Our morning started with a panel discussion on women’s
issues which was held at the Aceh Institute. Specifically, the focus was
on three areas, post-tsunami, post-conflict and post implementation of
Sharia law. With Famelia as interpreter we heard from Fadhullah Wilmot,
director of Muslim Aid, Yulia Filtri with LBH, Raini Kapal with Woman
Ship, Yulisa Fitri, Nuraisyah from BRR and Musta’id from Putro Kone.
Nuraisyah from BRR was one of the panel discussion participants
It was an enlightening discussion and we were interested to learn that
some of the problems for women living in the barracks are due to the
fact that women were not consulted about the design of the barracks.
Similarly, the most common complaint about the replacement housing is
that the kitchen is too small – and women were not consulted about the
house layout or the room sizes. In fact we were told that the first
thing that happens in most houses once they have been completed is that
the families expand the kitchen.
Musta'id from Putro Konde provided examples of how his
organization has successfully worked to sensitize the court
system to issues of gender.
Mr. Wilmot was insistent that the first and most
important thing needed was hard data about specific complaints and
situations versus anecdotal information. In talking about the
implementation of Sharia law we learned that it was proposed and adopted
as a political ploy during the time of conflict. To repeal it would/will
take quite a concerted political effort. He discussed the five layers or
equal levels of government in Aceh; the governor, the parliament, the
judiciary, the Adat Council and the Ulema Council.
He acknowledged the concerns about the religious police which other
speakers brought up but said that the religious police in reality have
no police power at all and can only bring enforcement action if they are
supported by civil police officers. He also said that the decisions off
the Ulema Council (the Sharia Court) cannot be appealed at the
provincial level but must be appealed to the national Supreme Court. He
suggested this would be a good focus for some of the womens’ groups
which are active right now.
We returned to the hotel and edited our journal entries for May 9 and 10
before sending them. It took us the rest of the day to get the photos
all sent and even as I write today’s journal entry we’re still trying to
send one last photo which we are sure we have sent several times! The
power has just flashed off at the hotel which disrupted the modem etc.
In the afternoon we went to the Mental Hospital in Banda Aceh. We waited
outside the emergency ward and stood near the iron fence that,
presumably, divided the patients from the outside. But the gate was
open, and it seemed nurses and patients were both allowed passage. From
our vantage point the hospital seemed quiet, only once in a while voices
reaching us. We could see a group of patients in the distance gathered
in the open corridor to smoke and chat.
Banda Aceh Mental Hospital. Parts of it are still being rebuilt.
After a few minutes we were met by Yulia Direzkia, a
psychiatrist who has done extensive work with Tsunami survivors. She
took us to a separate building that was still being renovated after the
Tsunami. The first floor was empty. Old furniture lined up in a row
beneath an awning nearby in anticipation of completed construction. We
followed Yulia up the wide stairs to her office upstairs.
Yulia’s office was down a hallway with a pristine dental room featuring
two chairs and a lot of new looking equipment. Her office had a view to
the mountains in the distance. Things were quiet, the offices empty when
we arrived, but mid-interview the office next door came alive with
people exercising on a treadmill and chatting and laughing.
Yulia Direzkia has worked in Kadju sub district, in Western Banda Aceh,
with residents of barracks. In the barracks, she found a population
confused by their future, daily lives, and current economic and
financial lives. Children exhibited symptoms including nightmares,
sleeping disorders (inability to sleep), and intense fear of clouds and
rain. In one case, a child was so afraid, his anxiety of the clouds
caused him to vomit. She found mothers who were on their way to healing
in terms of trying to get to work. Some made bricks. But their
psychological life was not settled, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was
very common. IOM would have data on statistics.
When asked how she was able to help Tsunami survivors, she said that it
wasn’t possible to provide instant therapy to the children. She
connected with them through play therapy and their drawings. She would
ask them about their drawings and use the details in them to probe
further into their lives. She found a variety of common themes in their
drawings, including water, inability to run, inability to cry for help,
being afraid of airplanes, and shaking when they return to the location
of their former houses.
She has noticed that after a year of special programs, the population
has seemed to become somewhat happier. The therapy and healing is not
about forgetting the past, it is about acquiring the tools with which to
deal with issues like not being able to sleep.
Yulia admitted to the job being hard only because the population’s
stories were so gruesome and she heard them every day.
When asked to compare Tsunami survivors with conflict
survivors, she said they were quite different. Tsunami survivors seem to
get well more quickly. Her explanation was that they perceive their
misery as caused by “God’s hand” rather than by mankind. Conflict
survivors are acutely aware that their misery is due to mankind. They
wish revenge on others and a few are able to act on their desire. In the
one detailed example that she shared, she described the tale of a 15
year old boy who had seen his pregnant mother killed by the military and
her pregnant belly cut open. He was the eldest of seven children whose
father had fled to Jakarta because he was suspected by the government of
being a member of GAM which he was not. When the boy reached the age of
24 or 25, he tracked down his mother’s murderer (he recalled the man’s
name on his uniform) and beheaded him. He displayed the man’s head in
the village. It was only after he’d killed the man that he was able to
“forgive” him for killing his mother. After his mother’s death, the boy
went to jail eight times. Six times he was put in jail by the military,
and twice by GAM. When detained by the government, he was horribly
humiliated. For example, he was buried in the ground so that only his
head was above ground. Food was then thrown to him and he had to eat it
off the ground. When he was thirsty, the soldiers urinated on him and he
was forced to drink the urine from puddles that formed on the ground.
When he was imprisoned by GAM, he was shown more humanity. Yulia met the
young man after he’d been imprisoned for the seventh time and he told
her his story. He’d become a well adjusted young man who helped his
siblings with education, had become a civil servant with a decent job,
and exhibited a good personality. When he told her his story, he became
anxious. In any event, the eighth time he was arrested, the government
took him to the forest and killed him. He leaves behind a wife and
Yulia was asked whether children or adults do better in adjusting post
conflict. She said neither does well. The conflict survivors want
revenge, they don’t have the power to act out their revenge, and
therefore, are trapped by their condition. What kinds of tools can
psychiatrists offer the population? She said that she tries to teach
them that all people have resources in their minds and souls and she
helps them reach these resources and teach them that they can rely on
their own strength.
Yulia relayed a story of a child she’d met in the barracks. He’d lost
his entire family in the Tsunami and was being looked after by an
“uncle” who was not a blood relation. The uncle loved the little boy
very much, but it was difficult to make the boy believe it was safe with
him. He was afraid his uncle would be lost. It took some time, but after
a while the boy became happier and more trusting. The uncle showered him
with affection and concern for his schooling and other matters until
finally the boy believed in his uncle’s love.
Yulia Direzkia is a pscychologist at the Banda Aceh Mental
Hospital. She has treated women and children Tsunami survivors.
We asked Yulia to compare the processes of healing for different kinds
of conflict survivors. We mentioned an interview we’d conducted in which
a young man of 15 had been imprisoned for eight months during which he’d
been tortured. While other women we’d spoken to who had suffered from
“disappeared” husbands said that they were not consumed by anger, the
boy, now in his 20s, said he was still angry, despite the peace process.
Yulia said this was normal. The boy had faced trauma himself; the
mothers had only faced the situation after their husbands had been
kidnapped. In conflict situations such as these, it is important whether
the trauma is firsthand or not. If it is, as in the case of the young
man, anger is a natural and difficult byproduct of the experience.
Yulia offered details about her psychotherapy with Tsunami survivors.
She asks her clients about what they were doing and feeling two hours
before she meets them. Then she asks them the same question regarding
two days prior. She repeats the question for two months prior, and
finally, regarding two years earlier, shortly after the Tsunami. She
often notices a sharp distinction between two years and two months. The
purpose is to create a structure for the client in which to “order” her
memories and to offer information which can be further explored and
discussed. She also asks some of her clients to draw and while the
pictures themselves don’t necessarily offer important information into
the way the person thinks, they do provide details from which it becomes
possible to construct their stories. The drawing provides an opportunity
to connect them to their memories and situation. The sequence of two
days, two months, two years also allows them to identify connections
over time. Sometimes, her clients make important connections on their
own using this strategy.
There are plenty of psychological programs offered by NGOs for Tsunami
survivors. They are coordinated in meetings with the Indonesian Health
Yulia explained how she might arrive in a particular barrack. First, the
coordinator in the barrack is approached to see if the community would
be interested in programs, then the population is screened, records are
created and “work” with the clients begin and last about a year. The
recipient population comprises only children and mothers and the age
range is about 5 years to 60 years old. Asked about counseling for men,
Yulia giggled and said she didn’t know why men were not offered
counseling. She suggested that perhaps fathers have more power (the
implication possibly being that the power offers other resources). She
noted that further, former teachers and nurses in the barracks are
trained to become counselors so that they can also assist in the program
Yulia offers a further, more complex story about the ship we saw. She
used to live in Punge, where the ship settled. She said that she has a
former neighbor who told her that during the Tsunami about 700 people
sought refuge on the ship to survive and, in fact, spent the first night
there. They made ladders from wood and rope to reach the ground in the
When asked about the prospect for recuperation and healing among Tsunami
survivors, she said that she thinks that much of the population has made
headway, that it is exhibiting renewed motivation to return to school
and study and remake a life for itself. The prospects for continuing to
heal are good.
Yulia described Aceh as far more open and international than it was in
the past. The school buildings and government buildings are better. Many
initiatives have been taken to improve life for the residents, and many
opportunities exist now. Prior to the Tsunami, Aceh was isolated. People
weren’t keen on visitors and journalists, and worried about their
presence. Now the shift has meant that civil society has become open to