ASIA/INDONESIA - Christians and Muslims will work together to care for “tsunami orphans”: running new Children’s Home in Aceh

Wednesday, 9 February 2005

Aceh (Fides Service) - In Indonesia a mission sent by the Youth Off the Streets Association based in Sydney, which provides assistance and education for abandoned children, has reached an agreement with one of the main Indonesian Muslim organisations Muhammadiya to build a Centre of Assistance for children at Banda Aceh Northern Sumatra, an area seriously damaged by the December 26 tsunami. A Youth Off the Streets mission led by Australian Salesian Father Chris Riley, arrived in Aceh on 7 January to offer assistance to the stricken people. The association was accused of proselytising and received threats from extremist Islamic groups which said the aim of the mission was to convert Muslim children to Christianity.
The threats coming from the radical group, Defenders Front highlighted objections raised by Islamic fundamentalists against people who had come with an authentic spirit of solidarity only to help tsunami victims and in particular to help save the new generations.
Speaking with Fides, Father Riley said he had not expected fundamentalists to react in this way because his organisation wanted only to help Indonesian children made orphans by the tsunami. “I must admit that I was not aware of the context in Aceh and the difficulties which might arise. But now I am happy to work with members of Muhammadiya on the programme to build an orphanage immediately”.
Father Riley said “all we want is to help in some way. This partnership will guarantee that the children maintain their own culture, religion and spirituality. With regard to the orphanage Youth Off the Streets will provide funds, medical personnel, building material and equipment. Local Muhammadiya volunteers will actually care for the children”.
Youth Off the Streets decided to help Indonesian children because of the great necessity. It is estimated that at least 35,000 children lost one or both parents in the disaster. The Youth off the Streets mission contacted local Muslim organisations in order to involve local personnel in the work of assistance in the region to avoid further trouble in the region of Aceh where the Jakarta government has a problem with secessionists.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 9/2/2005 righe 29 parole 298)