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| Saturday, 19 August 2017 |
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Healing Past Wounds
Wednesday, 09 August, 2017 | 15:02 WIB
Healing Past Wounds

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - After years of trauma and suspicion, Poso residents are recovering from conflict through communal plant cultivation. Fraught relationships are improving.

Jusniati’s gardening routine has lasted one year. The 30yearold woman visits the Learning House, only tens of meters away from her home in the Buyukatedo hamlet in Central Sulawesi. Sometimes she goes there alone; other times, she is accompanied by her husband or her two sons, who are in the sixth and eighth grades. 

In the 60squaremeter Learning House, Jusniati has plenty to learn from her neighbors. Three weeks ago, for example, she and her peers talked about vegetable growing in their backyard. "This may seem like nothing out of the ordinary for most people, but for us, Buyukatedo residents, this is special," said Jusni—as she is usually called. 

Before the Learning House, casual conversations rarely occurred in Buyukatedo. The hamlet was once gloomy and eerily quiet, the lingering aftermath of the bloody conflicts that took place there from 2000 to 2001. Dozens of residents were slaughtered, beheaded by a group of people who called themselves the Red Troops. Homes were destroyed and the hamlet became lifeless after most of its Buginese residents had fled. 

"The incident left us traumatized. Even now the trauma lingers on in everyone’s heart. My husband’s, too, who lost one of his relatives in the killings," Jusni said. Now some of those who left have come back.

SecretaryGeneral of South Sulawesi’s Solidarity for Victims of Human Rights Violation (SKPHAM), Nurlaela Lamasitudju, visited Buyukatedo last year and confirmed Jusni’s testimony. Communication between villagers had grown cold—the chilly climate is worse between residents of neighboring hamlets following different religions. 

Ela—short for Nurlaela—was among Buyukatedo’s post conflict internally displaced persons. She and her family had fled to Palu. When she came on a return visit, Ela was saddened that the hamlet she was born and grew up in had transformed, and not for the better. Before the conflict, Buyukatedo was known for its cocoa and other produce. "Things had changed significantly," said the 38yearold. "I didn’t recognize Buyukatedo anymore. It made me cry." 

Ela’s visit to her hometown moved her immensely. She wanted to rebuild the 60household hamlet, and opted for encouraging its residents to cultivate plants because it was the agricultural sector that once made Buyukatedo well known throughout Poso. Besides growing cocoa, the villagers once cultivated durian and lime in their backyards.

Establishing the Learning House was Ela’s first step. She hoped that the Learning House would not only serve as a stopover for residents who want to share gardening expertise but also as a platform for mutual support that would enable them to grow together, leaving well behind their dark history. "We want the Learning House to inspire residents to embrace each other and cooperate in rebuilding their home," Ela said.

Ela and the SKPHAM team’s initiative to help residents rebuild Buyukatedo has been no easy task. When they arrived in the hamlet in March last year, the villagers were not willing to immediately put their trust in the program they offered. To make matters worse, Poso had also been shaken by terrorism over the past years. 

Ela and her friends did not lose hope and decided to adopt an educational strategy involving communal gardening. The hamlets of Buyukatedo and Sepe were two sites chosen by the nonprofit organization for their program. "There were actually other hamlets worse off, but I wanted to heal my birthplace first," she said. 

Buyukatedo and Sepe are distinct from each other, both geographically and demographically. Sepe is located at the foot of a mountain, while Buyukatedo is perched on a hill. Sepe’s residents are majority Christian, while most Buyukatedo residents are Muslim. Although the two hamlets are neighbors, their residents rarely visited each other. Jusni herself said she was afraid to visit Sepe. 

The program was launched in Buyukatedo, and soon the Learning House was ready for action in Jusni and Ela’s birthplace. According to Zikran Yakala from the SPKHAM, horrific rumors had circulated following the 2000 massacre, which made the residents of other villages disinclined to lengthy visits. "People’s fear of Buyukatedo had impacted the hamlet’s economy," said the 27yearold man.

Read more inspiring Outreach stories in Tempo English Weekly Magazine

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