Raising the voice of refugees in Geneva.

I am writing this reflection on my way back home, flying over a thin layer of cottony clouds, leaving Geneva and its very fresh memories behind.

Looking back to March 2019, when I applied for John Gibson Community Leadership Grant, I knew that the grant would be highly competitive. My continuous work with refugee education and community work in Indonesia and advocacy in Australia gave me the courage to apply anyhow. The call confirming my selection was overwhelmingly pleasant. As my debut visit to Geneva, I received tremendous support from Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), from the visa application process to advice on catching buses in Geneva, and coordination meetings to shape up our topics to discuss during the consultations. The coordination process was impressively led by RCOA which helped me to understand the significance of this global event. In short, the pre-Geneva process was a great opportunity to meet some key organisations and persons actively involved in refugee advocacy in Australia, and to better grasp the pressing refugee issues that the participants wanted to raise during the consultation.

I am grateful to Paul Power for being patient with me to comprehend the unfolding events in Geneva. His knowledge about refugee issues was hugely helpful for me to enter in any discussion; no wonder I shadowed him most of the time! He was kind to introduce me to a broad network of advocates, UN and NGO staff members. His introduction of my work to his contacts provided me the pitch to engage in discussions.

I found the UNHCR NGO Consultations as the biggest stage for advocacy, showcasing good practices, learning from other organisations’ approaches, UNHCR priorities on concerning issues, such as education, protection and humanitarian assistance for refugees. I was particularly amazed to learn about new approaches, such as music concerts for refugees organised by South American NGOs.

As a former refugee and co-founder of Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre in Indonesia, I grasped the opportunity to raise some important issues with UNHCR such as:

·     Establishing better and effective access mechanisms for refugees in UNHCR offices in South East Asia, particularly Indonesia. I echoed refugees’ concerns that UNHCR offices and personnel do not have good communication with them, and they usually do not listen to refugees’ concerns.

·     Forming partnerships with refugees to address some of the challenges, particularly education. Focusing on refugees being part of the solution, in an overwhelming global refugee crisis, I raised the “bottom-to-top” idea with UNHCR Asia Bureau, the Global Refugee Forum team, ATCR sessions and at the UNHCR NGO Consultations.

The responses in regard to my questions from UNHCR were immensely interesting. Responses regarding refugees-led educational initiatives were slightly contradictory from different UNHCR officials. While one UNHCR officer felt refugees should not establish educational centres but should somehow be included in Indonesia’s overcrowded schools, another official saw initiatives such as CRLC as a solution to education problems for refugees.

Apart from sharing ideas, raising concerns and getting to know other organisations; I also got the opportunity to assist Arash Bordbar with his session on resettlement by providing him some data, first-hand information about resettled refugees and their experience in the middle of their journey.

My honest conviction about UNHCR NGO Consultation is that the forum is overwhelmingly a “top-to-bottom” approach, and hugely influenced by the donor countries’ efforts to manage refugees. The stakeholders mostly talk about funds, resources and the problem, which in fact is gigantic. However, UNHCR and NGOs working with refugees overlook the solutions within refugees and refugee communities. Therefore, George Okoth-Obbo (UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations) was the only high ranked official who talked about “refugee agency” after my question regarding refugee participation.

Now I believe that refugee advocates should talk about refugee participation on the grounds for addressing education, humanitarian and psycho-social support. I also believe that top-to-bottom approach can only be successful if UNHCR runs a parallel bottom-to-top approach simultaneously. For that purpose, I am interested to advocate on this issue in the next consultations and events. My experience with UNHCR-NGO Consultations has given me new energy and scope to work even harder as an advocate to proliferate the idea that refugees can be a part of the solution and not just labelled as a burden or problem. For this, I am already looking forward to participate in the Global Refugee Forum and next year’s Consultations and other platforms, because I think we need to be ready for a long marathon till refugees are considered as a key partner to address this global crisis.

Register for Cisarua Learning Family Meet-ups.

Melbourne will be between 1-5pm on Sat June the 15th at the Abbotsford Convent in the SALON. More details and instructions can be found here.

Sydney will be between 5-9pm on Thursday 20th June at the Australian, Film Television and Radio School in the Fox Entertainment district. Click here for a Google map.

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Refugee Week '19 film screenings and #CRLC Family meet-ups.

Refugee Week '19 film screenings

It’s just over a week until we begin another screening tour of The Staging Post. Muzafar and his whole family (including baby Sughra), and myself will be at the screenings in Wonthaggi, Melbourne, Maryborough Paramount Theatre, Bowral Empire Cinema, Penrith Vics Flicks, Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Caboolture, Brisbane snd, Griffith. Please head here for more details.

We’re especially excited that over 500 school kids will be attending at both Griffith and Bowral. A shout out to the remarkable Rural Australians for Refugee groups in each town. They know what community is all about!

Supporter Meet-ups in Melbourne and Sydney.

The CRLC Family has grown and it is rare that we get to meet up, so we have arranged two Meet-Ups. The Meet-Ups will be very casual affairs, please feel free to come and go, or stay all afternoon. We’ll discuss the situation in Cisarua, and our plans for building our borderless community and continuing to support the refugee-led education revolution in Indonesia.

Melbourne will be between 1-5pm on Sat June the 15th at the Abbotsford Convent in the SALON. More details and instructions can be found here.

Sydney will be between 5-9pm on Thursday 20th June at the Australian, Film Television and Radio School in the Fox Entertainment district. Click here for a Google map.

It’s not essential, but if you are coming it would be helpful if you filled out this form. Thanks.

We’d love to see you!

Financial Support

Our most valuable asset is the refugees who work every day to improve refugee education in Indonesia and we expect to be working with them for up to 25 years. Our story has a long way to go yet and, if you are able to support us financially we would be very grateful.

Any donation is most welcomed and all are tax-deductible in Australia. The most powerful financial support is a monthly $25 or $50 donation, which allows us to focus on supporting the refugee education and connecting our communities. (UK and US supporters please contact us for details on how to get tax-deductibility in your countries).

Thank you so much. Hope to see many of you at the film screenings and Meet-Ups.

Direct Bank Deposits can be made to the Cisarua Learning Bank Account below.

Cisarua Learning Ltd, St George Bank, BSB: 105-011. Acc No: 110335440

PHOTOS FROM THE EVER REMARKABLE CRLC. BACK IN ACTION AFTER THE RAMADAN BREAK.

Help us get a Screenrights Cultural Grant.

Dear Friends in Education, and supporters of the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre and The Staging Post film,

An important part of the work of Cisarua Learning Ltd is to create connections, community and understanding between Australians and the refugees in Indonesia. We believe it is a two way education process.

This year, the Screenrights Cultural Grant is focussing on the connection between education and screen content, and we are applying in order to extend and develop our school screenings and workshop program. There are very few grants supporting our work and it would be incredibly powerful for our ongoing work if we could extend this program.

We would like to present the attached letter as part of the application and hope that you might be able to put your name, either as an individual or on behalf of your organisation, to the letter. Please forward to anyone how you think would be willing to attach their name and has education experience. Thank you so so much. We hope this grant will help us to visit, and create connections with, many many more schools.

If you would be willing to support his application, could you send an email to jolyonhoff@gmail.com with 

Name and Title:

Organisation (Optional):

Years in education:

Short comment (Optional): 

e.g.. We would love to host The Staging Post Education Project at our school/university.

We screened The Staging Post and the students loved it.

Muzafar and/or Jolyon presented The Staging Post at our schools and made a powerful impact on our students.

Thanks so much.

Sincerely

Jolyon and Muzafar

Five years of hard work to make one ‘non-story’.

So it’s on. Another election ‘coming soon’ to Australia, and once again refugees are on the front pages. In the last week, nearly every Australian TV, radio and television network has visited Indonesia looking for a story. To their surprise, they found something that didn’t fit their pre-conceived narrative. Instead of depressed and isolated refugees, they found a strong, connected and educated community. Instead of refugees pooling at the borders, they found a community determined to wait for an official chance to resettle. To get to this point it took five years of hard work by the refugee community in Indonesia, but when I read the media’s stories, it was my turn to be surprised. In an effort to find something, anything, that suited their Australian-centric narrative, the Australian media had looked straight past the many remarkable and unprecedented refugee-led initiatives in Indonesia.

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In 2013, when Australia reinstated its offshore detention policy, around 15,000 refugees were stuck in Indonesia. I was living in Jakarta and decided to find out more. I wanted to know who they were, where they came from, and what they were going to do now? What I found was desperate people. With no way forward or back, their mental, financial and social stress was acute. They were isolated and didn't even know each other. One refugee would not look at another when they crossed the street and smugglers had spread many rumours and untruths. The refugees thought that Indonesians carried knives under their clothes and would slit their throats at night. 

It was a dark time, but when a small group of refugees started a learning centre, it represented a glimmer of hope and they flocked to the school. That school is called the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC) and it has inspired a refugee-led education revolution in Indonesia. CRLC has 20 volunteer refugee teachers and nearly 300 students. The older women and men, many illiterate even in their own language, come in the afternoon to learn English. The school provides much more than education. It is the space around which a community has formed. For children whose parents lost their childhoods to war, it is a safe place for them to enjoy their own childhoods. For parents, it represents everything they hoped for their children when they left their home countries. For the teachers, it a place to contribute, away from the nightmares and worries that they carry inside them. It has also become a space for the refugees to educate and connect with Australians. There are over 100 visitors to the Centre every year. Some stay for months and the CRLC community has built thousands of friendships around the world.

Other refugees heard about CRLC and started their own schools. There are now over 10 refugee-led schools and around 1,500 refugees receiving education in Indonesia. Other initiatives include: karate classes, handicrafts groups, scrabble and chess competitions, football tournaments and more. If the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) wants to share information with refugees, then the schools provide a space for them. The managers of the various schools get together each month to discuss issues. Over five years this has created a strong community, which our media looked straight past when they visited Indonesia.

The difficulties still remain. There is no possibility for resettlement in Indonesia, creating the constant mental pressure of never knowing if, or when, you will be resettled. They cannot work in Indonesia and their financial situation is dire. They survive with support from family and friends overseas. In the past five years the Australian Government has reduced the number of refugees it takes from Indonesia from 900 to under 50. In a particularly nasty twist, the UNHCR has been told that any refugee whose family arrived in Australia by boat, will never be resettled in Australia. The UNHCR recently visited the CRLC to tell the community that they should expect to be stuck for up to 25 years.

The Australian media has already moved on. Dodgy government contracts in Papua New Guinea are the story this week. The refugee community in Indonesia has helped us in our quest to remove a stain from our history and we owe them a debt of gratitude for making this a ‘non-story’. It won’t take much to thank them, we just need to accompany them, be their friend and let them know that they are not forgotten. One day, Australia might introduce a refugee sponsorship policy, like Canada, and we can invite them in that way. Perhaps the Government will decide to increase resettlement spaces from Indonesia again. In the meantime, they are in the middle of a very long journey and there is plenty we can do.

Jolyon Hoff is the director of feature documentary The Staging Post. It follows the story of a small group of refugees who started a school and inspired a refugee-led education revolution in Indonesia. He is also the Project Director at Cisarua Learning, an Australian charity which supports refugee initiatives in Indonesia.

Condolences to the victims in Afghanistan

The history of Hazaras in Afghanistan has always been dark. Ever since the time of Abdur Rahman – who killed 64% of the Hazara people – senseless violence has always part of our lives. Last week, the Taliban attacked three peaceful districts in Afghanistan, which are the main access points to Hazarajat. The three districts of Uruzgan, Malistan, and Jaghuri have been under siege for a week. The Taliban have killed hundreds of innocent children, men, and women. Thousands of Hazaras have lost their homes and are now forcedly hiding in the mountains. Regrettably, the corrupt government of Afghanistan has not taken any measure to protect our innocent and peaceful people. As a consequence of the brutal attacks, many of the refugees in Indonesia have lost family members and friends. We wholeheartedly feel their pain and pay our condolences to the victims of war and terrorism. We stand with the districts of Malistan, Jaghuri, and Uruzgan. There are thousands of Hazaras like us who are the victims of war and terrorism. Despite the Taliban’s efforts to spread death and hatred, we in Cisarua pledge to continue our mission to educate our children and all members of our community. Forms of persecution against the Hazara people are inhuman and painstaking. And yet, they will never pull us away from our path of solidarity and progress.

Raffles Christian School

Recently we hosted a big number of students from Raffles Christian School Pondok Indah Campus. It is a privilege to have such a caring and compassionate community around us. The students spent some memorable time together for two days sharing ideas and stories; playing games, and building new friendships. “The purpose of this collaboration was to provide Raffles students with relevant knowledge on the social impact of refugees in Indonesia and to analyse the problems and the proposed solutions for refugees and CRLC. Also, we wanted to improve our students' communication skills when engaging with other children. In doing so, we managed to foster a sense of compassion and selflessness towards each other”. Mr. Taufeek head of the school

‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ Rumi. The refugee-led education revolution in Indonesia.

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There are many wounds in the refugee community: lost parents, brothers, sisters, dreams and childhood’s abound. There is also a wound, strongly felt in the Australian community, around Australia’s refugee offshore detention policy. Grandmother’s for Refugees, Mums for Refugees, Rural Australian’s for Refugees are all refugee advocacy groups tens of thousands strong who, in an attempt to change Australia’s refugee policy, have spent years placarding, protesting and letter writing. It is a policy which has caused terrible suffering to some of the most vulnerable people on this Earth.

Most Australians have accepted ‘the policy’ as a necessary evil, but almost none are pleased about it and refugee policy is still an everyday major issue in newspapers, on TV and radio, and in politics. I believe this is because we feel the pain deeply. It is a wound against our Australian ideals of a fair go, a stain on our lucky country, and it challenges our belief that we value human rights more than most others. Our immigration ministers say that no-one wants to lock people up in offshore detention – but they are. So refugee policy remains on the Australian political agenda, and the advocates continue to placard and write letters.

There are wounds on both sides. Those felt by the refugees escaping war and instability and those felt by the quietly, and not-so quietly, horrified Australian public. But there is a light entering those wounds, and it is led by the refugees. A borderless community is being created, and it is helping to heal those wounds.

After Australia ‘stopped the boats’, about 15,000 refugees were stuck in Indonesia. Some were planning to take a boat to Christmas Island, while others planned to wait it out in the years-long UNHCR queue. However, with the new Australian policy, they found themselves stuck. UNHCR resettlement spots dwindled and, if the end result was detention on a remote island, the 50/50 risk presented by the boats wasn’t worth it.

A small group of refugees decided to take matters into their own hands and started their own school for refugees. One refugee, Muzafar Ali, had worked for the UN in Afghanistan helping to provide education for prisoners. He knew that if prisoners could have an education, so could the refugees. It was a human right and nobody could stop them. The first school was humble: two small rooms, a few books, and a few under-qualified volunteer refugee teachers. They started anyway and the school was an instant hit. There were 50 students on the waiting list within a week. Australian’s living in Jakarta (I was one of them) quickly became aware of the school and rallied to help rent a bigger space, the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC) was born.

The CRLC became a magnet for Australians bypassing their government’s policies. Every year between 200 to 300 Australians make the trip to Cisarua, about two hours outside of Jakarta, to meet the refugees. They reach out to connect with, and support, the refugees’ initiative. At the same time they are healing the wound they feel on Australia’s soul. They play football together, become interns and teachers, and have meals together. Some stay up to six months and live with the refugees. All the while they learn from, and about, refugees. They meet people dedicated to education, people who just want a safe place to contribute, and they make life-long friends. When they return, they carry this knowledge back to Australia.

In August 2018, the school celebrated its fourth anniversary. Many refugee kids went to school for the first time at the CRLC. The volunteer teachers received training from the New South Wales Teacher’s Federation, University of Technology in Sydney, Australian Education Union, Australian Intercultural School in Jakarta, and many others. The education levels are now comparable to any average Australian primary school. The wound is still there, but connection, community and education is bringing some light, and helping to sustain hope. Other refugees in Indonesia have watched the success of the CRLC and have started similar schools. As of August 2018, there are 14 refugee-led education centres, teaching over 1,500 refugees and managed by around 100 volunteer refugee teachers.

The refugee-led schools in Indonesia offer us, as Australians, an opportunity for learning, connection and friendship. While we continue to advocate for those stuck on Manus and Nauru, the refugees in Indonesia have presented us with an opportunity to show our government how we, the Australian People, believe we should act towards others in need.

Find out more at Cisarualearning.com and watch our film at thestagingpost.com.au

Jolyon Hoff







Teaching and Child Safety Protection training by UTS

One of the most valuable parts of volunteering in transit is receiving training based on different agendas. This year we received training on teaching Social Sciences, and on how to use technology in the classroom. Social science is an important part of our curriculum, it helps our students to understand the world and to develop critical thinking. Today, being able to use technology is an essential foundation for all students. Learning how to integrate technology in the classroom has helped to make study easier, more fun and more effective. We also received Child Protection and Safety Awareness Training from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). As we work with children of all ages it is important to be aware of children’s rights, safety and protection and to ensure a nurturing and peaceful environment for all the children. Now every single member of CRLC has knowledge of child protection and what we can do as teachers to keep them safe. We wholeheartedly thank UTS for the ongoing Teacher Training and look forward to further training to help us serve the community and children the best we can.

Meeting with professors from Defence University and locals.

We had a meeting with the students and professors from the Defence University Sentul Bogor to discuss about the refugee situation in Cisarua and the relationship with locals. They came here to educate themselves about refugees and learn how the local Indonesians see refugees living here.

The head of Tugu Utara, Pak Asep, RT Suhendra and many other locals joined the meeting. It was absolutely pleasing that the locals were happy with the refugees living in Cisarua. “I know the reason why refugees live here, how they communicate and survive here. The society here accepts all the refugees as their brothers and sisters. We love that all refugees live in peace here.” Pak Asep.

This is it everyone! Our Chuffed fundraising video.

 

Muzafar, Khadim and I are nearing the end of our epic Refugee Week 2018 Staging Post Screening Tour. We have had the most incredible time traveling to Bega, Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Bedigo, Armidale, Warrawong and more. We have been energised and enthused by the warmth and love we have received. As an Australian, I am especially encouraged. We are sure that the #CRLCFamily has grown in the past two weeks.

Now it is the time to ask you to support our charity, Cisarua Learning. Please help us become a viable and long-term charity through our Chuffed fundraising campaign. We are a fully registered Public Benevolent Institution and all donations are tax deductible.

Please be generous as we have a lot of work to do in Indonesia. The UNHCR has told the refugees they will be there up to 25 years and we are determined to accompany the refugees for as long as they need, and to continue the support the incredible successes they have had so far.

Beow are some photos from the tour so far and also a fundraising video made by a trio of tired, dusty and croaky filmmakers.

Thanks to all our supporters, big and small, near and far. We love you and thanks for being a part of our journey so far. Please share this video as widely as you can!

This is just the beginning.

Love

Jolyon, Muzafar and Khadim

Today is another big day for the CRLC family.

Today is another big day for the CRLC family as we resume activities after a long break. The excitement of returning to classes is evident on the faces of all the children who are so happy to see their friends and teachers again.

“I tried to be at school an hour earlier to capture some photos of students and ask about their break. But when I reached the Learning Centre around 20% of the students had already entered the building with enthusiasm and happy faces.” Said our Media Manager.

We are thrilled that all the volunteer teachers and the team are back with renewed energy and commitment to continue educating refugees. #refugees #education #children #teachers

Meet Henry Rajendra, one of the first supporters.

Meet Henry Rajendra, one of the first supporters.

Henry visited our learning centre a month after we started. In collaboration with New South Wales Teachers Federation and Australian Education Union, he arranged teacher trainers for our teachers.

Ever since he is following our journey, a great supporter, and most of all, raising our voice in Australia. Tonight he spoke strongly about refugee education during the screening of The Staging Post at Illawarra, New South Wales.

CRLC family is proud of you Henry for your support.

Art is my language.

Art is one of the most loving subjects at CRLC. Many of the students are highly interested in different art and paper work. "We love arts because it is colourful and pleasing."

Art is the language that remains fresh: you can express your feelings through art that you are not able to express through words. As our beloved art teacher said, "When no-one listens to you, you are forced to change your language. Art is my language. It gave me the voice that I was denied. Though it is silent, I feel it is very powerful."

I found some brilliant artwork of students in different classes. Each single classroom was decorated differently and was amazing. Paper work decoration, pencil colour, water and oil colours painting were glowing in the classrooms.

Happy Eid 2018

Refugees live outside of any system, and are on an uncertain journey. Dispersed around the world and away from their homes and families, they still hold onto hope, and strive for togetherness, strength and happiness.

CRLC is that centre of togetherness, community and happiness for refugees in Cisarua, Indonesia. We have created great relationships with the Indonesian and international community, and here we forget any borders and differences.

On this special Eid we wish all our friends and the muslim world a very happy and prosperous moment. We hope this Eid helps us forgive each other and achieve our goals.

Selamat merayakan Idul Fitri bersama keluarga dan handai taulan. Semoga kita semua selalu berada dalam bimbingan dan lindungan Allah SWT. Damai sejahtera Idul Fitri memenuhi hati kita semua dengan harapan dan kekuatan serta kebijaksanaan. Mohon maaf lahir batin.

Some extraordinary people from around the world have supported us.

Ever since the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre was established, some extraordinary people from around the world have supported us.

From the establishment to the sustainability of the Learning centre these people have contributed so much to ensuring the refugee children getting education in limbo. The generous Susanne Holste and Gustav who have cycled 4869 kilometers across the United States on their bikes to raise money per kilometer for CRLC. This is a pure human spirit.

We the whole CRLC family thank Susanne Holste and Gustav (https://www.facebook.com/ecomiles) from the bottom of our hearts for their magnificent and life changing fund raising for the refugee children stuck in limbo in Indonesia.