woensdag, augustus 31, 2022

‘As long as you remain hopeful, life finds a new task for you'

Wilhelmina Johanna ter Kulve-van Os (Semarang, 2 maart 1927 - Wassenaar, 4 juli 2022)

On July 8, 2022, friends and family paid their respects to Wilhelmina Johanna ter Kulve-van Os, also known as Joty or Ibu Joty, during a well-attended memorial service in the Kievietkerk in Wassenaar in the Netherlands.

Pastor Jilles de Klerk described her in his sermon as a striking, colorful, intelligent, and passionate person; as an impressive and compelling woman with a mission. Her son Peter and her daughter Elisabeth testified to this in their speeches. The grandchildren contributed by sharing memories of their sweet and one-of-a-kind grandmother.

As the daughter of a Dutch father and an East-Indian mother, Joty enjoyed a carefree childhood in the beautiful villa that her entrepreneur father had built in Linggajati, a mountain village at the foot of the Ciremai volcano (photo below left: Joty, left, and her family). The family was part of the Dutch community in the Dutch East Indies, as it was called then, until Joty’s father suddenly passed away. She was 7 at the time. With her father gone, Joty and her siblings were now seen as the children of an East-Indian mother. Consequently, the family was excluded from the Dutch community. Joty experienced being discriminated against.

When Japan invaded the country, the family was considered Dutch again. Joty spent her teenage years in three Japanese camps in West Java. Every 15 August, the end of the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies is commemorated at the Indies monument in The Hague in the Netherlands. Leading up to the one in 2009, Joty put in writing what went on inside her: 'My thoughts go back to Bogor. We had reached our second concentration camp, which was located high up in the mountains. It consisted of open barracks, where the wind blew through and the rats tried to settle on your stomach at night. It was a death camp and in a death camp, burial is a routine, also for a young girl of 15, who had to roll and bury dead women and children in a wicker basket.'

'There were no trauma teams or psychologists back then', she writes. 'Each day was a struggle for survival. What happens to the soul of a teenage girl when burial becomes routine? What happens to those children in similar circumstances all over the world? You experience a sense of despair, of terror, but if you are in a dire situation long enough, you start to go numb. This is a form of self-protection.'

She continues: 'At 78, when my husband, with whom I had been married for 40 years died, I first experienced those deep feelings that the loss of a loved one normally evokes in a child. I shed tears—tears I had not shed since burying the dead in the death camp in Bogor. Due to my husband’s death, I could finally leave that painful period in the camps behind me. The healing process, which had begun much earlier in my life, was coming to a full circle.'  

Joty's search for healing for herself and certainly also for others can be seen as the central theme in her life. In 1947, she decided to move to the Netherlands to study East Indian law (photo right below: Joty, age 19, on the ship taking her to the Netherlands). She paid for her travels by working on the ship and for her studies, she received an interest-free advance from the Ministry of Education. After her studies, she went to Paris to work as an au pair for a family that was involved with the work of Moral Re-Armament, now Initiatives of Change. The movement gave Joty an answer to many of the questions that she carried with her after three years spent in concentration camps. She gained hope that the downward spiral of mistrust and abuse of power that leads to conflict and war could be broken. 'I was 24 and I wanted to believe that. It  meant hope and confidence in a new future', said Joty in an interview for my book Reaching for a new world. 

Joty then spent two weeks in Caux, Switzerland, where an international conference center for Moral Re-Armament had been set up in a rundown hotel, bought by Swiss in 1946 and prepared for use by hundreds of volunteers from all over Europe. In Caux, she met people from all walks of life, who spoke freely about their personal lives. She discovered that others too had lived through sad and painful experiences and learned that honesty was liberating.

Moral Re-Armament became her new family for the next nine years, as her son Peter put it in his speech. During this period, the movement produced many theater plays, musicals, and films. With her typical enthusiasm, Joty worked on these productions with young people from all over the world and sometimes took the stage herself, stealing the show with her engaging personality and cheerful appearance.

However, at the end of those nine years, the lack of privacy and the pressure from the group, and the ideology became too much. A distance grew between her and the movement and eventually she was asked to leave. Joty too thought it was time for a new phase in her life. Nevertheless, she looks back on those years with great gratitude, or in her own words: 'It was a life lesson to remember. And the friendships forged during this period have survived the years.' It is telling is that she named her son after two important leaders of the movement at the time, Peter (Howard) and Frank (Buchman).

Back in the Netherlands, Joty settled in Ambt Delden, where she began working as a board secretary for a major corporation. Here she met her husband, Henk ter Kulve, an entrepreneur like her father, whose family she embraced completely. Even though she no longer worked fulltime for Moral Re-Armament, she remained true to the ideals of reconciliation between people. According to her daughter, Joty dedicated her life to helping others and built many remarkable friendships over the years. Her memories of the war were valuable and Dutch newspapers eagerly sought her out for interviews about the war and her response to it.

The fire of her activism did not diminish as she grew older. At 75 she found a new instrument for her activism, thanks to an important discovery by her brother Willem. During a trip through Indonesia in 2002, he discovered that their childhood home had been turned into a museum, commemorating the discussions for the Linggajati Agreement, which were held in their childhood home in November 1946. Even though the Agreement was never formally implemented, Indonesia still rightly recognizes the importance of this historical moment as, for the first time, the Netherlands and the Republic of Indonesia negotiated on the basis of equality. Willem and Joty then decided to found Vrienden van Linggajati (Friends of Linggajati), to support this museum. Vrienden van Linggajati is now part of the Indonesia Nederland Society (INS), a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands.

This led to new insights for Joty. She started asking herself questions. She realized that the Dutch story was not the whole story. She decided to embrace her Indonesian roots and began listening to the Indonesians' stories. She now understood what an incredible turning point Linggajati had been as it was a de facto recognition of the Republic of Indonesia and the beginning of the decolonization process. Over the past two decades, Joty has devoted herself wholeheartedly to improving the relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia. She was proud of the homeland of her mother, which is a member of the G20 and plays a leading role in Asia. She believed that the Netherlands should acknowledge Indonesia’s global success more often.

After her husband’s death, Joty’s children persuaded her to move to Wassenaar, where she could be closer to them, to her old and new friends, and to the Indonesian embassy. Joty complied and lived for another fantastic 13 years in Wassenaar, according to her son Peter. Her children remember her as a mother who instilled in them a strong moral compass. Peter: 'You were always encouraging us to reflect on our choices. What are you doing with your talents? Are you helping others or are you only taking care of yourself? It sounds as if you were stern, but you also laughed a lot, especially at yourself.'

Joty sought healing, for herself and for others. As Jilles de Klerk put it: 'She knew that wounds could be healed. And so, driven by insight and inspired by faith, she served those who have been wounded.'  

In the contemplation leading up to the 15 August commemoration, she ends: 'The whole Universe extends healing to us, if we want to receive it and if we seek it. Death and life are two sides of the same coin. We gain this perspective, only when we see and experience that after every winter, after every tsunami, life always triumphs from the ruins of death. When we realize that, no one can deprive us of hope. And as long as you remain hopeful, life finds a new task for you.' 

By Hennie de Pous-de Jonge.
Translated by Shereen Siwpersad.