Because Competence and Conscience are not EnoughThursday, March 3rd, 2016
When I was thinking about what to say to the 250 11th grader of Loyola College, Semarang, I almost swallowed paracetamol. There were so many romantic ideas, but to deliver those in a language appropriate to their age is quite a challenge.
What lies behind JRS’ visit to Loyola College, Semarang on November 19th, 2015? The teachers in Loyola College felt the need to sharpen the students’ social sensitivity and empathy. They acknowledged that Loyola College’s two missions, competence and conscience was cultivated a lot, but the compassion side was not nurtured enough. By this visit, we hoped to expand the students’ awareness of the refugee reality and inspire them to do more within their capacity.
In this public awareness event, Indra presented the global refugee issue and the latest data, while Grace and I talked more about our experience as JRS volunteers in accompanying refugees in Yogyakarta. Grace told the students about her first encounter with a refugee when she was still in elementary school. A teacher came into the class and put an Afghanistan student to sit next to her because Grace’s English level was considered excellent compared to her classmates. At that time she didn’t know much about her new friend’s background, but later she realised this Afghanistan student was a refugee. This experience was embedded in her memory, which later sparked her interest to engage in JRS.
I also started my sharing session with a story from my schooldays. I shared about how I was addressed personally by my teacher in the 8th grade. At that time I felt I didn’t belong into the class scheme. My school put me in the top-notch class with 19 other students with photographic memory. I felt intimidated and my grades were not excellent in that competitive atmosphere. My biology teacher noticed how my behavior changed. One day he addressed me in front of my classmates, saying “I believe one day Chris,” whilst pointing and looking into my eyes, “… is going to be a handsome man.” The class burst out laughing and teased me. The Loyola students laughed too when I told them this. That compliment made me blush, but somehow it gave me new hope and positive thoughts that there was actually a good thing in me that I could be proud of and if it’s developed, it would be beneficial.
As days go by, I believed the handsomeness my teacher was saying was not about the visual look, but more as circumstances when someone can give himself in the best possible way for other people. That is the broader meaning of ‘being handsome’. This personal way of encountering people is what I want to share all the time with my refugee brothers. Not by saying, “Hey you are handsome,” but with a little modification such as, “You play like Messi“, “Your handwriting is awesome now”, “Your homework is excellent”, “I like your hairstyle”, etc. It’s my way of looking at them and pointing out the good aspects, strengths or best potential they have, just like what my Biology teacher had taught me. In the end of my sharing session, I challenged the students to greet others through their contribution, in whatever forms possible, because greeting is a proactive action.
After our presentation and sharing, the students were given 3 reflective questions to discuss in small groups. The teachers distributed some pictures of refugee condition to help students reflecting on what feeling arised looking at those pictures, whether they thought it could happen to them and what would they do if they had to seek refuge.
After that discussion session, we selected 2 groups to read out their reflections. The first group got a picture of a detainee who was missing his mother, he wrote a poem on a wall “My beauty mom, you are always in my heart and I always thinking about u. I love u mom, from Sadra.” That group reflected, “We could feel his desperation. We felt very lucky that we could still feel peaceful and have our family who care about us.” They also imagined that this kind of situation could happen anytime to them. “We can feel it, especially us who are away from our family, it is so difficult to be far from your parents, eventhough we are not that far away from each other, unlike those victims who were separated from their family and not knowing when they can see each other again, they must have suffered a lot compared to us”. Other group wrote, “That kind of conflict cannot be solved in the usual way, so it spread everywhere. But we can prevent that to happen by helping each other without considering the race and religion, to understand and forgive each other. Those two things can be done to prevent conflict, it happens because there is hatred and wrongdoing.”
For the third question another group wrote, “We have to keep the spirit. If one day we are in that situation, we might loose all hope. We have to adapt with new things and changes. Also be open to new people we meet because communication and interaction is necessary”.
One of the groups even wrote their reflection in form of a poem titled Fatamorgana.
Here is a piece of that poem:
Suddenly it became so dark
Dreams slip through my fingers
My loved ones
Sleep in silence.
Then on the question and answer session, the students asked some very interesting question, “ How to be JRS volunteer?”, “ How can I work for JRS?”, ”If I become a JRS staff, will it mean I have to be ready to die as martyr?” Indra answered most of their questions by giving examples of JRS staff and volunteer’s experiences.
To end this public awareness event, Grace challenged the Loyola students to act compassionately as a concrete application of their competence and conscience. “You can start from simple things. Use your social media account to spread information about refugees. That is also a public awareness effort. Maybe today you can not do many things yet, but one day after you finish your study, in whatever major such as IT, psychology, or law, you will remember the refugees and JRS. Then you can help and join us.”
Seeing their enthusiasm, I believe refugees experiencing challenges and seeking solutions can one day count on them to take small steps and extend at the very least their welcome in the years to come.
Franciscus Chrismanto Simamora
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