17 years ago a religious conflict broke out in Ambon, a remote island in Eastern Indonesia, and the island quickly became divided along religious lines.
At that time Ronal Regan was nine years old and a commander of war, leading a group of dozens child soldiers.
But things look very different now. Ronal now works to unite the community through an initiative called, Red Home.
KBR Journalist, Dian Kurniati spoke with him.
“There was smoke everywhere, fire everywhere, and the Muslim call to prayers. Church hymns were also being sung. We could hear the sounds from the headlands, and see the smoke and flames.”
That’s 26-year-old Ronal Regan, recalling what happened to him when conflict broke out in his hometown of Ambon in 1999.
The conflict was sparked by a fight between two men, a driver and another man – but it quickly spiralled into a religious conflict between the Muslim and Christian communities.
Ronal and his mother fled to Manado in North Sulawesi, but on the way Ronal met his cousin, Boiky.
“My cousin Boiky asked me to join him, to fight, and I followed him. I didn’t know where else to go at that time.”
By the age of nine, Ronal was a soldier of war – making bombs to attack the enemy.
He was in charge of 23 child soldiers and felt no fear, he says, only hatred.
“I am deeply sorry. During that year, I became a team shooter, burner, and bomber. We killed so many people in one year. Not just one year but until 2004 when the war ended. We ate flesh and drank human blood. And until now I still remember the people I killed in front of my eyes.”
Ronal fought in the conflict for the next four years.
But his life changed when he met Pastor Jacky Manuputy in 2004.
Pastor Jacky, from the Moluccas Protestant Church (GPM), traveled to Ambon to meet children involved in the conflict.
He was looking for individuals to bring to an international gathering in the Philippines, a conference about children caught up in war.
Ronal recalls, “At that time I still carried arms. I saw this man and asked who is he? ‘I am Pastor Jacky Manuputy from GPM,’ he said. ‘I want to take you to be something better than today.’ This man was crazy but then he said, ‘Want to go abroad or not?’ I said Yes. ‘If you want to, could you tell your daily activities in Ambon and North Moluccas?’ I said yes I can.”
In the Philippines, Ronal met with children his own age from around the world.
And he told his story about what was going on in his hometwown.
“Back from the Philippines, I was included as a Young Ambassador for Peace, or YAP. There, I was reconciled with the little jihad, one of my enemies, in a forum. At first we met, we wanted to kill each other. In fact, what the Christians’ thought, that all Muslims are bad, is wrong. We thought that because we had never hung out with them.”
Once he returned home Ronal started to spread peace through the arts in both Christian and Muslim villages, trying to get both sides to connect.
But it wasn’t easy. Ronal, a Christian, had to hide when he visited Muslim villages.
“At their house, they brought in the high school students and I taught them how to dance. There were seven students at that time. When I got back to my village, I taught seven other children. In a street dance competition, I put them together and they were shocked.”
But his mission was success. Ronal’s Muslim friends wanted to visit the Christians villages and vice versa.
That same year, 2004, he founded the community of Red Home, a hub of creative energy.
“There are painters, hip hop artists, theatre, and musical poetry. And why is called Red Home? Because if we fight, it will only lead to war, blood and disaster,” says Ronal.
Initially, the community of Red Home was made up of about 20 people.
But 12 years later, almost all young people in Ambon are community members.