Classic and popular literature is filled with minnow vs. giant stories. We all love them, and importantly, we need them to shake us out of our apathy. You know those small acts of resistance or defiance that show us that sometimes things can change, and even if they don’t, it’s good to get out there as to prevent Martin Niemoller’s prophecy of haplessness when he disclosed that:

“First they came for the gypsies, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a gypsy. Then they came for the Bolsheviks, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Bolshevik. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.Then they came for the Catholics. I didn’t speak up then because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up.”

In Banda Aceh small acts of defiance are common—sometimes very public and sometimes well disguised. But when the Youth Inspiring Community decided to take on tobacco companies, their act of defiance was very public—they marched through the city promoting health messages and theatrically illustrating the adverse effects of smoking—an act not short of David vs. Goliath proportions.

There are almost 60 million smokers in Indonesia. Tobacco companies advertising is as aggressive and slick as any sophisticated media message anywhere, selling a lifestyle without ever mentioning the product that kills 200,000 Indonesian every year. Moreover, statistics reveal that 25 per cent of all Indonesian children aged between three and 15 have tried cigarettes – with 3.2 per cent of those active smokers. Yes, three years old, folks! It was Sumatra after all that gave the world the shocking images of Ardi, the chain-smoking toddler who could puff his way through 40 fags a day from the tender age of two.

But it’s not just tobacco that is in the sight of this bunch of fun-loving young folks, they want their opinion heard on matters of global warming, HIV/AIDS, sexual health and all other concerns that hinder the kind of community they want to create and live in. Primarily, they want to be heard and dismantle the barriers that prevent youth leadership and trust.

The Youth Inspiring Community (YIC) is an informal sub-group under the umbrella of a local consortium (ConVis Aceh) aimed at strengthening the capacity of Acehnese people to face up to the challenges brought by natural disasters and three decades of internal conflict. They aspire to be agents of change acknowledging that they must fish in their own pond first. How refreshing, given their age and the propensity to be told what to do most of the time.

Acut, 20 years old medical student, says that a person that inspires is a doer and ‘doing’ means decreasing egoism, sharing knowledge, stimulating people to learn in a creative and fun way. For Rachmat change begins with one self, bringing bad habits under the spotlight and looking at different options conducive to healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles. The changes that Wahyu and Al have noticed pertain to their ability to speak in public, air their opinions and share their knowledge and experiences with their peers.

YIC is as informal as young people need to be. They meet regularly, have an open membership and elect office bearers according to levels of trust. Within their activities they conduct English classes, digital printing, theatre, traditional Acehnese dancing, group facilitation and health education
in schools. All of it totally unfunded.

To string a few Rupiah together they perform for small donations what they call ‘Kopi to Kopi theatre’, that is, short theatrical skits performed to the patrons of the hundreds of coffee bars that line the streets of Banda Aceh. Their optimism is inspiring because what they want is simple and attainable—live peacefully in a green environment, sharing resources, and respect for youth potential.

Not a huge ask, really!

Special thanks to Rini for organising our meeting and translating the conversations.

Fotos: YIC in Simpang Lima; Banda Aceh ’11