She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Linked with our presentation of Crisis Center SAG SULUTTENG.
She says: “Humanity is universal. Do not think of only one particular group that needs to be rescued; we should try to make everybody survive.”
Julien Florence Mona Saroinsong – Indonesia
She works for the Crisis Center SAG SULUTTENG.
Julien Florence Mona Saroinsong (born 1958) is a full-time lecturer and researcher at a university in Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia and a volunteer at the Crisis Center of Sinode Am church network. In 2001, when thousands of refugees from violent conflicts in Poso, Central Sulawesi and Maluku poured into North Sulawesi, Mona visited refugees and used her networks as a church activist to provide them with assistance. She also trained volunteers and refugees in trauma healing and organized dialogues between conflicting religious communities in Poso and Maluku.
Julien Florence Mona Saroinsong (born 1958) was about to finish her postgraduate education at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands in 1999, when she heard about the armed conflict in Sulawesi and Maluku in Indonesia. At the time, all she wanted was to complete her studies as soon as possible and go back home to Sulawesi.
The armed conflict in Poso was triggered by a fight between a Muslim and a Christian in December 1998. Pamphlets aggravating suspicions between different religions and rumors of burnt mosques and churches circulated in the communities. With each attempt at reconciliation, the violence recurred, resulting in killings and destruction of public and private properties. Over 20,000 inhabitants in the conflict areas were forced to seek refuge in other villages or other islands. The conflict also coincided with competition between local and national political elites, involving large military troop deployment in the region.
After six years of intermittent armed conflict, reconciliation remains very fragile. Mona Saroinsong has been a church activist since she was a teenager. She was sent by the Evangelist church network in Indonesia to Germany for participation in a meeting to plan setting up refugee camps in Sulawesi. She returned to her hometown, Manado in North Sulawesi in late 1999 and started visiting refugee camps to find out what kind of help they needed.
At the start, Mona’s visits were purely her personal efforts, relying on the assistance of her colleagues, friends, neighbors and relatives to provide and organize food and shelter for refugees, without support from institutions. “I was busy telephoning people, especially reverends or church community members to provide shelters and I also went from door to door asking community members to donate food for the refugees,” she recounts. Mona believes that people have the basic capability, however small, to support themselves and others.
Mona’s visits to the refugee camps became a regular activity. Listening to the refugees, she realized that story telling helped to reduce their anxiety. “After they had food and shelter, they needed to share their thoughts. They are people with histories and it was comforting for them to know that their experiences mattered,” she explains. Mona organized other friends and colleagues to do the same: going to camps, listening to the refugees’ stories and compiling information to make it available to other people who wanted to help. She started a Crisis Center with zero budget and no office.
Together with other volunteers, Mona works after office hours and offers help to different communities. Being a Christian, a church activist and a woman made it difficult for her to be accepted in Muslim communities. “Armed civilian guards were waiting at the borders and threatened to shoot at people trying to get across,” she relates.
Nevertheless, she tried to visit villages where the majority of population are Muslim and continued seek help for the refugees from her friends.
These personal-based contacts enabled Mona and her fellow volunteers to spread the network to Central Sulawesi, the heart of the armed conflict area. She gained the confidence of Muslim communities and slowly, a small number of people agreed to assist her in establishing contacts between communities from different religions.
In 2001, when Mona saw that the refugees themselves were ready to do the work of the volunteers, she designed a training program for them. “I try to keep in mind that everyone has the will and ability to help others, which is why we always try to recruit volunteers and not paid staff at our crisis center. The volunteers also come from the refugees. After sharing their stories they feel empowered, and they know they could do the same for the other refugees.” She asked each refugee camp to choose two volunteers, a man and a woman, to join a five-day training session where they were trained to be good listeners. Participants were mostly young people who were able to build trust among each other and agreed that they would spread it in their own communities. The training opened a lot of other opportunities for reconciliation. Mona and her colleagues received invitations to visit Muslim communities.
Also in 2001, the Sinode Am church network chose her to be a member of Crisis Center’s executive board, and she went to South Africa to attend a training seminar for Disaster Management. Her new position and travels abroad gave her access to funding and other support from aid institutions and extended her advocacy network. She also designed emergency education programs for children.
However tensions rose again in mid 2002 after the declaration of peace pacts among Muslim and Christian leaders. Corpses were found near Muslim establishments. Muslim communities felt restless about being targets of violence and the Christians were afraid that they would be accused of the killings. Many leaders of Muslim armed civilian groups were arrested and rumors about the involvement of Christian leaders and the churches in their detention began to circulate in the communities.
The Reverend Reinaldy Damanik, who was actively trying to establish interfaith dialogue, was accused of smuggling arms into Christian villages and was brought to trial.“I tried to counter the assumptions about the roots of this conflict,” says Mona. “The Muslims and the Christians had started to realize that they don’t hate each other despite their differences and agreed that they shouldn’t respond to provocations. But at the time, when I went to the trials, people from both communities were starting to accuse me of being a traitor, a murderer of both Christians and Muslims.” Not only the communities, but also the media were very suspicious of her and would not credit her and the crisis center for their efforts.
The reconciliation process in Central Sulawesi is still in progress and Mona continues to monitor the peace process and write her reflections and commentaries in local newspapers and websites. “I think the teachings of religious leaders need to be changed. After the experience in Poso, our church included inter-religious understanding in the Sunday school curriculum,” Mona says. Besides running the crisis center, Mona continues to teach and is actively involved in her church community (Gereja Masehi Injili Minahasa) as chairperson of the Children, Women and Gender Commission.