“Body Not Work”Sunday, December 21st, 2014
His name is Aaron, 24 years old, from Sri Lanka. Being a Christian Tamil meant his life was no longer safe in Sri Lanka. Even after the long civil war in Sri Lanka ended, kidnapping, torture and killing of civilians still occur.
Aaron had arrived in Indonesia in 2013. Together with other asylum seekers he tried to reach safety via a boat to Australia. However the boat broke leaving its passengers adrift in the Indian Ocean for days. His weight dropped 15 pounds. “Agents who provide these services run away and never returned our money,” he said in broken English.
Living in Indonesia was not easy for Aaron. Being hunted by fear he found it hard to trust people even here. Aaron had to be patient during the long wait in Indonesia longing to finally hear the decision of UNHCR on his asylum claim. “I have no money to last a long time, my life is very problem,” he said repeatedly.
JRS first met Aaron in March 2014. Aaron stayed with a friend at the time, which also came from Sri Lanka. Without mattresses, Aaron slept on pieces of cardboard in the living room of a very small house. Every afternoon, Aaron walked 2 km to a temple that provides free food every day. Aaron finally contacted JRS when the itching all over his body would not stop even after nearly one year.
Before meeting JRS, Aaron went to a doctor but because of the lack of a mutual language communication was difficult. His illness was not cured and in fact getting worse. JRS decided to provide medical assistance to Aaron. When JRS first accompanied him to the doctor, Aaron was diagnosed with intoxication. Over the years, Aaron has been taking one medicine prescribed by a doctor for limited use. “I do not know, without medication, body not work.” Aaron’s friends were already reluctant to being close to Aaron afraid of getting infected with itching he suffered.
Together with JRS Aaron went to three different doctors, all of them stating that Aaron’s itching was caused by a side effect caused by the repeated use of medication to which he developed an allergy, stating it is not contagious. The allergies got worse due to unhygienic bedding and the humid climate as well as scratching.
“Aaron body had become dependent on medicine containing steroids. This drug should not be purchased. If he would have come later to the doctor the side effects could have lead to bleeding in the digestive organs, swelling of the skin, bone loss and a mental breakdown. The only way to prevent this is to reduce the dose of the medicine and not to give other medicine” The doctor explained in detail. “But, body not work … medicine doctor not work ..,” Aaron who has difficulties with language, feels that the actions recommended have no effect. Over the years, Aaron had trouble getting out of bed in the morning as he could not sleep at night without taking his medicine. His whole body felt sore and was covered with red spots. “You need to be patient. You should come back here and not buy medicine by yourself,” advised the doctor. Aaron could only respond with a shy smile.
The language barrier can be a serious challenge to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees. Not being able to communicate and understand what was said by the doctor in the past had dire consequences for Aaron’s health. This limitation also leads to doctors not knowing what to say or how to make themselves understood. Patiently, JRS repeatedly explained the doctor’s advice to Aaron and contacted some of Aaron’s friends help him understand.
On June 10, 2014, UNHCR finally acknowledged Aaron’s status as a refugee. However, his face was still gloomy. “Refugee and asylum seeker same-same, no difference. My body still not work. I still no room,” he said softly. Being a refugee does not necessarily change the life of Aaron. He still had to wait for the opportunity to be resettled to a third country which can take a long time. “Maybe I wait one year hm?” He asked innocently.
However, with the help of individual recently Aaron has moved to a cleaner and bigger house. “I use this money for the rent, 500 thousand and 200 thousand to eat every month. I only eat at night with this money, the afternoon I go to the temple to eat a snack, “Aaron said with a smile to the JRS.
Aaron and JRS staff became close. Even though JRS cannot provide financial assistance to him, JRS is there for Aaron if he wants to talk about what happened in his life. Of course the language is limited. Every two weeks, JRS accompanies Aaron to a dermatologist in Bogor. Language is no longer a barrier for Aaron and doctors. After some time Aaron started laughing again sometimes with the doctors other times with JRS.
Now it has been almost three months of regular doctor visits with Aaron and the swelling of his face is gradually reducing. Aaron’s body is still feeling sick. However, with Aaron understanding what caused his condition and the importance of following medical treatment given Aaron can reduce medication. “It may be another three months before Aaron can be completely healed,” said the doctor.
Aaron now often jokes during JRS visits. His experience is an example of how accompaniment and limited medical support can have a tremendous impact for people we serve as well as to JRS staff themselves. Accompaniment translated into being with asylum seekers can overcome language barriers and create a bond that enables communication among human beings beyond spoken language. We wish Aaron a speedy recovery.
Gading Gumilang Putra
The name of the refugee has been changed in order to ensure the safety of him and his family.
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