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Reflections from Outgoing Asia Regional Director, Brian Hanley: 5 years in Asia with SFCG

March 5, 2012

Brian Hanley (left) with Ali Saleem, SFCG Pakistan’s Country Director

Brian Hanley has worked with SFCG in Jakarta since 2007. He started as our Country Director in Indonesia and eventually became the Asia Regional Director. February was Brian’s last month with SFCG as he accepted a new post as a Senior Democracy and Governance Field Advisor for USAID. Brian generously dedicated a few minutes out of his busy schedule to reflect on his years with SFCG and his hopes for the future of our work in Asia, especially Indonesia.

SFCG: Indonesia is a complex, complicated, and huge country that is spread across many islands, languages, ethnicities, and religions. What is SFCG’s focus in Indonesia and why? Please discuss what we do, why we do it, and toward what aim.

BH: “In 2002, when we started our work in Indonesia, the country was falling apart. Aceh had been in conflict for 20 years and Timor Leste had just been granted independence.

SFCG identified that intolerance was driving violence and we were well poised to engage in grassroots peacebuilding. However, the donor community was less interested in funding work in Indonesia now that it was not a hot-bed of conflict. When I arrived we shifted our geographic focus back to Java and our thematic focus back to our roots: supporting pluralism and developing tolerance.

Our strategy is to support mainstream Islamic groups and moderates. Indonesia is a moderate and mainstream place – we want that to be known. However, Indonesia is such a vast place that we have had to pick very careful targets. Thus far our work has focused in pesantrens [Islamic boarding schools], parliament, and prisons – the three ‘P’s!

We’ve changed our approach toward working with government. We used to work with the media and civil society in parallel to the government, now we directly engage with government institutions, like with our work in prisons and with women parliamentarians.

A Tim-Bui ('Prison Team') promotional poster

Our work in prisons includes training for both prisoners and prison officers. The Team (‘Tim Bui) looks at the ethnic divides that exist in

prisons, which is really a metaphor for the entire country.

Our tolerance-infused comic books were intended to take another approach toward religions tolerance and de-radicalization and they are

Students at Al-Khairat pesantren with SFCG tolerance-infused comic books

supported by radio programs, debate competitions, and other outreach activities in pesantrens.”

SFCG: As you and your family prepare to leave, what do you think you will miss most about living in Jakarta?

BH: “The people are so darn nice. As we see around the world, the government and the military don’t always represent us well. This is the case with Indonesia. As I have gotten to know the country I have fallen in love with it. I am married to an Indonesian woman and have an Indonesian daughter.

And of course I will miss the food!”

SFCG: What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about Indonesia?

A poster that Brian Hanley frequently sees in Indonesia that he feels is indicative of the world's misconceptions about the country.

BH: “The most troubling misconception is the security threat. The US and Australian embassies are always warning people about how dangerous this country is. One sign for tourists comes to mind. You see it all over Indonesia. It has a map of Indonesia that says “Travel Warning: Indonesia – Dangerously Beautiful”.

Indonesia needs to burnish its perception as a dangerous radical place. There is a fear of the Muslim male “other”. Programs like SFCG’s Partners in Humanity Program and the Common Ground News Service are working to break through that.

As a final point, I am really grateful to Search for the opportunity to move to Indonesia and do this work. I hope that SFCG and

our supporters continue to gain an appreciation for Indonesia, and Asia in general. I see a bright future for Search for Common Ground’s work here.

Thank you to Brian for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. You will be missed by all of the SFCG community. We wish Brian and his family a safe journey and every success with this new and exciting position.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Desmond Breau permalink
    September 18, 2012 6:01 am

    We are IndoExcursions, a new travel provider in Indonesia, with services geared to westerners.

    We would like to know if we are free to reproduce your “travel warning” image on our printed materials, t-shirts, etc.

    I look forward to hearing back.
    Thanks for all you are doing.

    Desmond Breau.
    Programme Coordinator

    [email protected]

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