A refugee-run school provides education and inspiration
By Kobra Moradi
In August 2014, Hazara refugees in transit in Indonesia established the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC).
It started with 40 students in two small rooms at one of the refugee women’s houses. From there on, it has grown to provide education for more than 100 students.
The school is run by refugees and has played a significant role in their lives.
In December last year, I flew from Australia to Jakarta to teach English at the school.
It was 2am when I arrived in Cisarua. It was pitch dark; the rain was pouring down, my heart was racing, and my stomach felt empty.
The family I had arranged to stay with greeted me at the door with big hugs and kisses.
Inside, I sat next to a green wall. Behind me was a big painting of scattered birds and a girl holding her face with her wild hair flying in all directions.
After taking a sip of tea, I pointed at the painting and acknowledged, “this is amazing.” The mother said proudly, “it is my Farahnaz’s work”.
Farahnaz is an art teacher at the centre. She has had no formal art training but she discovered her love for art as a way to express herself.
The 18-year-old fled Afghanistan with her family in 2013 and now lives in transit in Indonesia.
“My country destroyed my childhood. It failed to shelter me. Sometimes I wish that I would wake up in a world where there is no Taliban, no war, and no children crying,” Farahnaz told me.
Farahnaz is an ethnic Hazara. There are many Hazara refugees stranded in Indonesia.
Members of the ethnic group have faced persecution and discrimination in their native country, and have been the constant victim of piecemeal suicide attacks in their neighbouring country Pakistan.
This has caused many to flee their country and seek refuge by whatever means.
I spoke to Khadim Dai, one of the co-founders of the school.
Before arriving in Indonesia, he lived in Quetta, Pakistan. He remembers the deadly explosion that killed two of his best friends.
“It was early afternoon, I was rushing towards the school when I heard a big explosion. I buried my head between my arms and crouched my body next to a wall. Everyone began screaming and running,” Khadim told me.
There were wounded and dead bodies everywhere. My body was numb as I stood and watched the mayhem,” he said.
The situation for Hazaras was getting worse day by day. So, like many others, Khadim decided to leave the country and seek asylum elsewhere.
Many who fled the deadly bomb attacks and ongoing target killings ended up in Indonesia and in limbo.
Most families have been living here for more than five years without any right to work or study. They live under the shadow of a prolonged uncertainty; the pursuit for asylum is the main reason for their struggle.
Late one afternoon, Farahnaz and I were sitting in a small room on the upper floor of CRLC with the curtains half open. After laughing for a while, our conversation took a different turn when the tone of her voice changed.
“I don’t know what will happen to me and my family,” she said, turning her head to avoid eye contact.
“We have been living here for a long time. What if we are forced to go back? What if we never find a new home?”
In the first few months of her stay in Indonesia, Farahnaz faced a lot of difficulties. She told me about how she was “crying for two months” because she missed everything and nothing was familiar to her anymore.
“There was no school, we didn’t know anyone. Time went by very slowly,” she said.
But when the centre was opened, she immediately joined and came to “love the feeling of learning and teaching.”
The centre has provided the young and the old alike with a sense of purpose and belonging. It is a safe space within which children can learn, make friends, and build their dreams.
Ten-year-old Murtaza always sat at the back row of the class with his legs folded and a small table in front of him. He is admired by his classmates for his kindness and outstanding handwriting.
He told me about his experience of being a student.
“After three months of my stay in Indonesia, I enrolled at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre. I have met many people, including visitors from Australia,” Murtaza said.
“I am very happy now. I am a student and have many good friends.”
Murtaza’s dream is to become an international football player one day “like Cristiano Ronaldo”.
One of the students, Amir, hopes to be a leader when he grows up. The 12-year-old wants to be remembered “as someone who brought a positive change in the world”.
Early each morning, students trickle through the gates of the centre. By 8am, everyone is neatly lined up in their class groups ready for the assembly.
The day starts with a short morning exercise.
Those early morning moments were so special to me during my time in Cisarua.
Everyone’s face was beaming with happiness. I loved watching the little kids move their hands from side to side, stamp their feet, clap their hands and sing along.
Many parents stayed back until the end of the morning assembly. There was a glimmer of hope in their eyes as they watched their children from afar.
“It is positively changing our whole family’s life. We are very happy because when we were young, we had no opportunity to study,” one mother said.
“When we saw our children learning with so much enthusiasm, it motivated us to start self-study. We will work very hard to learn and help our children with their education.”
In the afternoon, women attend English classes. In one session, I remember the women comparing each other’s handwriting and teasing each other about mispronunciation of certain English words.
Their teacher Mustafa commented on the importance of the classes for women.
“In Afghanistan, men and the boys are given the priority inside their homes, the women are pushed back,” Mustafa said.
“Many of my students have not had any previous education. But here in Indonesia, the women are using education to claim back their rights.
“There is a rise of equality throughout the community. They now say, ‘we can do the same things our husbands, my daughters can have the same opportunities as the boys can have in our community’.”
Women have played an integral role in the establishment and operation of the school.
The community is re-defining traditional customs that limit girls and women from reaching their potential. In contrast to Afghanistan, the refugee women and girls are leaders in their community in Indonesia.
This year, Ms Tahira was appointed as the manager of the centre. Her colleagues describe her as the “backbone of CRLC”.
The school has provided visitors like me with knowledge, inspiration and friendship.
I am looking forward to visiting it again. At the forefront of educating the next generation, CRLC provides a unique space for young refugees, their families and the international community to work together to provide the basic human right of receiving an education.
Kobra Moradi is a student, studying Law and International Relations. She is an assistant researcher at La Trobe University, focusing on Migration law. She fled Afghanistan when she was a child and arrived to Australia in 2005.