Aerobics is Making Life Brighter

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Aerobic session in the detention center

Aerobics is a kind of exercise with music: it is quite rhythmic and is almost like dancing. The difference is that the moves we use in aerobics are more about health, not esthetics, like the movements in dancing. The aim of aerobics is to improve our health by strengthening the body, heart
and lungs. Doing aerobics regularly can help you to stay young. Aerobics can be done by anyone: men or women. The movements involved in aerobics can be divided into three parts: warm up, main activity and cooling down.

The Beginning
Aerobics can be seen every Friday in front of many government offices. But it’s not the same for the staff at the Belawan Immigration Detention Centre (IDC). Even though the weekly exercise was made official policy by the then Minister of Law and Human Rights, Mr Hamid Awaludin, in 2005, but the idea of providing aerobics classes in an immigration detention centre is still a new concept. Starting from discussion between JRS and IDC staff on possible activities in the center. We thought that activities had to be enjoyable, include lots of people, could be done regularly but inexpensively, and had to have a direct benefit to all those involved. Eventually, we reached an agreement: every Friday JRS staff, immigration staff and other groups working at Belawan would gather together for an aerobics class. JRS would be responsible for providing the instructors and the Belawan IDC would provide the space. After about a month of aerobics classes attendance of IDC staff decreased and JRS suggested that the detainees also be given the opportunity to join the aerobics classes. This suggestion was accepted by the head of the detention centre and the detainees welcomed the opportunity enthusiastically.

Happier and Healthier
The aerobics classes have become an activity that is reliable, fun and healthy for everyone. One detainee said in broken English, “After we were given aerobics classes, fewer people are going to the doctor every week”. Another detainee said, “Thank you, JRS and IDC for giving us the opportunity to do these aerobics classes. Aerobics is helping us to maintain our physical health, as well as our mental health while waiting without knowing for how long we might have to live in detention”. Another detainee added, “During the aerobics classes we can shout as loud as we like. After shouting like this we feel less depressed and stressed. And our bodies become healthier”. This has also been an interesting experience for the instructors, Vita and Monita, “At first we felt awkward, nervous and wary of being stared at by all these men from other countries who we didn’t know at all. So in the beginning we would rush home straight after finishing the class. We were a bit scared, but also felt sorry for the detainees”. For the instructors, coming into contact with the detainees was a completely new experience. They had never heard about refugees and asylum seekers before. In order to overcome this, we gave them as much information as possible and conducted weekly evaluations about their experiences and observations about the detainees. After a while the instructors said, “After getting all the information from Silvester about JRS and the detainees, we slowly began to understand their situation. After getting to know them better, and communicating with them, we even started to hear their life stories, although sometimes we had to communicate with sign language. We’re happy to be able to give aerobics classes in the detention centre. Seeing the situation they are in, we have become more motivated to come up with creative ideas for the classes, so they are not bored and it fits their abilities and the conditions in the detention centre”.

Naturally, there have been challenges in communicating with the refugees and asylum seekers in the Immigration Detention Centre. But people are still people, and we all have the ability to treat others with respect, empathy and give them hope in an uncertain situation. The aerobics classes have served as an opportunity for detainees and all the other IDC stakeholders to develop their understanding of each other. It is an expression of concern for ones health and for each other. Being able to live a healthy life is a basic right for all people, including refugees and asylum seekers in detention.

Mangatas Alexander Gultom

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