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 a former art studio in South Jakarta. Boasting a single open indoor space with a high ceiling and colorful foam floor mats, two classrooms, and a Bali-style open-air pavilion learning space in the backyard, and a grass-covered yard for playing, the learning center is an ideal space to foster creativity and community. Renovated through the efforts of respected architect and urban designer Andrew Murray, the center is an inspiring and comfortable location for children to learn and grow.
The owner of the building, from whom we lease, is an artist and photographer who formerly used the space as his personal art studio to develop and showcase his work. The month before putting the studio up for lease he tragically lost his wife, who was a lifelong teacher of children with special needs. She had a passion for investing in children. When we came to him with the idea of leasing his space for the learning center, both he and his children agreed that this is exactly what their mother would have wanted.
If We Build It…
After operating for a year, Roshan Learning Center is now beginning to take root as a much needed service for refugees in Jakarta. We raised approximately $50,000 in donations and in-kind gifts to support the program in our first year, 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 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.