Picking Up the Pieces in Indonesia


The Salvation Army in Indonesia is flourishing, even though it is part of a religious minority in the most populous Muslim nation in the world. The constitution of Indonesia guarantees religious freedom to its citizens, and that has allowed respectful relations to exist between faiths in most of the country. This has not only allowed The Salvation Army to operate in its religious activities but to make an impact with its social ministry as well. Scattered across the islands, the Army operates hospitals, clinics, nurses’ training facilities, children’s homes, nursing homes and student hostels. By far, the most impressive work is in its 107 schools concentrated mostly in the central section of the island of Sulawesi. 

The operation of the schools is done against a background of grossly inadequate funding, needed improvements in teacher recruitment and training, and aging and sometimes crumbling buildings with furniture that is often better used as firewood than as places for young learners to sit. As if those obstacles were not enough, recent events have made the work even more difficult where the schools are most densely located—Central Sulawesi.

On September 28, 2018, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake centered in Central Sulawesi shook Indonesia. The quake also generated a tsunami of over 20 feet in height that swept across the densely populated region that includes Palu. That region is home to around 500,000 people. Landslides destroyed roads in the mountainous rural areas, while collapsed and washed-away buildings claimed over 2,200 dead. Another 10,000 were injured—4,612 seriously. Adding to the woes was the flood of refugees tallying over 200,000 from the 70,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed. The Salvation Army was among the first organizations to respond, even though, like the people it serves, it suffered fatalities and injuries and saw homes and facilities destroyed.

In addition to corps buildings damaged, a number of Salvation Army schools suffered damage, while others were leveled. Fortunately, because of the time of day when the disaster hit, the schools were unoccupied. Twenty schools were affected—nearly a quarter of the schools in the area. Almost half of those damaged were assessed as being totally unusable or destroyed and in need of replacement.


Before and after earthquake — from promise to devastation.


Despite the losses suffered, determined teachers and administrative staff scrambled to begin classes again. Some have done so under tarps that in the tropical sun see temperatures rise to unbearable levels. Benches and crude desks have been cobbled together, with students sharing the space even though they are in different grades with competing lessons being taught. School hours have been adjusted to try to ease some of the issues, but even with this, the education process has been hugely complicated.

The Salvation Army World Services Office (SAWSO) at USA National Headquarters had partnered with the Indonesia Territory to aid in upgrading their schools and educational system long before the recent earthquake and tsunami. Now, with the disaster damage, that partnership is even more valuable.

“We did a needs assessment recently that has clarified where we can come alongside and aid in the Army’s schools moving forward,” said Douglas Bell, SAWSO’s sr. technical advisor for Education. “We identified needs in improved facilities, long term solutions to the financial needs, community and parent involvement and teacher as well as administrative staff training. We’re helping them to improve the quality of education they offer and strengthen their capacity and resilience.” SAWSO advocates a strategic systems approach that gauges its success on student learning outcomes. Simply stated, our success hinges on the success of the students.

Historically, much of the teaching in large parts of the developing world is based on rote learning that entails massive amounts of memorization. What has been lacking is the development of critical thinking skills to employ knowledge in real-life situations. Focusing on the teacher’s skill as the primary means to make improvement, SAWSO has helped teachers to improve their practices, provide a more learning-enriched classroom environment and employ better curricula.

The Indonesia Literacy Foundation (YLAI), Sanata Dharma University, and the State University of Makassar have all partnered with The Salvation Army in Indonesia, and many useful resources have been provided through USAID. We are providing ongoing professional development and coaching for teachers and using tablet-based apps to track school quality.

teacher-classroom-students-Salvation Army

Teacher reviews children’s lesson plans at the Salvation Army primary school in Central Sulawesi.

For its part, even with various limitations, the Army has made a significant contribution to the life of Indonesia. The schools that have been a part of this are notably open to people of all faith backgrounds. Schools are largely self-sufficient, charging very small tuition so as to be affordable to the very poor. Many involved with the schools are rendering sacrificial service, with some teachers and staff receiving equivalent pay of less than US $10 a month. Even given the lower cost of living in Indonesia, this is below the poverty level. The spirit of service, the mammoth tasks being accomplished and the determination to do better are nothing short of inspiring.

We continue to pray for Indonesia’s long recovery following the earthquake and tsunami and thank God that the Army continues to aid not only the victims of the disaster but the youth as they develop into the leaders of tomorrow.

If you would like to know more or if you would like to contribute toward the mission of The Salvation Army in Indonesia, please contact SAWSO at www.sawso.org. Please include an additional note if you would like for your gift to assist with the educational needs of Indonesian students. Giving opportunities for other parts of the world are also possible.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.