Like most valuable ideas, Roshan Learning Center began as a conversation among friends. Having each worked in education and international development, Heather Biggar Tomlinson and Ashley Berryhill found themselves with a unique opportunity while living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Friends first and colleagues second, Heather and Ashley were blessed to have close relationships with asylum seekers and refugees waiting to be relocated abroad. Armed with a passion for empowering children and deep friendships with those in the refugee community, Heather and Ashley began looking for ways to help their friends thrive as they completed the multi-year refugee process.
Conversations about developing a learning center with refugee families began in September 2014. Many within the large refugee community in Jakarta were interested in having a community-led initiative to give adults a meaningful goal, and children an opportunity to maintain educational attainment during long days of waiting. Heather and Ashley agreed to help raise funds to provide rent and a monthly operational budget, with the understanding that community members would lead the initiative on an entirely volunteer basis, so that no refugees would receive payment for their participation in keeping with Indonesian law. The community found a suitable location to lease in October, renovated the space in November, and opened the doors on December 1, 2014.
The Learning Space
The Roshan Learning Center is located in South Jakarta. To serve our ever-growing student body, we moved into a new facility in January 2017. In our current space, after renovations, we have six small but cheerful classrooms, an office–in lieu of the open-air loft we previously used–an ample common area that can serve as an impromptu classroom, a party space for celebrations, a workshop space for teacher training, or a general welcome room. We have three bathrooms and a kitchen, allowing us the homey feeling we hoped for.
Best of all, we have an expansive, colorful backyard with green grass and rainbows on the walls. This was not always the case. When we moved in, the outdoor space was overgrown with weeds and closed in with grey crumbling walls. With help from Jakarta Intercultural School’s Parent-Teacher Association and students, we raised money to put in grass and buy paint for decorative murals that reflect our community’s optimism and joy. Our newest upcoming addition? Playground equipment for the preschoolers–thanks to some generous Grade 5 students at JIS. Our students love the outdoor space and vie for soccer time, cartwheel space, and high school student circles.
If We Build It…
After operating for 3 years, Roshan Learning Center has become an established, reputable and high-quality service for refugees in Jakarta. We raise approximately $50,000 in donations and in-kind gifts each year to keep things running, and it is clear that those around this community see the value it is producing in the lives of refugees. Additionally, we have a growing group of committed volunteers giving their time and energy to teaching and serving other needs such as counseling, IT support, and organizing sports, based on their own unique talents and resources. We achieved non-profit (yayasan) status in 2015 in partnership with Mike Broomell, Yusup Lifire, and others. We are now registered with the Indonesian Ministries of Justice (MoJ) and Social Affairs (MoSA) under Yayasan Internasional Cahaya Fajar (YICF), or Light of Dawn International.
Volunteers participating at Roshan Learning Center come from around the globe—Indonesia, the US, Australia, Afghanistan, the UK, Singapore, Iran, Pakistan, and more. Donors living in London, New York, Texas, Melbourne, Washington, DC, Sydney, Hong Kong, Jakarta and more have provided financial and material support. We are truly a global village. As we continue to grow, we plan to further develop our original simple idea of helping refugee children, youth and adults thrive through education by researching innovative ways in which we can impact their learning and development during this transitory period of their journey to find a new home.