Literature Review

This literature review serves to contextualize the analysis with existing literature. We put the analyzed data into context by presenting first, the literature review on the overview of the post-reconstruction processes in Aceh from the point of view of mental health, and second, the role of people’s religious interpretation toward traumatic events and how they recover and mitigate the effects of disaster. This section helps establish a framework within which to present and analyze the findings.

Post Reconstruction Processes in Aceh: From the Point of View of Mental Health Experts

We present literature on post reconstruction processes in Aceh from the point of view of mental health experts. Some scholars argue for the importance of cultural awareness and respect for religious beliefs of beneficiaries of mental health interventions. Previous research has shown, however, that some programs fail to acknowledge local communities’ existing knowledge and resources. We begin with an overview of Aceh, its religion, culture and history, to put our findings into context. We then introduce some of the mental health programs conducted in Aceh following the tsunami and discuss the degree to which they met the needs of the people. Finally, we provide literature on the importance of acknowledging the community’s culture and belief system in delivering mental health programs.

The tsunami in Aceh is one example of a plethora of aid groups coming from all over the world to help what were primarily Muslim communities, with the majority coming from different social, cultural and religious and non-religious perspectives. In response to the Aceh 2004 tsunami, at least 35 countries were involved in recovery and reconstruction (Afif 2014). These countries were acknowledged by the

Government of Aceh at the 10 year commemoration of the Aceh tsunami in 2014, more countries were involved than expected. Masyarafah and McKeon (2008) claimed that there were 463 organizations working in Aceh after the tsunami, 435 of them were NGOs, 27 donors, and one Indonesian government agency - the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Bureau (BRR), which led and managed the work of the aid groups. Of the 435 NGOs, 75 % were international bodies (ibid). From the list of 35 countries above, more than half of those were from developed countries. These people came from different cultural backgrounds from the people they helped. The outsiders came with a high level of expertise but failed to consider the local context. Pelupessy and Brethorn (2015), who conducted a study on the impact of the psychosocial support programs conducted by the International aid groups 5 years after the tsunami, found that some programs failed to acknowledge the local communities’ existing knowledge and resources in the recovery programs they had conducted. One such aspect was the Islamic religious beliefs of the Acehnese. Several examples bear this out, including giving measures and gifts to the victims that are considered offensive in Islam, or physical activities that involved non-related men and women coming into physical contact with one another (ibid). As a consequence, the program faced problems with engaging the communities (ibid). Only a small number of victims attended the individual and group counseling programs that were offered.

Aceh’s population is comprised of more than 98 % Muslims and is the only province in Indonesia where Islamic Law is the official law of the land. Thus, for the Acehnese, Islam is considered the principal lens through which the world is understood. To the Acehnese, Islam is beyond what is conventionally attributed to as a religion, and reflects a way of life grounded in a well-developed philosophical and metaphysical worldview. It was expected that the reconstruction and recovery projects in Aceh considered the culture and the beliefs of the Acehnese. Some previous studies have shown that religion and wellbeing are related, and in a post-disaster situation, beneficiaries manage their feelings and the focus of coping in the context of religion is a way people attempt to maintain their wellbeing in the face of adversity (Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle 1997; Graham et al. 2001; Kennedy et al. 1998 as cited in Safdar et al. 2009). When people face destruction and loss, many of them turn to religion and look for support from the divine power or the religious community, but many post-disaster mental health support programs neglect the role of religion (Von Vocano and Schwarz 2014). Right after the disaster, survivors try to understand the situation. People continue to make sense of the disaster by assessing their situation then they make adjustments from their earlier interpretations. They use resources found within them and the communities. The survivor’s cultural background and religious beliefs shape their interpretations towards the disaster and in finding the most suitable recovery approach.

Did the relief agencies put these as consideration? If the responses become like a pill, as prescribed by a doctor for a pre-existing disease without seeing the history of the patient neglected, then the mental health support program does not meet the needs of the people (Von Vocano and Schwarz 2014). What they considered important is not addressed in the program, what they think should not be done however, is introduced in the program. The program becomes a waste. It is important to understand the beneficiaries, their needs and best ways to cope and heal with local and religious values, so then the program will be effective, efficient and meet the needs.

When aid is delivered to an affected community, it is important to acknowledge the community’s culture and belief system. During and after a disaster, people attempt to make sense of the events and try to understand how the world works. Their religious beliefs and practices often guide them in the process of understanding a problem, relating the causality of the problem, and finding solutions to the problem (Pargament et al. 1988). The people’s social and cultural backgrounds govern their interpretation of the event, its catastrophic effect and their hopes for the future. Gaillard et al. (2008) explained that people’s behavior in the face of natural disasters is strongly influenced by the context of cultural, social, economic and political. This is in correspondence with Wisner (2004), who pointed out that people’s behavior in the face of natural hazards is mostly dependent on the environment from which they originate. Their social, cultural, economic and political circumstances affect the way they behave.

Psychologists and trained paraprofessionals who deliver mental health programs need to have cultural awareness and respect and understand the religious beliefs of the people they aim to assist. Support services provided for victims should take into consideration the victims’ interpretation of what has happened, is happening and will happen so that the support will match the needs of the people. The imperative of incorporating local knowledge and scientific knowledge in disaster reduction is increasingly recognized (Mitchell 2006). Mercer et al. (2010) presented a framework in which relevant indigenous and scientific knowledge could be integrated within disaster risk reduction. Local knowledge is a valuable resource which can facilitate disaster recovery in an efficient, participatory and sustainable way (Howell 2003). We must assess the knowledge carefully to ensure the proper implementation and effectiveness in dealing with disaster risk (Tibby et al. 2008). Such knowledge is a reservoir of available assets that can be used to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, cope with and adapt to disaster risks (Warner and Engel 2014). Scientific knowledge can no longer be seen as superior knowledge compares to local culture, or vice versa, these two fields of knowledge need to be gathered to provide continuous assessment and solutions for disaster risk (Gaillard and Mercer 2012).

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