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September 23 2008

Indonesia’s "Rainbow" Transforms Children’s Lives

 
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JAKARTA (UCAN) -- Dani Windiya, a 13-year-old Muslim from a working-class family, says he is glad he joined a Catholic-initiated interreligious movement because it has helped him "understand the meaning of friendship."
 
Now he knows that friendship means accepting and respecting differences, such as in religion and ethnicity. "This is the reason why I remain a member of the movement," he said when UCA News spoke with him on Sept. 14.
 
The third-year student at Junior High School 140 in Sunter, North Jakarta, recalled that he joined Negeri Pelangi (country of the rainbow) eight years ago after some members told him he could "get to know others without regard for their background."
 
The broad friendships he has developed are "the reason why I remain a member of the movement," he added.
 
Dani said the movement also encourages him to care about people in need, such as "giving a book and a pen to a classmate." In particular he remembers going with other Negeri Pelangi members to visit a home for elderly people and a home for street children during the Christmas season two years ago. "It was the most impressive experience I ever had," the youth said.
 
Dani's father is a construction worker and his mother sells fruit on the street. He is the fifth of the family's six children.
 
The teenager credits Negeri Pelangi with changing his daily habits. "I was a naughty and lazy boy. But now I study diligently and help my parents do the housework," he said. Having learned to be mindful of the environment through the movement, he continued, "now I always throw garbage in trash bins."
 
Another member, Mina Marlina, 12, claimed similar benefits from participating in the movement. "I can accept religious differences although I come from a Muslim family," she said.
 
Like Dani, she acknowledged the movement's influence in encouraging her to study diligently, visit friends and pick up rubbish in her school's compound and neighborhood. Mina is a fifth-grader at state-run Elementary School 010, also in Sunter.
 
Dani and Mina were among 400 Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims and Protestants aged 7-18 who attended Negeri Pelangi's first national gathering on Aug. 31.
 
Country of the Rainbow is a worldwide movement of children and young people that originated in the Community of Sant'Egidio, an international Catholic lay community based in Rome.
 
"You are My Friends" was the theme of the Indonesian national gathering held in the compound of St. Luke the Apostle Elementary School in Sunter.
 
The Sant'Egidio community in Jakarta organized the program, which drew participants from Sant'Egidio communities in Bandung, Jakarta, Semarang and Yogyakarta on Java, the most populous Indonesian island, as well as from Denpasar and Tanjungkarang dioceses on neighboring islands.
 
During the program, the youngsters all wore white clothes and blue hats, and each brought a handkerchief that was white, red, yellow, green or blue. White symbolizes a clean world, red refers to friendship and solidarity, and yellow represents the sun that unites all people. Green depicts the grass where the youngsters play, and blue symbolizes the night, which should not scare them anymore.
 
They sang and danced together, and also watched a 30-minute play about friendship. At the end of the program, they read out the Indonesian version of the movement's charter expressing their desire to change the world and create peace.
 
Eveline Winarko, coordinator of the Jakarta community, told UCA News during the program, "The Negeri Pelangi movement aims to teach children and teenagers to respect differences, develop solidarity, love the earth and promote the spirit of friendship."
 
It started in Indonesia in 1994 and now has 500 members from 15 Sant'Egidio communities across the country.
 
In Jakarta, Winarko said, the movement arranges various activities such as visits to homes for elderly people and for disabled children, and meetings with street children, as well as gatherings for its members.
It also suggests every member save a little money for a foundation for disabled children. Last year the movement sent used clothes to Aceh in western Indonesia, which bore the brunt of the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami.
 
According to the website of the Sant'Egidio community, the Country of the Rainbow movement has about 10,000 members around the world.


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