Roshan Learning Center is a community-led initiative serving asylum seekers and refugees in Jakarta. They primarily come from Afghanistan and Iran, although we are currently pilot testing an expanded community of nations, with new students from Yemen and Iraq. Our focus is to provide learning experiences for children and youth while also empowering parents and other adults through English classes and other practical and enriching activities, such as counseling, health clinics, preparing for a job search, and computer use.
Those who learn, serve and lead in this community are people without a nation. They have left their homelands not because they wanted to leave their parents, children, siblings, homes, and cherished cultures behind, but because they were no longer safe. They left because they were persecuted for political, religious, sexual, or ethnic reasons. Now they have come to Indonesia in the hopes of getting a visa to move to a third country, most often at present the U.S., New Zealand or Canada, where they can live in freedom and with dignity.
The Broader Challenge
At the end of 2016, there were over 14,000 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia–up from only 600 people in 2008, according to personal communication with the International Office of Migration. Only a few hundred are resettled in a given year and the acceptance rates are dropping dramatically in light of global geopolitical trends, according to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR). In our experience, they wait about 5 years for refugee status determination (after which comes resettlement in a third country or deportation). During this time, the Indonesian Government does not allow them to work and does not facilitate public school enrollment. As they wait, they often suffer depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, isolation, loneliness, and a sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Moreover, refugee children and youth slide further and further behind their peers in cognitive development, social skills, and academic achievement–the very foundations upon which their futures would be built.
The good news is that education and positive social connections can protect students’ development and foster child, youth and family well-being in extraordinary ways. Toward this end, we provide a space for participants to gather in Jakarta on a regular basis every week. Our goals are for children, youth and adults alike to learn English and other valuable academic or vocational skills, visit with each other to deepen connections and support, and to reignite a sense of joy in the day-to-day and hope for the future.
Our Solution: A Safe Learning Environment
Research has shown that children and youth in refugee families or traveling as unaccompanied minors often go through traumatic or toxically stressful experiences that could have life-long negative consequences, including dangerous or severely deprived living conditions in the home country, traumatic journeys by land and sea that sometimes include loss of life of family members, and degraded living conditions within refugee detention centers. These effects at times mimic those of post traumatic stress disorder experienced by soldiers returning from war. However, there is a growing body of research that indicates that a safe learning environment can, by contrast, provide a safeguard for child and youth well-being.
Roshan Learning Center provides a safe and engaging learning environment for children and youth–in English and Bahasa Indonesia–and English classes and other enriching activities for adults. We strive to empower participants and foster a sense of community in which all members respect, value, and encourage each other. Inspired by our community members’ resilience, resourcefulness, and dedication to learning, we’re working together to lift up health, hope, and happiness in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Our goal is to empower children, youth and adults to own the responsibility for improving their future through education. Empowerment is especially important during a period when many decisions large and small are outside of one’s control as is the case for asylum seekers and refugees. Moreover, community-led decision-making is fundamental to the sustainable development of the learning center. We support community-elected refugee leaders to engage in management decisions, problem solving, and fostering community-building in a peaceful and respectful manner.