Lian Gogali: Schools for Women for Peace in Poso

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  • Children's passion for books at the Sophia Library in Mosintuwu School for Women, Pamona Puselembah, Poso, Central Sulawesi, November 2018. TEMPO/Nufus Nita Hidayati

    Children's passion for books at the Sophia Library in Mosintuwu School for Women, Pamona Puselembah, Poso, Central Sulawesi, November 2018. TEMPO/Nufus Nita Hidayati

    Lian Gogali’s dream is for women to spearhead the efforts to bring back peace and sovereignty to the people of Poso.

    I strongly disagree with the narrative that religion was the background for the conflict in Poso.” Lian Gogali, founder of the Mosintuwu Institute in Poso, Central Sulawesi, told her belief to Tempo.

    When the communal conflicts devastated Poso from 1998 to 2001, Lian Gogali was in Yogyakarta to finish her university study. “We are all related. When you trace down our lineage, we are from the same family tree. Some are Muslims, some are Christians, and some are Hindus. And therefore, the family ties in Poso is very strong, transcending religions,” the 40-year-old woman said in Poso sometime ago.

    Lian went to Duta Wacana, a Christian University in Yogyakarta, in 1997, which was a year before the bloody conflict broke. She said that there was a flood of information, but few were accurate. As a result, plenty of wild narratives developed uncontrollably at the time. “There was this wild imagination about what was going on there due to lack of factual information,” she said.

    She returned home to Poso in 1999 when her father died. It was then that she saw with her own eyes the homes and schools that got burned down, including her sister’s house. “And I realized something wrong was going on.”

    In 2002, she decided to enroll in post-graduate studies at the same university. When working on her thesis, she was given a book by Urvashi Butalia, which tells the story of India’s separation from the female perspective. “The book became my starting point in questioning deeper about the stories of the women and children in Poso’s conflict,” she said.

    Lian was sick of how the media portrayed the conflict. It was always a coverage on who killed who, and which side had the most murdered victims. Not one media published a story about the women trapped in the conflict. “I became more curious about where women stand, particularly in Poso’s society structure, which is very much a patriarchy, feudal, and unsupportive towards women.”

    She decided that her thesis will answer to those questions. She conducted a research for 1.5 years, visiting numerous refugee camps to collect memory fragments from the women who became victims of the conflict. “I wanted to know how the politicization of memories about the Poso conflict work, from the perspective of the women,” she said. During her research, she heard plenty of stories that strengthened her theory that the conflict was not about religion. The untold stories, she said, were those about how women helped each other regardless of religions, tribes and what communities they belonged to. “This was never shown by the media. They only showed hostility between the Muslims and the Christians.”

    Lian Gogali. TEMPO/Nufus Nita Hidayati

    According to Lian, it was as if these memories about how the women helped each other were being silenced. “Their memories were repressed by the general narrative that this was a conflict between Muslims and Christians. These narratives was being repeated until it grew and bought by the public, and created hate,” she remarked.

    Another thing she discovered was the fact that the women who experienced repeated violence during the conflict were the toughest survivors.

    After the research, Lian felt like she had to do something. She felt haunted by a question from a source woman on what she would do after completing the research. Moreover, during the thesis session, a similar question was raised by the examiner. “Lian, if you know that the media made a big mistake by not covering what really happened to women in Poso, then what? What would you do? How can you, as a Poso native, be responsible for your own history?”

    And so, Lian decided to return to Poso after completing her education.

    Arriving in Poso, Lian had no idea of what she would do. But then she was offered by the Asian Muslim Action Network to build a women’s learning community. She then gathered a number of women and together they built the Mosintuwu School for Women, which became the forerunner to the establishment of the Mosintuwu Institute. But this process was not without problems.

    “The programs carried out by many donor agencies to develop Poso changed the culture of the community. The friendly and helpful residents became more materialistic—measuring everything with money, such as transportation, per diem.”

    Therefore, when she founded Mosintuwu Institute, which focused on issues of children and women, she wanted to incorporate Mosintuwu’s cultural identity, which is a shared life with mutual respect and support. “The spirit of this institute is the desire to reclaim the identity of the Poso people,” he said.

    To mobilize this activity, Lian visited residents in various villages, offering the Women’s School program. Initially, few were interested—just seven women out of a target of 100. They are farmers, housewives and clothes washers. Despite the small number of students, the school was erected.

    Not long after, more and more women enrolled. The Mosintuwu Institute is now a respected institution. The school produced women who became leaders of their villages. One of them is Margareta Tandi who is now the Head of Kameasi hamlet in Kilo village of North Coast Poso.

    “Thanks to the Women’s School, I found the courage to be a leader,” she said.

    There is also Martince, who is the backbone of every activity in Bukit Bambu village. Before joining the Women’s School, Martince hated Muslims, triggered by the sadistic murder of her nephew. However, the hatred faded away after she began interacting with Muslim women at the Women’s School who were also conflict survivors. “There, I realised that it was not the religion to blame, but the people who misinterpreted it. My hatred slowly disappeared.”

    There is also Martince, who is the backbone of every activity in Bukit Bambu village. Before joining the Women’s School, Martince hated Muslims, triggered by the sadistic murder of her nephew. However, the hatred faded away after she began interacting with Muslim women at the Women’s School who were also conflict survivors. “There, I realized that it was not the religion to blame, but the people who misinterpreted it. My hatred slowly disappeared.”

    Martince is currently the spearhead of the Mosintuwu Institute, launching forward to spread messages of peace and sovereignty for women.

    Her success with the Mosintuwu School for Women did not leave Lian feeling satisfied. She continues to engage in more activities, among them the establishment the Village Reformer School. Her dream is for the school to create communities of village reformers, both men and women.

    Lian and friends also pioneered the Diversity School to nourish peace between faiths. The participants are religious leaders with congregations of village residents. There is also the Peace Generations School, which caters to young people all across Poso. “These young people also need space to experience, feel, and practice these values,” said Lian.  

    There is more, Project Sophia and the Sophia Library. Project Sophia is a mobile library project that provides space for children to develop critical thinking, so they can grow into adults who are able to maintain peace and justice in Poso. The Sophia Library at the Mosintuwu Institute, in addition to providing books, also facilitates children to learn English.

    There is also the Mosintuwu Festival, a joint celebration between villages in Poso, which signifies that peace has been created. “My hope is that women will become village reformers who can create a peaceful, righteous society rooted in culture,” Lian Gogali remarked.

    DINI PARAMITA

    (This article is part of the Proyek Perempuan Tempo - Tempo's Women Project, made possible with the support from the European Journalism Centre. Click here for the full story

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