What do you do when your basic human rights are taken away? What do you do when you find yourself in a completely different environment with people you barely know? Where do you go when all the doors are closed?
Normally people in such situations give up hope. They lose their enthusiasm for life, they become miserable and reach the verge of despair. But not everyone gives up, some courageous refugees in Indonesia decided to go against all odds and fight for their stolen rights. Despite the risk, this is the story of how these people opened a learning center for their children who as refugees are not allowed to get an education.
Indonesia is a transit country for asylum seekers and refugees from Asia and the Middle East. In the early 2000’s, transit was relatively rapid as asylum seekers made their way onward to Australia by boat, but today, refugees face longer and longer waiting times as that avenue to protection has been closed. Now they have to wait for a long time as the UNHCR process is very lengthy and can take up to several years. When refugees first arrive in Indonesia, they have to register themselves with UNHCR as asylum seekers, then they are interviewed after months of desperate delay. If they manage to prove themselves as refugees according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, they will have to wait for another long period of time until they are resettled in a third country.
During this long period of misery and depression, refugees don’t have access to their basic human rights, i.e. their right to get education and their right to work. They are thus confined within the four walls of their houses every hour of every day, which in turn can expose them to mental illness. Due to the enduring time spent passive in one place without certainty of their future, they start to lose hope.
These circumstances led a group of volunteers to take matters into their own hands and open a learning center for their children who were languishing at home, missing out on the opportunities to learn and socialise that children all over the world are granted.
“The fact that my own children were deprived of education pushed me really hard to think of a solution,” said Mr Liaquat Ali Changezi, Principal of the Refugee Learning Center.
When asked on how they established the center, he said, “Me and some other volunteers gathered the community members and told them that we wanted to establish a learning center to provide education to their children and if they supported this initiative. The community members were very supportive.”
Mr. Changezi also said that they sat together and decided to jointly pay the rent of a house for the first few months, despite the fact that they had their own financial problems being refugees. So these volunteers found a suitable building and the Refugee Learning Center was opened with 50 students. All the teachers and management have worked on a volunteer basis since the beginning, despite being warned by the UNHCR not to engage in any organised activities as refugees in Indonesia. The benefits of educating the children outweighed the risks in their eyes.
“Refugee Learning Center has been providing a meaningful engagement to the refugee children who are deprived of education, a basic human right,” said Humaira, one of the volunteer teachers at Refugee Learning Center.
On being asked about her personal experience at RLC, she said, “RLC has developed my personality, it has built my confidence and provided me a family. My students are my favourite part of my teaching since I learn so much from them. They motivate me.”
Refugee Learning Center now educates about 150 refugee children regardless of race, religion, or nationality. The students are taught English, Mathematics, Science, History, and Geography, four days a week. Apart from education, Refugee Learning Center has been creating opportunities for everyone to play sports. Especially for women, who were always very interested in sports activities but couldn’t take part in them since most refugee women come from conservative family backgrounds. This is a huge step toward independence for them.
“When I first came to Indonesia, I couldn’t speak English. I was all alone, I didn’t have many friends. From the day I joined Refugee Learning Center, I have made a lot of friends. My best friend is Ramiz and I love him dearly. My English has improved a lot and now I feel I have learned 70 percent of English. I have learned so many new things that I didn’t know before. I have also learned ethics and manners. I simply cannot imagine a life without RLC here,” said Ahmad, a 12-year-old Afghani boy who is currently living in Indonesia with his older brother and his uncle’s family. His family is back in Afghanistan.
“I miss them,” was all Ahmad said about his family.
RLC also provides English language classes for 150 men and women.
Refugee Learning Center has simply been a game changer in the lives of refugee children in Indonesia, who are deprived of getting an education just because they were not fortunate enough to be born in a peaceful country. This act of bravery is worthy of appreciation. The volunteers who work for this humble cause and who provide education to kids in need without any expectation of return are the real-life heroes. On seeing the benefits to both the refugee community and Indonesian community at large, the UNHCR now encourages similar refugee-led initiatives.