Early morning in Aceh, we set out to meet our new friends, Megan King and Roberto Hutabarat, from Caritas Czech Republic (CCR). CCR arrived in Aceh, Indonesia in February 2005. More than five years after the tsunami, only a handful of international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are left. The departure of the INGOS have left inflated real estate prices, depressed hotel and restaurant industries and many other issues in the community. This left groups like CCR and Friends International Aceh to pick up the pieces while continuing their work in the area.
Roberto Hutabarat, an expert in permaculture and environmental sustainability, is the program director for CCR. He works on developing livelihood programs for farmers in Aceh. One of his projects is the Bungong Seulanga Nursery in Sampoiniet, a sub-district of the Aceh Jaya District. The women of Aceh living in the mountainous regions suffered from thirty-years of armed conflict, which culminated in a state of Martial Law and heavy fighting from 2002-2004. The guerilla war between the Indonesian Army and the Free Aceh Movement was waged in rural villages, putting civilians at risk. Many husbands and fathers were killed, leaving vulnerable families behind.
CCR committed to supporting conflict victims in Sampoiniet sub-district of the Aceh Jaya District. In Babah Dua village, there is a high concentration of widows or female-headed households. Nineteen women-headed households agreed to join the first phase of an agro-forestry nursery. The self-organized group, Bungong Seulanga Nursery, was formed in March 2009. The project received the support of community leaders and the women participated in intensive permaculture and nursery training.
During our visit with the women, they told us about the crops they had selected, including cash crops like chili and green vegetables. Other plants include durian, cocoa, and a plant called tranbesi. This plant is in high demand for its carbon offsetting value. These crops take three years to mature.
The women make decisions as a group. They showed us their books, which any of them can access at any time. Each book documents the number of plants in the nursery, vegetables grown and how much they sold the products for. They proudly pointed to a page where they all received a dividend after six months of selling their crops at the vegetable market.
I asked the women if any unexpected results came about. They laughed and said that the nursery has brought them closer together and they receive support from one another. It was a place where they could “share problems.” The women meet regularly and the community sees them in a new light, now that they are “business-people.” The nursery has given them confidence and increased self-esteem. CCR was pleased with the progress and never imagined that this nursery project would also have psycho-social benefits.
The women are day laborers who work seasonally clearing farms. The Bungong Seulanga Nursery provides the women with a new way to supplement their income and to provide more for their children.
The women hope to expand their nursery. The current property belongs to a widow and she receives five percent of the profits from the nursery. They hope to locate land nearby to expand their plantings. In addition, they are focusing on a marketing strategy for their crops.
With such a successful project, there are plans to launch additional projects like these for other women in the area.