Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre, Indonesia

Robyn Henderson is a mum from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, a maths tutor and a champion surf life saver. Robyn was one of a group of three women who heard about the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre and wanted to do something. This is her story.

“The Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre is situated in Bogor, about 75 kilometres from Jakarta in West Java, Indonesia. The area has a large population of asylum seekers and refugees who are mainly ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. They are persecuted by the Taliban and have had to flee their homelands. Indonesia turns a blind eye to them living there.

They need to use their own savings or get financial support from other family members abroad as the adults can’t work, get access to medical care or send their children to school. Living in Indonesia is only a temporary solution.

They have to wait for interviews with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jakarta in the hope of gaining refugee status and eventual resettlement in countries like Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada – a process that can take up to five years.

In 2014, a small group of refugees, including Muzafar Ali and Khadim Dai, two Afghan Hazara refugees, decided to start a school as their children were missing out on an education. The teachers and management staff came from the young men and women who are also refugees and they volunteered their services.

The school is set up in a house, the rent of which was initially paid for by an Australian couple and is now covered by donations.

 The school has restored a sense of purpose and dignity to refugees who are living a vulnerable and precarious life in transit.The children are taught in English and have been able to make friends and learn in a happy and caring environment free from any conflict.

When they are resettled it will be a lot easier for them to integrate into their new schools and communities if they are not too far behind in their learning and with some English language.

The school currently has 110 students ranging in ages from 5-16 years. Most of the children are from Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are some from other countries across the Middle East and Africa (like Sudan). In the afternoons the school is used to teach women in the refugee community English.

I travelled to Cisarua with friends of mine, Gaia and Zoe Grant. We raised about $3,000 from our generous friends and family before we went. We used this money to buy educational resources which the refugee community had requested and other items we knew, from our experience, would enhance the students’ learning.

I run a maths tutoring business from my home and my students and their families spent an afternoon at my house printing, laminating and cutting out other activities and displays for the school which we also took over with us. This added up to a total of 120 kilograms and thankfully Qantas generously waived the excess baggage.

When we arrived at the school, we noticed their whiteboards were small, scratched and not magnetic. We were able to quickly source and pay for some large magnetic whiteboards from Jakarta for each of the classrooms which will make a huge difference to the students and teachers.

The reaction was overwhelming when we showed the teachers at the school what we had brought with us. They were keen to learn how to best use these resources in the classroom which we showed them in staff meetings on the first weekend we were there and after school hours.

We demonstrated use of the resources in the classrooms with the children and have since seen images on the school’s Facebook and know they are being used by the teachers. The joy on the children’s faces is so rewarding.

The children and teachers loved seeing posters and charts put up on the classroom walls and common areas and were excited and very appreciative of the mainly maths and science teaching aids we brought with us. The circular parachute with handles we bought for them to use outside in their small playground has been a fun activity for the children.

We will be going back and hope to concentrate on more literacy-based materials and general knowledge resources. Gaia and Zoe provided some management training, giving advice on retaining and motivating staff and solving problems that come up when running a school.

They would like to further help the school with these vital skills and strategies when they visit again. This school is an example of people who are coping with being displaced, with an unsure future, yet making the most of the difficult situation by volunteering, helping each other and making a positive difference in their community.”

How can our readers help?

The school relies on donations and there is ongoing fundraising needed so the school can continue. Donations can be one-off payments or better still you can become a regular monthly contributor.

$10 a month pays for drinking water for the school for a week, $25 a month pays for a quarter of the art supplies needed each month, and $50 a month pays the expenses for one teacher.

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