The only place that they could meet and play was the Meunasah, a small building for praying near the mosque, where they learned to read Koran in the evening.

A few months after the Government of Indonesia and GAM signed the peace accord in 2005, children began to play freely in the daytime. But the horrors of the conflict remain in their minds.

Initiative amidst challenges
According to the National Law for the Protection of Children No 23/2002, every child has the right to an education in order to develop their character and intelligence according his/her interests and ambitions. Indonesian children, including in Aceh, have the right to be protected from armed-conflict, war, or any violence. Therefore, the development of children in conflict-affected regions is a national concern. It does, however, require work at many levels.

PULIH and TALOE were among the local organizations interested in helping the children in conflict-affected regions, particularly in villages in the Aceh Besar district. PULIH, a national organization, focuses on psychosocial issues in post-conflict regions. Meanwhile, TALOE focuses on traditional art education for children and youth.

PULIH held capacity building training for all TALOE staffs prior to their project working with children who suffered traumatic experiences during the conflict. Through traditional dances and music, both the organizations assist and train children in conflict-affected villages. Their initiatives gained support from Caritas Czech Republic. Caritas is now interested in providing financial support to the projects.

Khairul Anwar, a program manager at TALOE, worked to survey the children in Aceh Besar district. During the survey, he was worked together with Darmansyah. They met and talked to village heads, youth organizations, local figures and ulama (religious scholars). In addition to the survey, they offered traditional art education programs for the children in the villages.

By the end of 2007, they had traveled across 13 villages in various sub-districts in Aceh Besar. Despite being free of charge, more than half of the villages declined the traditional art education training. Only six villages welcomed and accepted the program for their children.

“We just told them that we’re the TALOE team, a local organization. We have traditional art training programs for children in villages. But, some of the village heads replies, ‘Oh, we don’t need that…,’” Khairul recalled.

Without any further discussion of the benefits of the program, some village heads asked Khairul and Darmansyah to leave the village immediately.

When they met some of the residents, they said that some NGOs had come to the village before. Those organizations sent field staff to conduct needs assessments. They gathered data from villagers, particularly the concerns from victims of the conflict, and promised to rebuild the victim’s houses. Instead of providing the aid, those organisations never came back. The villagers were disappointed.

Even though only six villages agreed, the Khairul team took more than a month to convince local figures in each village about the traditional art education and training program, its goals and its benefits for the children.

Problems developed when the villagers thought Khairul and his colleagues worked for a big NGO that would pour cash into the community or help them rebuild their houses, roads, and schools. Khairul and his colleagues found it very difficult as the aims and outcomes of their program are intangible. The program will, however, assist the positive psychological development of the children.

Hardest village
“Developing public trust and awareness in Lam Kunyet village is harder than in other villages,” Khairul claimed.

Since the Indonesian military labeled the village as a guerilla base, the Lam Kunyet community has lived in isolation. They were suspicious of outsiders, including Khairul and Darmansyah. The villagers were subjected to fear and violence when TNI intelligence agents spread through their community and land during conflict in Aceh.

“Although we did not act like army officers, people left us alone in the coffee stall. It seemed like they were avoiding making any conversation with us. It wasn’t because they were afraid, but they just didn’t want to get into any trouble as they had previously,” Khairul explained.

“When we said that we’re choreographers, they just didn’t believe us. ‘How come bald men (refers to army style hair) gives dance lesson?’’” Khairul quoted one of the villager’s comments.

Khairul and his team, however, did not stop trying to convince the community. They held several meeting forums with them. Eventually, they succeeded. The local figures accepted the program and believed that it would strengthen the children’s psychological development.

“Anyway, the program is not bothering our children’s education. They can go to school every morning, and then the dance training is held in the afternoon. When sunset prayer times come, they could go to Meunasah to learn Koran,” said Nyak Neh. He finally accepted the program.

In addition to Lam Kunyet village, the program also embraced five other villages: Lambada Peukan village, Gue, Lam Klat, Lam Tiempeung, and Lambroe Deyah. These are also conflict-affected villages in Aceh Besar district.

The performance
Since early January 2008, the traditional music and dance training has been running in Lam Kunyet village. Both Jawi and Irma, who teach and engage with the children, come to the village four to five times a week. Every afternoon, villagers gather to watch their children perform in front of Lam Kunyet primary school.

“The children’s performance gives us so much fun. And we’re also excited about this,” Ma’assabirin said. He is the vice-deputy of a Lam Kunyet youth organization. Now, according to him, the community had live performances that never existed during the conflict. Moreover, it is a kind of traditional performance which they like.

“When I joined the dance group along with my friends, I forgot the terrible memories,” Razi said.

He was no longer afraid of outsiders and is more confident. He has an alternative activity that gives him so much fun and spirit. It also cheers up the other children who have joined the program. Those children are also able to forget the conflict.

Every four months, TALOE and PULIH staffs evaluate the children. They also hold traditional music and dance performances for the local community. The goal is to examine the progress both psychological condition of the children and the development of their music and dancing skills.

“We never did such a thing before they (TALOE-PULIH) came. We were just playing football,” said Razi.

“Now I can play Seurune Kalee and Geundrang. Before Bang Jawi came, I never touched any kinds of musical instruments. He has taught me a lot,” Marlansyah added.

In April 2008, the Lam Kunyet children won a traditional dancing competition in Darul Kamal sub district. Razi, Marlansyah, and the children in Lam Kunyet village were very happy about it. The children’s achievement has promoted the village’s name.

Jawi, Irma, Khairul, and their colleagues in TALOE and PULIH were also proud of the children. Their program and endless effort has paid off.

Recognizing the benefit of the program, Nyak Neh and other parents in the village were surprised. Furthermore, the program has encouraged their children’s confidence and creative development.

“From zero, knowing nothing, finally our kids are brave enough to show their face and eager to perform on the stage. We’re very thankful for this,” Nyak Neh said, proudly. *** END

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