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02/11/05 12:00AM
Total Collected:
US$ 69,122.10

Journal from the Ground
by Lisa Loomis and Sorayya Khan



Friday, May 11, 2007

¬[05/10/07] [05/12/07]®

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 on Friday.

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. etc. 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 daughter.

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 Department.

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 implementation.

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 morning.

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 visitors.

¬[05/10/07] [05/12/07]®