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Where they went

Indonesia: Seeing progress in a place nearly erased

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April 16, 2006

WHO: Judy Dushku, 63, of Watertown

WHERE: Aceh province of Indonesia

WHEN: Two weeks in December

WHY: Dushku, a professor of government at Suffolk University, was invited to be part of a human rights study sponsored by Global Exchange to assess people's lives, not only in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami, but also as a result of the war between the Acehnese and the Indonesian Army.

HOW: In January 2005, Dushku, whose courses include politics in the developing world, organized a panel discussion on Aceh, which led to the invitation to visit with seven other professionals.

TRAVELING ARBITERS: Along with relief from nongovernmental organizations, local ''civil-society builders" help the Acehnese resolve conflicts among themselves. A group of them led the Global Exchange visitors. ''They had a van and drivers and took us to different parts of Aceh and introduced us to people," Dushku said. ''We moved around a lot, first in Banda Aceh, the capital, then we went up along the east coast and then inland to some of the villages most affected by the war."

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ''We went almost immediately to the beach where we'd seen the waves on television the year before. That was the first overwhelming shocker," she said. ''There are uprooted palm trees and destroyed homes with little bits of the foundations . . . , and washed-out roads. It's been a year, and we hear of these billions of dollars raised, and you think, what is going on?"

A 'FOUND' FAMILY: ''There are areas where there's been a little progress, where you see UN tents with wooden floors and canvas, and whole families are squished into them. They eat on handouts of oil and rice and sometimes meat. People would say things like, 'We lost four children but my sister's children showed up, so now we have a family. We were lucky.' But some people you see gazing off to the ocean as if they hope someone will reappear someday."

DIFFICULT DAYS: ''We spent a day at the Exxon Mobil facility. It was horrible, with people telling stories about polluted water and having rice fields flooded with dark water, then when they complained, they'd get harassed," Dushku said. ''Another day we spent in villages affected by the war. We interviewed a lot of mothers and wives and sisters of killed soldiers. That was just horrible."

HOPES AND FEARS: ''One of the most moving parts of the trip -- it made me cry -- was on the last day. On this weedy field these battered-looking rebel soldiers in black T-shirts and black pants marched across and handed over their automatic weapons to peacekeepers, and then there was a little party. But after the fact people said, 'If the [agencies] go away and the press goes away and no one's looking, Indonesia can always send the army back.' "

GO SEE WHERE THEY WENT Visit www.boston.com/wheretheywent to see other readers' photos. Send suggestions within two weeks of your return to diane@bydianedaniel.com.

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