A Genuine Act of Solidarity

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

“Really? There are refugees in Manado?” was the first reaction of Erlyn Kindangen after hearing about JRS services in Manado. JRS Indonesia started accompanying refugees and asylum seeker at Manado Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in January 2015 .

Erlyn, a middle aged entrepreneur told us about her experience becoming a JRS volunteer. “At first, I was just picking up my friend Elis (JRS staff) at the Manado airport when she arrived. But after I heard more about the refugee situation, I felt the urge to help. It’s so strange, they left their country to find freedom but then they got locked up in a prison instead. They’re not criminals!” she said with expressive voice and gesture. Erlyn then got actively involved in connecting JRS with some stakeholders in the Manado Catholic community. One of the results was a public awareness session JRS held for seminarians in Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Seminari Tinggi Hati Kudus) Pineleng. Some seminarians then decided to volunteer for JRS teaching guitar and Indonesian classes to people detained. Erlyn is now actively involved as volunteer teacher in Indonesian classes for the detainees.

When we asked about her experience entering the Detention Centre for the first time, she said, “I was shocked at first, the detainees were huge! But turned out they were really nice and polite, I felt comfortable to talk with them.” Erlyn also learned from her teaching experience. “Before I started teaching, JRS staff has taught me about their cultural norms, how to act and behave. So I didn’t experience any cultural obstacles or misunderstanding,” she continued, “but sometimes I couldn’t help laughing when I heard them speak wrong words in Indonesian. At the end we often laugh together.” She remembers with a smile.

Reflecting on her experience teaching and meeting the detainees, Erlyn said, “I was reminded to always be humble. Sometimes when we are already in a high position, we forget to look down. There are people forced to always look down just because they need help. This is what this experience has reminded me of.” With spontaneity to act, willingness to learn and humbleness, Erlyn Kindangen has built a bridge of solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees during her weekly encounters. She is an example for the many volunteers and people that extend a hand to asylum seekers and refugees. It is in simple words and deeds that solidarity is practiced, as well as in shared tears and laughter. The direct human encounter is the only way to learn and overcome differences, prejudices, and suspicions that so often emerge when we hear about foreigners.


Triarani Utami

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