By Sara Barnes
Hello again! Another week gone by and we’re in the beautiful Togian Region of Central Sulawesi, but let me catch you up on what’s gone on between our last update and here.
We arrived in Gorontalo late on Sunday night and collapsed, Monday saw us settling in and making plans for the 4 or 5 days we had in the city. Yulya, a friend of our Samsara supporter’s in Manado , kindly offered to host Tia and Sara at her house. After chatting to yulya and some of her friends, university students in Gorontalo, we started to get a better idea of the challenges Gorontalo faced. As they told it the city was wrapped up in politics, with almost every activist for almost every cause aligned to one political party or another. The youth we spoke to felt like this distraceted from the actual causes as the political parties always ended up pushing their agenda over the cause they were trying to help. We had struggled to find women’s groups or NGOs to get in touch with in Gorontalo and wondered if this might be the reason for it. Out of this the group we chatted with agree that they would all like to learn more about Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, and specifically unplanned pregnancy and teenage pregnancy. Yulya helped us organise a workshop at her house with about 15 women and men in their twenties for Tuesday evening.
At the workshop we discovered that Goronatalo was no exception to the general trend in Indonesia. Experiences of unplanned pregnancy and dangerous back-alley abortions were more common than the taboo talking about them carries would let one believe. Everyone knew someone who had an abortion, a best friend, a sister a partner. Some of the stories were quite emotional and by the end of the sharing session everyone was open to Tia’s workshop on what options women experiencing unplanned pregnancy had. These include an informed, considered decision to save enough money and find the resources to continue the pregnancy and become a responsible parent, continuing the pregnancy and finding a safe reliable agent to arrange the adoption of the child (without the risk of the child being trafficked) or, if the pregnancy is less than 12 weeks and the women is certain she does not want to continue, gaining access to a safe surgical or medical abortion. The workshop also covered topics such as anatomy, how does menstruation work, how do women get pregnant, what the options for contraception and healthy body image. By the end everyone was starving so as a treat Sara made an Indonesian-ised version of Ratatouille for everyone to try.
On Wednesday we were invited to meet a group of independent journalists, Aliansi Journalis Indepen (AJI), who were interested in Women’s Rights. At first we were wary, anti-sex education sentiments are high in Indonesia (some groups believe sex education will only encourage irresponsible sexual behaviour). Sometimes journalists themselves harbour an anti-Sex Education bias or may unintentionally print something that may get us into trouble as an organisation. However, we should not have worried. The group of about 6 men welcomed us and fully supported what we were doing. They spoke to us about how they felt that Gorontalo as a region needed to increase its focus on Women’s Rights and educating the youth about Sexual Health. Much of the discussion revolved around a recent alleged rape case, in which a 17 year old girl was repeatedly raped over a period of 4 months by 13 men, 9 of them police men, and the reaction, or lack thereof from local officials. We also discussed the need for a journalistic platform to focus on Sexual Violence and represent the point of view of the victim (or survivor) as the journalists felt to many cases were swept over or reported in an unfair victim-blaming manner.
From here Tia lightened the atmosphere, it turned out a few of the journalists wives were pregnant and so she spoke about the process of pregnancy, how the husbands could help and understand better their wives situation. Overall it was a very worthwhile meeting.
Thursday brought the third member of our team, Inna Hudaya (Samsara’s Executive director) to Gorontalo to join us. On arrival we threw her straight into what was our most challengeing workshop yet. Mrs Iin, a lecturer at the local university and the manager of a university student boarding house arranged for about 20 young men and women to join us for a workshop on unplanned pregnancy. A few older men and women joined too. The composition of the group was the first challenge as the range of ages and mix of sexes created a variety of power dynamics that made it challenging to get everyone to take part actively. We opened with a video clip … which showed how different influences, such as education and family support for a young girl could change the path of her life and those of generations to come. The video was well received but 20 minutes into the workshop, after Inna had begun to ask questions and map out how and when, according to participants, youth generally became involved in sexual relationships, we were challenged by two self-identifying Muslim Fundamentalist men. The men put forward their opinion that condom use and pre-marital sex were inventions of the West which corrupted Indonesia via the media. Inna, supported by Tia, dealt with these ideas in a mature, considered manner. Instead of entering a debate which would surely become heated and personal she suggested we push aside moral frameworks for the meantime and consider the facts. Even in very religious areas teen pregnancy, unsafe abortion, maternal mortality and STDs are common. Rather than argue over the origin of these problems Inna suggested we focus on how we could decrease them. From here she spoke about the value of knowing how your body works and how condoms and other contraception can be used to protect our bodies. Next she spoke about bullying and played a video from … which focused on the effects of bullying and included a plea to everyone to think about the effects their actions may have on others. The video particularly mention LGBT as this is an extremely marginalised group in Indonesia. Some of the students were unfamiliar with the acronym (which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). The method of mentioning it in passing with a brief definition but no deep discussion is intended to desensitise the topic, only the first step towards acceptance but a very necessary one. We ended the workshop with another short video from… which focuses on the many societal, economic and health factors that increase the risk of maternal mortality. By the end of the workshop even the self-identifying Mulism Fundamentalists were happy we had come to share information and wanted contact numbers for further questions later.
Finally on Friday we prepared to say goodbye to Gorontalo and all of the new friends who had given us so much support in the form of a place to sleep, food, transport and a safe space to share stories and information. At 6pm we got onto the ferry to the Togians where we planned to take a well-deserved rest on Saturday and Sunday to mark the halfway point of the Samsara Sulawesi Satellite Workshops – two weeks in already! Come Monday we will be launching into workshops in the village of Wakai, a transit point for travellers from North to South Sulawesi.
Once again thanks to our incredible donors, supporters and friends for helping us make this happen! Next update in a week!