The spirit of tolerance in younger generations is fostered in Indonesia through various programmes. One of them is "Thousands of Children Wander to Return Home (Seribu Anak Bangsa Merantau Untuk Kembali)" hosted by Sabang-Merauke foundation, a non-governmental organisation.
During the summer of 2013, the foundation brought ten school children from different geographic, ethnic and religious backgrounds to meet in Jakarta from June 29th to July 14th.
"Most of them are junior high school students and came from nine different cities. They represented different ethnicities and religions," team committee member Furiyani Nur Amalia told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Learning difference, appreciating diversity
One of the participants was 13-year-old Manado student Tiffany Christi. "I am very happy to join the Sabang-Merauke programme," she told Khabar. "It taught me to help others and embrace tolerance in my community. In addition, I also learned about the importance of unity in Indonesia."
She lived with a devout Muslim family and "I was warmly received even though I'm Christian," she said. "During my stay with them, I was learning to accept the differences of our religious beliefs."
She hopes to share her experience with other school friends. "I hope in the future there will be more opportunities for students to experience the Sabang-Merauke programme. We need to understand the virtue of tolerance at early ages," she said.
Fahrul Rozy Najib, a 12-year-old Muslim participant from North Maluku, is a beneficiary of the programme. "I learned a lot from the 15-day meet and I want to inspire other students of my school about the many good things I picked up here," he said.
Fifteen-year-old Lusiman Senen, a Muslim student from South Halmahera, North Maluku, lived in Jakarta with a Catholic family of Chinese descent under the programme.
"I will not forget this experience. It taught me a lot of good things about diversity, which I experienced first- hand," he told Khabar.
Sabang-Merauke Project Director, Tidar Rachmadi, expects that after attending the programme, students will return to their homes and start a change.
"We expect the kids will do the right thing in the future," said Tidar. "It will be embedded in them and will spur them to become a better person. We expect the number of participants to grow every year."
Opening young minds
"Sabang-Merauke aims to open up the minds of Indonesian children as well as encourage them to celebrate differences regardless of our ethnicities, religions, and social status," Tidar said.
In Jakarta, participants were exposed to different types of technology, career guidelines, arts, and religious and cultural diversity. Students could visit city hall and meet with Deputy Governor of DKI Jakarta, Basuki Purnama Cahaya.
Basuki said tolerance is a pillar of government philosophy and that through programmes like Sabang-Merauke, change can start small but influence society at large. The deputy governor said he hoped similar grassroots programmes can be implemented to help more Indonesians stand against intolerance and radicalism.
The programme was established on October 28th, 2012 by three activists: Aichiro Suryo Prabowo, Dyah Ayu Dewi, and Kartika Widiastuti. The trio was influenced by their own experiences as exchange students abroad.
Aichiro said that the students' experiences would increase their tolerance.
"If they can treat foreigners well, why cannot we?" he said. "We can resolve conflicts caused by differences if we have an open mind and see diversity as an asset to our country."
Dyah witnessed many cases of intolerance as a volunteer teacher in a Muslim village in Halmahera in 2000. "I saw how conflict between Muslims and Christians in Ambon has had serious social consequences even until now," she told Khabar.
Intolerance as an obstacle
Social challenges are telling reasons for the programme's existence.
A 2012 Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) study found 15.1% of 1,200 respondents had trouble relating to people of different beliefs. A January 2013 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) study revealed 68.2% of 2,213 respondents opposed the building of places of worship in their neighbourhood by people of different faiths.
"The bottom line, we need to improve our tolerance and how we appreciate religious differences in our community," said Bayu Asmoro, a 25-year-old resident in Setiabudi, Central Jakarta.