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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC Extends Food-for-Work Program in Indonesia,
Initiates New Relief and Development Program
Programs Bring Christians and Muslims Together to Counter Interreligious Violence

September 2, 1999, NEW YORK CITY -- As instability and suffering continue in Indonesia and the world awaits the outcome of the East Timor independence vote, Church World Service is responding by extending its comprehensive food-for-work program and beginning another program targeting urban areas, as well as initiating a project which will address health, income generation and food security needs in several areas.

Church World Service works in more than 80 countries around the world, including the U.S., in disaster relief, human development and refugee assistance. It is a ministry of the National Council of Churches (NCC).

In the past year, CWS has implemented a $2.5 million food-for-work program funded by by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which will also support the urban food-for-work project. CWS works with its long-time partner the Communion of Churches in Indonesia-Sulsera (CCI) to distribute rice amounting to 10 tons per day, providing 37,000 families with food. In exchange, recipients are repairing irrigation canals, roads and bridges, and building water and conservation systems, all contributions to long-term food security. Beneficiary families also have received seeds and tools.

Yet "although the El Nino drought is over and rural areas are slowly recovering, the economic crisis doesn't seem to have bottomed out yet in Indonesia like it has in Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia," said Rick Santos, a Presbyterian who has been administering the initial program. "Urban areas seem to be deteriorating now and most businesses in Indonesia are still technically bankrupt."

"Indonesia is going to be unstable and in need of humanitarian and economic aid for at least the next five years," Mr. Santos said. "Because CWS has a long-term commitment to Indonesia, where we've worked with partners for over 30 years, we feel we have something to offer during this troubled time."

In response to the continuing and new difficulties in Indonesia, the current food-for-work program will be extended until the end of October 1999 and a new $1.5 million emergency program targeting urban areas in South Sulawesi will begin in November 1999. A third, $2.4 million program will enable a consortium of PVOs in Indonesia to carry out both emergency and development work. CWS will work in the areas of primary health care, food security, job creation and microcredit programs in a wide geographical area including Central and Eastern Java, Lomback, all of Sulawesi, and eventually Nusa Tengara Timur (NTT). The scope of the work is to include:

Meanwhile, the country remains politically unstable in spite of recent elections, Santos said. "Although Megawati Sukarnoputri's party won the most votes, it remains to be seen whether she will be president," he explained. Also, a referendum on independence was held in East Timor this week. "Depending on the outcome, there could be unrest. There will be great need if Indonesia pulls out, and unrest if Indonesia stays in East Timor."

There also has been ongoing violence and unrest for the last six months in Ambon, resulting in a flow of refugees to other islands, especially Southeast Sulawesi. Other "hot spots," where there is interreligious or other violence, include Aceh and the major city of Ujangpandung. Of special concern to the ecumenical community has been increasing interreligious tension and violence, particularly between Christians and Muslims.

In the past six months, Christians have killed Muslims in Kalimantan and Muslims have killed Christians in Java, reported Southern Asia Office Director Larry Tankersley. Churches and mosques have been burned.

"As the economic and political situation has deteriorated, a long history of religious and ethnic tolerance has begun to unravel," Santos explained, saying that tensions were complicated and exacerbated by those in power.

To counter this trend, CWS has sponsored interfaith dialogues, both informal and behind the scenes efforts and more formal groups. "Church bodies are trying to address the problem. For example, a Protestant clergyman spoke at a mosque to a group of students and faculty."

"One of the things we are trying to build into the new program is to get different religious and ethnic groups working together in the implementation, which builds confidence, friendship and communication," Santos said. "Often religious groups are isolated and have little contact with others. We hope to counter that through faith in action."

In spite of the turmoil and need, Santos said he sees signs of hope. "Witnessing the first, free election in 35 years was amazing and showed the enormous potential of the people," he said. "People lined up for hours at polling places and there were no acts of violence."

In order to insure that they wouldn't vote twice, people had to stick their finger in a cup of indelible ink when they voted. "People went around showing their black inky pinkie like it was a badge of honor, a badge of participation," Santos said. "It was inspiring."


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