The house was being built in Junrejo, on the outskirts of Batu (Malang, East Java). It was to accommodate children with autism, mental retardation and disabilities, and is a project by the Bakti Luhur Foundation (Blf), a non-profit organization run by a secular female organisation called Institut Sekula Alma.
The project had received all the necessary permits and building had started, but on June 19th last the work was stopped when the mayor of the city, Eddy Rumpoko, withdrew permission. The day before at least 1000 Muslims staged a protest accusing the institute and the building of being a "front" for a new wave of proselytizing. Sr Chatarina Sulasti, of Alma spoke to AsiaNews denying all charges of proselytism. "How is it possible? Our presence is to help children in need and let them regain a better quality of life. In treating our patients we do not make any preference, whatever their religion”. The nun expressed her “sorrow” over the halt in construction saying that her organization only serves people for humanitarian and charity reasons.
The protest was organized by the Islamic Brotherhood Community Forum (FKUI), and led by a group of Muslim leaders from the local An Nur mosque. The head of FKUI, Soenarso Basuki, said that their opposition arises from the fact that the BLF did not discuss the project with the local people. "In this way - he said - we have become suspicious that proselytizing was behind the construction, especially given that all permits were approved long ago, on August 19 2008." FKUI demands that in order for the project to go ahead, the project will have to employ local people and that there is a room especially for Muslim children with special needs. In recent weeks there have been meetings between representatives from BLF and FKUI, mediated by local authorities, but so far with no results.
Fr. Heru Susanto, the parish priest of Batu, reaffirms the goodwill of the project: "There is no other purpose - he told AsiaNews - if not that of loving help for children with special needs." The priest said that the consecrated from ALMA are well known for their commitment to charity, especially in the province of East Java. The ALMA secular institute was founded by a charismatic priest and now has 41 homes that receive at least 700 children with special needs.