A Life Changing Experience

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

A Refugee learning computer at Sewon

Access to computers and knowing how to use them has become a basic need for work and education, this is also true for refugees awaiting resettlement to a third country in Indonesia. But JRS classes have not only impact on refugee’s lives.

“Mr Mohammad, you can make a new folder by right click, move to ‘New’, choose ‘Folder’,” said Herman, who teaches computer for Refugee community in Sewon. “Like this?” asks Mohammad. “Yes like that. After clicking on ‘Folder’ you can type any name you want, for example type ‘Freedom’,” added Herman. “Oh yeah … yeah … good … good,” said Mohammad after looking satisfied at the result of his work on the notebook screen. Mohammad is one of the fast learners under the 30 refugees learning the basics about the use of computers. Not all in his class learn as fast as the former Kung Fu teacher training as many as 800 youth back in Pakistan. “Well there was really a need to learn from scratch,” said Yoga, one of the classroom assistants. “Some people have never used a computer before. To hold a mouse with shaky hands makes it difficult to place the cursor and often a click turns easily into clicking two or three times,” said the trained English teacher who is a student of Sanata Dharma University. Today’s computer class is attended by five Refugees due to the limited computers available. A few minutes later every single one of them is focused at the screen of the laptop trying to include a excel summation formula. Every now and then they called the JRS teachers when encountering a difficulty. The atmosphere is quiet and very focused, so very different the English conversation class just a few hours ago.

“Now do you want to play a game?” asked Adi the English teacher leading the English class earlyer that day. Sitting in the multi function building refugees were asked to participate in an English spelling bee. “Mr Abbas, please give me one word starting with T,” started Adi. Abbas, sitting in the corner of the room looks confused before trying to answer. “Eh …. ‘think’,” he said. “How do you spell it?” asks Adi. “I do not know,” Abbas replied quickly. Suddenly laughter fills the room.

The classes held in hamlet Pandes, Panggungharjo, Sewon are not just a place of learning new skills, but provide a space where the refugees are received as a human being with dignity, a friend. “Here we hope to provide a friendly meeting space for the men forced to leave their home. Coming from various nations having experienced conflict and persecution we aim to create an environment free of fear and discrimination, a school of life, to inspire anyone who wants to build a brotherhood,” said Lino, coordinator of the project.

“At first I was scared when I met them,” said Anastasia Vicent, one of the new volunteers with JRS. This student of Law Department from one of University in Yogyakarta did not know what to think about meeting the men from Afghanistan, Taliban, terrorism and suicide bombers were all what one heard in teh Media about the country and its people. “But after getting to know them, that all turns out to be wrong. They are so different from what I imagined,” she added. Much of the negative picture about asylum seekers was formed by news coverage and even by her own lectures. “In the past, I read about illegal immigrants, I immediately looked at them is criminals. It seemed ok to put them into a prison,” she remembers. The experience of three months teaching and listening to the stories of Mohammad, Mahmoud, Abdullah, Abbas, Hassan and their friends in Sewon, opens the heart and mind. “I often can not say anything after I heard their experiences. These were accounts I heard never before. Even on campus a professor of international law tends to blame the refugees,” added Vicent. She now feels accepted like a part of family by the Refugees.

My encounter with refugees added to my happiness. “Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I am looking forward, to meet with them, hear about their experiences and hopes. There are always things that open my eyes,” she added. The encounter with refugees changed many things in her. “I now know and understand Refugees better. Now that I know their story from their own point of view,” she explained. Meeting those who had to leave their loved ones in their homeland without certainty about what the future might bring, leaving behind all what defined oneself, anything that was constant in life. “I was touched by their situation. They are strong, still want to wait, though they do not know for how long,” she said. “I cannot imagine if I was in a situation like them,” she added.

“God, thank you for everything you have blessed me with this year especially one thing, my Sewon family, a sweet life-changing blessing. I’m highly grateful,” she wrote on her facebook page when looking back at the many things that were shared by those who are now part of the 754 refugees awaiting resettlement in Indonesia. “Because I am not too good in teaching I try to be a friend for anyone. And this friendship changed me,” she said. “I became more patient, do not complain or get angry quickly when facing difficulties, because what I have to face is just so much lighter than what refugees have to overcome,” she reflects. It was a life changing experience, an experience that has and will change her life. “I now have the desire to study human rights, I want to help them. Even though Indonesia does not want to receive them at least there has to be a system that is more humane,” she said hopeful. Her experience inspired a lot of people, at least family and friends. “Younger students in my faculty are interested and want to experience what we experienced.”

Computers are magnificent tools for the realization of our dreams, but no machine can replace the human spark of spirit, compassion, love, and understanding.

Paulus Enggal

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