“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
I have been living in Cisarua, West Java for the last two months and volunteered at Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre as teaching assistant. I had such an amazing time there and the experience I had was tremendous and it truly is unforgettable.
Indonesian people are not really familiar with the refugee issue. There are even some misconceptions about refugees. One of my friends did not even know that there are International refugees living in Indonesia. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.
Indonesia has not ratified the Convention relating to the Status of Refugee, therefore Indonesia is not responsible for providing the basic needs of Refugees living here. Refugees in Indonesia are not entitled to social security, access to education, and employment. That is why it makes it so hard for them living here. The protracted waiting time also makes it even harder. Because one usually needs to wait for 3 years or so to finally be resettled to the third country. There are an estimated 14.000 refugees living in Indonesia and some of them are children. In their growing age, this situation does affect their development. Can you imagine if you are stuck in Limbo and have to wait for years without education? That is one of the problems that these refugee family face. They are worried about their children education.
“On 2014, a small group decided to start a school, The Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre. Unbelievably, through the school, the refugees found they were having the best days of their lives. Instead of sleeping all day, they got up early to go to class and to prepare lessons. Parents made lunches and delivered their kids to school, proud that they were able to provide an education for their children. They even started a school football tournament, and the female teachers played football for the first time in their lives.”
CRLC is the first school that is established and managed by refugees and now there are 100 refugee children enrolled there. This school has lifted the burden of the parents who were worried about their children education. This school is a symbol of hope, trust, and resilience. It gives these children a sense of hope. I first found out about this school on Facebook and I did some research about it and I was amazed by what the power of community can accomplish, and in this case, it has accomplished something great.
It was my first day in Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre and I could not be happier to start my day. I was welcomed by heartwarming smile upon these children’s faces. They greeted me and asked my name, where I’m from and such things. One of them can even speak Bahasa and Sundanese very well, which is pretty impressive knowing that she’s only been here for a while and I can’t even speak Sundanese. She said that she’s learned that from her neighbors. They always start the day with morning exercise and every Monday there is a ‘Question of the Day’ where one of the Prefects asked a question and then she or he will pick some students to answer the question, and every Thursday, one of the students will stand in front of everyone to deliver a speech. Every morning, the female teachers would kiss me on the cheeks three times and hug me tightly.
On my first day, I was just there to observe. I was observing the interaction between the teacher and children, how they behave with their friends, and the activities they do at school.
Day by day, I have seen a great amount of respect these children have for their teachers and their eagerness to learn and the positive attitude they’ve shown. I have no words to describe this environment, it is just so positive. They appreciate each other, give words of encouragement to one another, behave well with everyone. They are just a bundle of joy. They are also very critical as in they are not afraid to question what they know. One time, the students asked me why is the sky blue? For most of you, it might seem a very simple question but it shows me how curious they are about the things around them. They begin to question small things. They are so eager to know and learn more. One of the students once came up to me and asked me what’s the meaning behind my name. Thank God, I have made a small research about my name in the past so I could easily answer her question haha! I told her that the name Erika is originally from Scandinavia and it means “Always Ruler”. It also is a name of a flower.
I talked with some of the students and I also observed and I can tell that they are very curious and eager to learn something. They told me that they love going to school and study and play with friends. In this school, they do not only learn about subtraction or how the plants grow, or how many continents are there but they learn so much more than any books could teach. They learn about how to respect people, how to shape their future, to value friendship, and to believe in the beauty of their dreams. They have such great sense of higher purpose. One of the students told me that she wants to become a policewoman because she wants to save her home country, Afghanistan. She wants to find all the terrorists so everyone will live in peace without fear.
Not only the children but the teachers here are also wonderful. I am truly inspired by the great work that the teachers put in giving the best education for the children. They truly are heroes with no capes. They work tirelessly and voluntarily. They do not receive any payment yet they give the best they have for the children.
I also had the experience to visit the families and I got to talk with them. They welcomed me in their houses, hugged me and made me feel like home. They taught me how to speak Farsi, they showed me something they have been doing these days, for example, one of the mothers I met, she has been pretty busy making clothes. They also cooked some Afghani foods for me. Let me tell you, Afghani dishes are delicious. If you like Indian dishes, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Afghani dishes as well. These families also shared their stories to me; why they fled their home country, the problems they are facing right now. I am not gonna lie, I shed tears when they told me that. I just could not imagine myself to be in their position, to have one of my family members being killed, or to live my life in danger and terror. From these stories, I have learned about their bravery, struggle, and resilience.
Dear CRLC family, thank you so much for these past two months. I am eternally grateful for this experience and I really hope to see you really soon.