While studying law at the University of Indonesia, Ajeng Larasati attended an advocacy training session led by lawyers and legal activists from an emerging legal aid institute in Jakarta. She was impressed by their work. They were impressed by her enthusiasm and asked if she’d be interested to volunteer on an upcoming project.

That meeting was a few years ago. Today, Ajeng Larasati is an assistant manager at Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid Institute). As an assistant manager, she gives legal consultation, organzes advocacy networks between NGOs, and works extensively to empower communities to understand and stand up for their rights. The enthusiasm that led her to the institute continues to motivate her. In her words: “Many times, a simple thank you is more powerful than money.”

That unadorned faith in the power of human cooperation served as the inspiration for her JusticeMakers project. Through the Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code (Article 50-68), all accused persons have the right to know the charge, prepare a defense, and have legal representation. However, most people who are arrested are not aware of these rights. Consequentially, their rights are violated. Awareness, Larasati says, is not enough. “If you know you have rights, but don’t know how to claim them…it is not useful.”

Along wiith her colleagues LBH Masyarakat, Larasati has experience providing legal counseling for new pre-trial detainees at the Cipinang Detention Centre, but recognizes that it is difficult for any legal aid institute to be available for counseling at all times. For her project, Ajeng is doing what she does best: empowering the detainees to help themselves.

In the months to come, LBH Masyarakat will educate Tamping (convicted prisoners at the detention center who work at the offices as prison jobs) on the legal rights guaranteed to detainees by the Criminal Procedure Code. The Tamping, because they were once in the same position as those facing trial, understand the predicament of the unaware detainees. For the same reason, the detainees may be more receptive to their advice. Initially, LBH Masyarakat will aid in the consultation. But once the system becomes self-sustaining and LBH Masyarakat ensures that the Tamping are capable of explaining legal rights and assisting the detainees, LBH will reduce their involvement. The Tamping, once merely left to do office work, are now able to educate and empower the detainees to stand up for themselves and claim their rights as Indonesian citizens. Through the project, Indonesian prisoners help each other and help themselves, exchange knowledge, and share their common humanity. Because the project extends from Larasati to LBH to the Tamping to the detainees, most of the people the project helps will never meet the originator. But one day, should they meet her, a simple thank you will be enough.

To hear Ajeng Larasati discuss the project in her own words,view the video at the beginning of this post.

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