She felt hatred like nobody else could. Or so she thought. At the Mosintuwu women’s school (Sulawesi, Indonesia), Muslim woman Ibu Hadra (34) discovered that she was not alone in feeling that way. “There we were: Hindu, Christian, Muslim. And all the hurt we had caused each other.”

Ibu Hadra: “In the Poso conflict*, Christians killed my Muslim brothers and sisters. They set our houses on fire and chased us out of the area we lived in. Five years after the conflict, I returned to build a new life. I thought I could deal with it, but I couldn’t. Whenever I came across Christians in the market or on the streets, I panicked and fled the scene. I carried a terrible pain in my heart. I felt hatred. I knew: I can’t go on like this. I wanted to heal my heart, but no matter how much I searched for it, I couldn’t find the medicine. Was there nothing that could bring me a sense of relief?

I wanted to heal my heart, but no matter how much I searched for it, I couldn’t find the medicine.

The village chief told me about an information meeting of the Mosintuwu Institute run by Lian Gogali, partner of Mensen met een Missie. I knew of formal schools, but I had never heard of a non-formal school like this. “What are they teaching there?”, I asked the chief. He insisted, “Just go and have a look.”

Women’s school
At the meeting, I heard Lian speak for the first time. I was hanging on every word she said, what an inspiring woman! When I later saw the curriculum, I was sure of it: this women’s school is the place to be. Here I could find peace. I signed up immediately.

“Who wants to say something?”, the teacher asked. It was the first class we had. I raised my hand, this was my chance. “Why have you caused so much suffering? How can I ever find peace with the hatred I feel for you?”, I tearfully asked the Christians in my class. To my surprise, it turned out I was not alone in carrying so much pain. Everyone, regardless of religion, shared a similar story about feelings of hatred towards the other. There we were: Hindu, Christian and Muslim. Three religions, with the same level of animosity towards each other. Recognising the hurt we had caused each other in the Poso conflict.

Ibu Hadra (left)

The school initiated visits to each other’s places of worship. The Christians were scared when we went to the mosque. What if there were bombs, and all of this was a trap? They overcame their fear and entered someone else’s house of prayer for the first time. A little later I visited a church, a memorable moment for me. I cried with pride and felt a great sense of gratitude. I still get emotional when I talk about this. I am very happy that the pain in my heart has disappeared through deepening my relationships with other people.

The Christians were scared when we went to the mosque. What if there were bombs, and all this was a trap?

Informal School for Tolerance, Peace and Human Rights
I wanted to learn a lot more and decided to continue taking classes. This was something my husband had to get used to. “But what exactly are you being trained for?”, he asked. The concept of an informal school where tolerance, peace and human rights are taught was foreign to him as well. I explained to him that it was not vocational training, but that I would develop all kinds of skills to help other people – regardless of their background, beliefs or religion.

Plastic milk cups are turned into pencil pouches, among other things.

In all those years I only missed three classes. I learned about so much more than I could have ever imagined, including sustainable entrepreneurship. Even before I went to school, I used to collect plastic waste. I immediately saw an opportunity: I wanted to do something with plastic recycling. The school thought it was an excellent idea. We decided to join forces and set up a plastic recycling company together. Anyone can hand in waste material, but it is mainly children and poorer families who do so.

The plastic is weighed and earns the participant points. These points allow them to “buy” products in our store, such as toothpaste, school notebooks or milk. Women from a variety of backgrounds come together to make bags and baskets from the collected plastic. The first bag was purchased by the ambassador of the United States to support our initiative. That made me so proud of everything I have achieved in recent years. ”

The Mosintuwu women’s school is part of the Freedom of Religion and Belief programme of Mensen met een Missie in Indonesia. Funding for this programme comes from the Human Rights Fund of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

* In the Poso district on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, tensions between Muslims and Christians soared in 1999 to the point that a three-year war ensued. This war cost the lives of more than 3,000 people. The religious leaders signed a peace treaty in 2002. But the traces of this religious conflict can still be felt.

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