Embarking on a new journey of learning – Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship

I will be spending time in the United States during the fall and winter as International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s 2013-2014 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow. I plan to research on the phenomenon of increasing religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia at the MIT’s Center for International Studies.

There are burning questions that I’m sure a lot of us who are sickened by the endless news about religious violence would like to find answers to. What are people so afraid of? Why do people feel threatened by those who are different? Is it important to differentiate between the sacred and profane? How do political and economical factors play in acts of religious intolerance and violence?

I will also have the opportunity to intern at The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The fellowship will start in September and I will be posting thoughts about the experience here. In the mean time before my departure I will be posting my reports for The Jakarta Post.

The fellowship is named after Elizabeth Neuffer, The Boston Globe reporter and winner of the 1998 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award. Neuffer who reported on human rights and social justice issues was killed on assignment in Iraq in 2003.

Elizabeth Neuffer - IWMF
Elizabeth Neuffer – IWMF

Giving a voice to the voiceless

Underwater world: Farid and Yunus dive between Kaledupa and Hoga islands near Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi.
Underwater world: Farid and Yunus dive between Kaledupa and Hoga islands near Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi.

Ahmad and Farid kept a travelogue on Zamrud-Khatulistiwa.com, shot more than 70 hours of video tapes and took 10,000 photographs. They plan to write seven books from their journey.

They have recently finished Indonesia: Mencintaimu Dengan Sederhana. (Indonesia: Loving you in a simple way). Farid authored a number of books about mangroves as well as Indonesia’s coral reef.

How did these two prepare for such a trip? The first thing they did was get a diving certificate, Farid said. Farid put his skills to the test in Raja Ampat, Papua; Togean in Sulawesi and many other places in Indonesia.

Farid and Yunus also learned how to protect themselves from malaria, mostly by skipping day naps.

“Because when you nap during the day, you become food for mosquitoes,” Farid said.

There were not so many difficulties in their journey, Farid and Yunus said. Farid added that Yunus’ cooking skills came in handy, as the latter would cook for families they stayed with. It was the perfect icebreaker.

“We wanted to feel like they were strangers. We didn’t want to be trapped into thinking that ‘oh they’re indigenous people’,” Yunus said. “We didn’t see the people we met on our travels as isolated. We saw them as a humans and we tried to integrate into their lives. We tried to be as honest as possible with who we were and everything,” he said. “That’s when people started opening up”.

For Yunus, who was trained at media organization Pantau and worked for Playboy magazine, the journey was a way to apply one of journalism’s core principles.

“I saw this as an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless. That motivated me to work more seriously. And for young journalists, this has to be one of the biggest challenges that can be taken on,” Yunus.

For Farid, the journey allowed him to witness first hand the sheer extent of exploitation in rural areas. He saw how important it was to be critical of public policy on foreign investment.

“Foreign investment doesn’t make sense if its benefits do not trickle down to locals,” he said.

Yes, the journey was a revelation for Farid, who said he discovered so much about the country through his travels.

“But even with this extra knowledge, there are still so many things I don’t know about.”

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Feature | Wed, March 16 2011