Some of the children of Papua
Obtaining clean water is a major priority. Here a well is drilled near Aimus, Papua
A newly-built sanitation block, with a washing area and water pump on one side and latrines on the other
Local women in Mimus learn new skills through a sewing class
Leigh O'Donoghue is Overseas Development Officer for The Salvation Army Australia Development Office
Australia/Indonesia: Back to the Frontier
by Leigh O'Donoghue
The term ‘pioneering’ is often associated with wagon trains crossing the wide sweeping plains of the United States or with breakthrough medical or scientific research. It is not used so often these days to describe the work of The Salvation Army, which has established itself in 109 countries, preaching the gospel in 175 languages. The Salvation Army in Indonesia is on a pioneering mission to develop communities and meet people at their point of need. As part of this ‘new frontier’ work, the Army has now commenced working in the previously untouched — by the Army — province of Papua, previously known as Irian Jaya.
Papua is a hot, humid island. It has some of the most impenetrable jungles in the world yet also has snow capped mountains rising 5,000 metres above glacial lakes. The province was a Dutch colony until the 1960s and is Indonesia’s largest and easternmost province.
The Salvation Army commenced work in Indonesia in 1894 and extended to most of the major islands but was never able or never had the opportunity to go into Papua. In 2002, the Indonesian leadership expressed the desire to start The Salvation Army in Papua, especially in the areas of health and education, so with the assistance of The Salvation Army Australia Development Office (SAADO), plans were made and proposals written. Following an exploratory visit by SAADO in 2002, the greatest needs were identified as clean water and sanitation, basic health training and vocational training with a micro credit or equipment loan to follow. Interest in this pioneering work and funding commitments have also been given by The Salvation Army in The Netherlands and Japan.
The Indonesia Territory appointed two officer couples to commence the work. Captains Made and Syastiel Sadia and their two young children are from Bali and have 13 years experience as Salvation Army officers. Captains Albert and Lus Santu (a former teacher and nurse) and their two children are from Sulawesi and are only one year out of the Army’s training college.
Papua is not new to Christianity and has many established Christian churches but The Salvation Army still had to seek approval from many agencies and government or provincial departments to start work in the area.
Much of the first six months of the programme was spent in setting up offices, finding accommodation and, importantly, establishing relationships with the many local departments that operate in and around the coastal town of Sorong. Albert and Lus Santu are establishing a presence in and making links with the people in Aimus, a small town about 30 kilometres away, in a rural area.
In April this year, a staff member from SAADO made the first monitoring visit, accompanied by the development officer from The Salvation Army in Japan. The Japan Territory is exploring funding opportunities for community development in Papua.
Approaching Sorong from the sea, the town and surrounding waterfront looks like a tropical island paradise. Once you get into the town and nearby communities, the poverty and deprivation suffered by many people is quite evident. Many communities do not have access to clean water, sanitation is poor and malnutrition is obvious amongst the children. Malaria and other water-borne diseases are some of the health issues facing the people there and HIV/Aids, while not generally talked about, is starting to take hold.
The Salvation Army officers in both locations on Papua have started small sewing and baking classes for women (six women in each class) in the communities and after-school care with some tuition is being offered in Aimus (about 30 high school age children had registered in April).
Captain Lus Santu uses her training as a nurse to go into the homes of local families and discuss health issues such as basic hygiene, how to prevent malaria and other water-borne diseases. She also does a little bit of basic nursing and diagnostic work. HIV/Aids education is high on her agenda as she goes from home to home. She is warmly received by the women and is establishing contacts within the community of Aimus and its surrounds. It is hoped that the Indonesia Territory will appoint another officer to the area who is a trained nurse so that the health training component can be expanded.
One water and two sanitation units have been installed in each of six communities so far, with another seven to be completed this year. The only criteria for selection is need — no questions are asked about religious or political affiliations. With the appearance of The Salvation Army uniform, people with previous (and sometimes lost) contact with the Army have approached Captains Albert or Made in the street and described their previous contact with the Army and offered to help in any way possible.
On a number of occasions people have said to the captains, ‘I have been waiting 20 years for The Salvation Army to come to Papua,’ before telling of their earlier contacts with The Salvation Army.
The project is growing and, so far, a builder who also has experience sinking wells has been contracted together with a handyman and an advisor on vocational training.
Future plans include a community centre in each location, increased health and HIV education and a greater focus on agriculture. The Salvation Army in Japan has committed to jointly fund the water and sanitation scheme and provide funding for preschool and vocational training for next year and possibly the third year of the programme. The Salvation Army in The Netherlands is funding the second year of this project.
There is a great partnership between a number of different cultures and Salvation Army territories. The people of Papua and The Salvation Army in Indonesia have high hopes and expectations for the growth of The Salvation Army and the development of communities on this new frontier.