A Day in the Life of a JRS Volunteer

Sunday, December 21st, 2014
Sarah is volunteering for 3 months as teaching assistant with JRS Indonesia

Sarah is volunteering for 3 months as teaching assistant with JRS Indonesia

It’s Wednesday or Thursday, 10am. I get on my motorbike and head south through the city of Yogyakarta. I eventually arrive at the refugee centre in Sewon. I drive through the gate, say good morning to the security, and park up. I jump off and head to the classroom. Space is limited, so maybe our class will be in the kitchen today, either way, English class will happen!

I am greeted by many friendly handshakes. I’ve gladly become a familiar face for the refugees living in Sewon who call me anything from Sarah to Miss Sarah or Miss Teacher. Whatever they call me, I’m pretty sure they are happy to see me and the feeling is mutual. I then meet the regular teachers who have been faithfully teaching English to the refugees here for various lengths of time, and they are also wearing a big smile. Ready to chat about a great variety of topics from our childhood pets to cows falling from the sky, I sit with the teacher whose class I will be joining for the morning. The students for that class come in, English folder in hand, ready for whatever challenge is coming their way in the next couple of hours.

Maybe we are doing a language game, or a test, or some happy compromise of the two. If we’re doing a game today, there will be lots of laughing. There are many jokes between us all about cheating, but at the end of the day, if one of us doesn’t understand, there will always be somebody to explain and encourage, whether that is the teacher, myself or a fellow refugee. Because life is sweeter when it’s lived together. If it’s a Wednesday there are Burmese refugees in my class, so I try my best to practise my somewhat waning Burmese language, and sometimes a few Indonesian words are thrown in for good measure. But in general, English is the name of the game. During these two hours, I smile a lot. I smile because of the funny times we share. I smile because of the progress made in their English language. And I smile because I realise that these guys are becoming more and more comfortable with me being a part of their class as we share just a snippet of life together.

English class comes to an end. Maybe we study some Indonesian language together as well, because, although English is probably more helpful in the long run, these people are living in Indonesia right now. After class, we chat together, with other teachers and refugees. Maybe some of the refugees invite us to their accommodation to eat lunch together. I am excited to try some new food from another country, and it never disappoints. I am fed seconds, thirds, until I can’t possibly eat another thing. We chat, sometimes we talk about their home countries, and other times we talk about my home country of England. Sometimes we joke, but other times I’m lost for words when these people, who are becoming like brothers to me, share parts of their stories and put my miniscule hardships into perspective once again.

Sooner or later, I head back to my comfortable life as an abroad student at one of Indonesia’s best universities. Back past security, I call out goodbye as I take to the road, past the paddy fields and onto Yogyakarta’s busy city roads. But out of sight definitely does not mean out of mind. As I ride, I pray mostly for the guys in my class, that they would have peace in their difficult times, that all their needs would be provided for, and that they will not lose hope during this long process.

Sarah Watt

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