In the Indonesian city of Jember, increased recruitment efforts by extremist groups are a cause for concern for community stakeholders, security forces, and parents alike. Working to reduce the threat of violent extremism through community-based strategies, Women without Borders (WwB) introduced the MotherSchools programme to the village of Ledokombo in 2014. The programme galvanized great community engagement, inspiring a march for peace that attracted over 1400 members of the community, and paved the way for the expansion of the project to Jakarta, the city of Jember, and the village of Sumbersalak. The second round of MotherSchools also won this WwB Parenting for Peace programme support from national religious organisations and the Indonesian police force.

Jember, East Java, is an Indonesian city with a diverse population of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. While the city and its surrounding area have not attracted a significant number of terror attacks or acts of violent extremism, radicalisation has been steadily on the rise in recent years. Jember’s youth represents a key target for extremist recruiters in Indonesia, and they often focus their efforts on schools and universities. Apparently institutions, including some pesantrens, have been infiltrated and now act as routes into extremism by perpetuating a narrow curriculum that breeds intolerance and fundamentalism. Education, which typically is geared towards promoting open-mindedness and critical-thinking, is being misappropriated to lure teenagers and young adults into radical groups. Against this background, civil society organisations began to recognise the need for young people to discuss violent extremism in other contexts, particularly in the family, so that the indoctrination that may be occurring in the educational institutions they attend can be counteracted.

Addressing the need for community-led efforts in Indonesia and viewing open communication between parents and their children as a key to tackling extremism in vulnerable areas, Women without Borders (WwB) launched the MotherSchools Model in Ledokombo, a village just outside the city of Jember. The MotherSchools was organised with the support of WwB’s local implementing partner organisation Tanoker Ledokombo and academic and community activist Farha Abdul Assegaf, who was instrumental in identifying participants for the programme and in adapting WwB’s MotherSchools Manual to the local context. At the end of the programme, the graduation ceremony was attended not only by the mothers and their immediate circles, but also by over 1400 members of the Ledokombo community and the surrounding village who organised a peace march in support of the MotherSchools movement.

Encouraged by this show of community support, Women without Borders set out to grow its Parenting for Peace activities in Indonesia. This expansion began with network building within new communities in East Java. One key target of this effort was the ex-migrant community, a section of the population made up mainly of Indonesian women who have worked abroad and returned home, often having suffered physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their employers. Former migrant workers and their families face particular difficulties when reintegrating into the community and WwB recognised the importance of to including this group in efforts to promote local-level cohesion and community-based security strategies.

In preparation for the roll-out of the MotherSchools in more locations, WwB conducted several Train-the-Trainer workshops in Jember and the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The workshops in Jember engaged twenty additional community leaders and trained them to become MotherSchools teachers. This included members of the women’s branches of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, the two largest Islamic organisations in the country and two female police officers, making it a first in MotherSchools history.

The Train-the-Trainer workshop in Jakarta brought together community leaders from across the country. Some 18 members of Muhammadiyah from 17 Indonesian provinces travelled to Jakarta for the workshop to learn about the MotherSchools Model and how it can be implemented in their communities. Establishing a good working relationship with the women’s branches of both Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, which have respective memberships of 29 million and 40 million, provides Women without Borders with the necessary access and local resources to establish MotherSchools in all 34 of Indonesia’s provinces. WwB was also able to establish strategic partnerships with the National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT) and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Women’s Empowerment while working in Indonesia.

Following the Train-the-Trainer workshops, MotherSchools groups were established in Jember, Jakarta, and the villages of Ledokombo and Sumbersalak. Four standby groups have also been established in other provinces with a total of 160 mothers having expressed interest in taking part.

The roll-out of the MotherSchools Model in Indonesia included a new inclusion in the MotherSchools Model: Teambuilding. The concept of Teambuilding was developed by WwB’s Senior Research Fellow Dr. Ulrich Kropiunigg, and it is designed to formally engage local community stakeholders in the Parenting for Peace vision through team-building exercises and education on topics such as motivation and goal setting. In Indonesia, the Teambuilding workshop was held in Ledokombo and brought together male and female social workers, teachers, school principals, and members of law enforcement from local villages.

The lack of communication between members of the community and community leaders such as school principals and teachers became evident at the Teambuilding workshop, with some parents visibly holding back from expressing their opinion. However, using communication strategies from the MotherSchools Model, participants established clear channels of communication and were able to agree on a common goal: working with children to promote peace by developing better listening skills and encouraging critical thinking.

After the extensive period of training and preparation, Women without Borders and its local partner organisation Tanoker launched the second round of MotherSchools with a festive opening ceremony. The Chief of Jember City Police attended as the guest of honour and was accompanied by a large entourage of police officers in an encouraging show of support for the MotherSchools mission. A music and dance performance by the children of migrant and ex-migrant workers was followed by a panel discussion with the Chief of Police and representatives from Tanoker and WwB. With an audience of over 150, the discussion led to a lively question and answer session which a number of community members used to challenge the Police directly on their strategies for combating radicalisation and terror.

MotherSchools Indonesia is a prime example of the potential of community-based strategies to prevent violent extremism (PVE) by motivating and mobilising entire communities to work towards a common goal. It is considered a good practice version of the MotherSchools Model and lessons from the project have been incorporated into other projects that aim to develop embedded community prevention networks.

The first MotherSchools Indonesia and MotherSchools Kashmir were featured in the ORF Documentary, ‘Mothers Fighting Jihad’, which has aired in Austria, Germany, and 14 other countries.

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