Indonesia

Indonesia: Women the driving force on Aceh's road to recovery

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By Karl Schuler in Aceh

"I am Rosmawati, welcome to Seubun Ayoen".

The 32-year-old woman is friendly yet determined. She is the community leader of the 25 families that since 26 December have been living in the settlement of wooden huts which sit on a slope surrounded by palm trees.

The visitors are no strangers to Rosmawati. She has developed a relationship based on trust with Meric Goezden, a delegate from the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC). Since the first few months after the tsunami, Rosmawati has been actively involved in the psycho-social programme run jointly by the TRC and the Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia - PMI).

"When we set up a play group for the children here at the beginning of the year, Rosmawati joined us spontaneously. As a mother of two small boys, she knows just how important it is to give children the opportunity to process their trauma," says Meric Goezde.

Creative painting, drawing and group games help them to defuse their fears and aggression. "Their first drawings depicted the threatening wave, people running away and helicopters in the air. Now the children feel much calmer and they're drawing their new houses, flowers and birds," he explains.

Prior to the disaster, Rosmawati contributed to the family income by selling home-made cookies. After the tsunami, she set up a community kitchen in the camp. Cooking all together enables the women to talk about their feelings and share their grief.

A women's group was formed and they met Red Cross specialists every week. In addition, the men also meet regularly over coffee in a discussion group facilitated by Iwan Marwan, a psychologist working for the PMI and himself from Aceh.

"It is essential to provide care for the women and children, but we must not forget that after such a deeply distressing event as this the men are also traumatized, although it's difficult for them to talk about it," notes Iwan.

Seubun Ayoen is one of 25 transitional settlements and villages in the coastal region of Lhokgna, located west of the city of Banda Aceh, in which the Red Cross and Red Crescent is running psycho-social activities.

Psycho-social support workers also regularly visit schools and orphanages. Over the past few months a total of 13,600 women, men and children have been able to receive help.

The high point was a football tournament held on 8 May, World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, between teenagers from 16 camps. It was a real celebration for the population of the whole region.

Meric Goezden, who since the devastating earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, in 1999 has been involved in successfully setting up psycho-social services, is deeply impressed by the people in Aceh.

"Amazingly few people showed symptoms of such alarming proportions that a longer psycho-medical treatment was needed. The women in particular are strong and despite precarious everyday living conditions in the camp they are looking forward into the future with energy and hope."

Three of the 10 local psycho-social workers who were deployed during the emergency phase are now working there permanently for the PMI. They concentrate on providing support for teachers, medical staff and community leaders.

Women such as Rosmawati are now the driving force to mobilize their communities.