Reflections on Muncar

Reflections on Muncar – First Report by. Huw Hutchison

Experiences – Though likely the most challenging place I have ever visited in Indonesia, Muncar was also one of the most fascinating. Its challenges are profound, and its inhabitants often seem to feel powerless in the face of many of these issues, but through groups like Satuhati it is clear to me that change is on its way.

Perhaps the most indelible impression left by Muncar after our short visit was the unmistakable smell. The factories, producing all manner of fish products, leave many unenviable by-products. But it is their smell; nauseous, pungent and unmistakably fishy, which was the most memorable and unsettling. But the extent of Muncar’s environmental challenges did not end with the factories, as we may have initially though. Indeed, it became apparent to us after several days in Muncar that domestic waste produced by the community itself was an equally problematic issue for the ongoing health and sustainability of the local people. In a way, it felt perverse that the very same people who were deeply concerned with the effects of factory pollutants seemed willfully oblivious to the impact of their own personal actions.

Of course, their position was understandable. Many felt powerless to make change themselves, often claiming to be ‘small people’ facing adversity brought upon them by powers beyond their control. To some extent, this was true. Government failed to enforce existing environmental regulations, nor provide adequate domestic waste facilities. The community had tried to lobby for both measures on multiple occasions, but had seen only incremental improvements. And all of this occurred before a backdrop of underdeveloped democracy, with people largely unaware of their rights and obligations as democratic citizens, or the best ways for them to access to power.

Of course, the problems at hand were far more complicated that a simple breakdown in government function. Our meeting with Tomas, the informal community leaders of Muncar, revealed the deep divisions that exist within the community about the need for change and its potential impact on the livelihoods of the region’s inhabitants.

Whether any one course of action might solve this complex and interrelated set of problems remains to be seen. More likely, it seems, is a gradual process of lobbying, community organizing and behavioural change. Together, it is my hope that these efforts can yield meaningful results. The question now is whether these changes might occur in time for the people of Muncar, not just to survive, but to flourish.

Personal Learning and Transformation – By nature of its challenge, our time in Muncar was also very rewarding on a personal level. It was an intense period of cultural learning for me, and one in which I came to better understand the Indonesian way of life and the myriad challenges involved with development work. It was also the most confronting aspect of the trip in terms of the situation that we had been invited to critically examine. On occasion, people were wont to make a direct appeal to us to provide answers to their problems, though we were unable to offer more than an offer to do our best in undertaking our observation.

Perhaps most crucially, I learnt that these solutions were so intimately related to the community in Muncar that there is no way for it to be solved other than by this same community. The question now is how the community might go about taking the first steps on the journey towards financial and environmental security. I hope to take this lesson back to my own community, and consider whether we choose to ignore those issues that prove too difficult to solve or consider with any simple analysis.

I must also recognize the very skillful way in which we were guided through the problems. Each community meeting felt purposeful, and at the end of each day I felt as if my understanding of the problem had been considerably deepened. By the end of our stay I felt as if we had a strong grasp on the nature of the problems and the community that faced them. I think that this is testament to the work of Satuhati and Satunama in putting together this program, and an auspicious sign for the community of Muncar going forwards.

The University of Melbourne & Australian Volunteers International
Reflections on Muncar
First Report
by. Huw Hutchison
Community Volunteering for Change – Global

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