MATA HARI: THE VOICE OF RECONCILIATION
“We are back on the air,” he says in a soothing radio voice. “And as usual we are speaking about the issues that affect the youth in this community.”
Kodrat and a dozen other young people in the Indonesian town of Poso are running Mata Hari 96.2 FM, a radio station supported by the International Rescue Committee and its partners in the CARDI aid consortium. The station deals with topics that are rarely brought up in the mainstream media here, such as reproductive health, sex, the perils of drugs and how to bridge the inter-religious tensions that continue to divide this community.
“There are many things youth are interested in here in Poso, but that they are not hearing about,” Kodrat says, taking a break from the microphone while a song from Indonesian band Dewa hits the air waves. “And there are still many misunderstandings among both Muslims and Christians about each other. We are trying to inform people that all of us are very much the same.”
Poso, with a majority of its inhabitants being Muslim, lies on the coast in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province. Traditionally, Muslims and Christians here have co-existed peacefully but in the wake of the financial crisis that hit Indonesia in 1998, religious and ethnic violence as well as renewed aspirations for separatism started to surface throughout the country. A drunken brawl between Christian and Muslim youths set off a spiral of violence in Poso, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Although the sectarian conflict formally ended with a peace agreement four years later, sporadic outbursts of violence have continued in the region. Bomb attacks have killed scores of people and the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls here grabbed the world’s headlines in 2005.
“But not everything in the community is bad,” says Alfian Kasim, today’s guest at Mata Hari and editor of Krespo, a CARDI-supported youth magazine. “It is important that we talk about peace and the fact that young people are working hard to make this region normal again.”
The radio station has become an important aspect of young people’s lives in Poso, says Titi Rosalina, CARDI’s field coordinator. A similar station has been set up in the nearby Christian stronghold of Tentena and they both feature unbiased information and open debates, which help to bridge the gap between the communities.
“The potential for renewed conflict is very real in this region,” Rosalina says. “And young people, faced with unemployment and boredom, are particularly susceptible to radical ideas and forming street gangs.”
To activate and educate the youth, CARDI is running several youth centres in the Poso region. Like the radio stations, they are used to spread tolerance and information about problems facing young people. They are also a meeting point where young people from both sides of the religious divide can exchange ideas over a board game or after a volleyball match.
Agus Saleh, 25, is Muslim and Ningsih Kamondo, 22, a Christian. They lived in separate parts of the city at the height of the conflict but now see each other all the time in one of the centres.
“There was a lot of propaganda and the two communities were staying away from each other,” Ningsih recalls. “But I think people are more informed about the true reasons of the conflict now. Most people now understand that it has little to do with ordinary people.”
The centres are about more than just coming together; they are also about creating opportunities for the future. Hundreds of young people regularly come here to receive vocational training.
“We have conducted market surveys to find out what types of skills are required in the community.” Rosalina says. “We then offer job training in the skills that are in demand in the community.”
The centre’s youth leaders also regularly travel around the communities teaching other youth about human rights, sex, HIV/AIDS, and alcohol and drug abuse. According to Kodrat Mokoginta, drugs in particular have become an increasing problem in Poso, especially the use of Putauw – street grade heroin – and crystal methamphetamine, known across Indonesia as shabu-shabu.
“We are working hard with youth leaders to inform young people about the dangers of narcotics,” he says, putting the headphones back on as the music fades out. “And things are changing for the better in all aspects of life here. I think Poso will soon be like any other place in Indonesia.”