For decades, the province of Aceh in the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra was the scene of armed conflict between the Indonesian army and followers of GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or the "Free Aceh Movement"). In the midst of this conflict, which has claimed countless lives and left people in the region in poverty, the December 26, 2004 tsunami struck.
The Johanniter provided emergency relief, following which they decided to remain in Aceh for a long-term commitment. In addition to educating the local population in first aid techniques, they've been providing support for a project by the organization SP Aceh, which works to strengthen the role of women through small businesses in the districts of Aceh Besar and Bener Meriah.
Access to medical care is not always a given in these regions. While some of the villages have birth clinics, these are only open when a doctor or a midwife is present. That's the case only once a week at most. Because of this situation, SP Aceh decided to offer courses on traditional healing methods. In addition to treatments such as acupuncture, the cultivation of healing plants and herbs is also taught.
"The women learn how to use orange leaves, ginger or coriander to produce medication to treat things such as diabetes, liver damage, stomach problems or skin diseases," said Elena Lutzke, staff member of the Johanniter regional office in Medan. "With the granting of micro-credits and instruction in the skills needed to grow cops and produce alternative medicines, we're helping women to become small business owners, and gain independence." Since the program began, a total of 678 women from 17 villages have received support - always with the goal that they pass on their knowledge to friends, relatives, and people in their villages.
Support into the year 2011
In addition to the granting of micro-credits and training in alternative medicines, there are also courses on administration and community organization. In these courses, women can talk about what they've experienced, about the conflict between the freedom fighters and government troops, and about the time before, during and after the tsunami - as well as about their plans for the future. One of the some 30 women who regularly attend the meetings hosted by the Johanniter and their partner organization, SP Aceh, is 49-year-old Hilmiah. When possible, she avoids looking at photos of the tsunami. Her youngest daughter, Nurul Husna, survived, but still suffers today from headaches caused by injuries sustained then. With the help of the project, Hilmiah has specialized in sewing, and now offers her services in the neighborhood. Her income is not especially high, but with her small business, she is able to feed Nurul Husna and her two other children following the death of her husband.
The Johanniter are able to support sustainable projects in Aceh until 2011, and are thus playing a role in creating a stable livelihood for the victims of both the conflict and the giant wave.