My Testimony for 40th JRS Anniversary
Describe your life and what was happening when you first become involved with JRS. How your journey with JRS has changed along the way?
Before joining JRS in July 2005, I worked for a non-governmental organization concerned with research about conflict and integration to support Indonesia’s government policy. In 2004, I traveled to Papua and Aceh. Both provinces were the hot spots of separatist conflicts. Since 2002, JRS had been present in Aceh for internally displaced persons (IDPs) caused by the 30-year conflict between the Indonesian military and the separatist Free Aceh Movement.
In the immediate aftermath of the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami destroying large sections of Aceh and North Sumatra, an unprecedented national and international compassion and solidarity rekindled hopes, helped many disaster survivors meet their basic needs, and avoid widespread disease and famine. JRS also provided many survivors of the natural disaster with immediate relief and support for long-term recovery.
I joined JRS in Meulaboh, West Aceh, in July 2005. It was my first time joining a humanitarian work. People in need of care outside of Java whipped me up into acts of solidarity. I had to leave my family in Java. I worked for three months only in Meulaboh, including Kuala Tripa and Nagan Raya Regency, and then moved to Medan, North Sumatra to work as the Information and Advocacy Officer (IAO). JRS Aceh Area 2 had covered three JRS Site Offices in West Aceh (Meulaboh), South Aceh (Tapaktuan), and East Aceh (Langsa). As an IAO in JRS Area Aceh Area 2, I managed my travel to visit the three site offices spread from East to West in the north part of Sumatra Island.
Regarding IDPs who were survivors of a natural disaster, it was a new challenge and experience for JRS by implementing Tsunami Response Project in Aceh. At that time, JRS Indonesia had only just little experiences about reconstruction and relief of a village, building many houses or recovery the livelihood of survivors who lost everything affected by a natural disaster. JRS Indonesia also had experienced in education, relief, reconciliation, and peacebuilding after violent social conflicts in East and West Timor, Moluccas, and Aceh. I had worked in the Tsunami Response Project for three years, from 2005 to 2007.
After that, the Displacement Prevention and Disaster Risk Reduction Project in South Aceh focused on preventing displacement due to social conflicts or natural disasters and empowering communities, youth, and schools to cope with the displacement. At that time, I was also IAO for Community Project and had responsible for Peace Building Training for the Community. JRS Indonesia allowed me to increase my knowledge capacity about conflict resolution and peacebuilding by taking a three-week course on conflict resolution at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.
The Displacement Prevention and Disaster Risk Reduction Project in South Aceh ended in 2011, and I resigned from JRS. Then, I rejoined JRS to assess returnees in Papua, who returned to their village of origin from Papua New Guinea. In the second half of 2013, I returned to Aceh as a co-partner of the external evaluators. In 2014, I joined JRS again to accompany asylum seekers and refugees at the Immigration Detention Centers in Surabaya and Medan until 2018.
While joining JRS in the Aceh Project (2005–2011) and the Befriend Refugee Project since 2014, I have learned a lot about humanitarian issues, conflict resolution, empathizing with people’s sufferings, and the importance of being with them. Giving something to people we serve (PWS) is an easy matter, but feeling empathy and willing to be a friend of people in distress or suffering is a matter of conscience and partisanship.
In this chance, let me say my thanks to my mentor, who conducted me to be a humanitarian worker with JRS. I appreciate and thank the 2006–2008 JRS Aceh Project Director (Father Bambang Sipayung SJ), the 2009–2011 JRS South Aceh Project Director (Father Toto Yulianto SJ), the former JRS Country Directors (Fathers Edy Mulyono SJ, Adrianus Suyadi SJ, Thomas Aquinas Maswan Susinto SJ), and the JRS Country Director since 2019 (Father Peter Devantara SJ).
Where are you in your life today?
I have been working with JRS Indonesia since 2019 in the Psychosocial Support Field of Befriend Project for independent asylum seekers or refugees living in Cisarua, Bogor Regency, West Java. I accompany and serve refugees who need education through the JRS Learning Center, which provides English and Indonesian language and embroidery classes and various extra class activities to offer services to their psychosocial needs.
I feel challenged to work in the PSS Field during the Covid-19 pandemic as we must avoid a face-to-face class and convert it to remote online learning. The teachers are very excited to teach online with the choice of the platform they choose. The students are also pleased to learn. They are eager to attend Zoom classes and discuss many exciting topics in both English and Indonesian. Likewise, extra class activities can still be done, such as student creativity competitions and competitions between centers while still using virtual spaces, and also Yoga class and Better Life Class, which was conducted by a trainer from Jakarta.
What difference did JRS make in your life? Any specific events?
In implementing a program, JRS always emphasizes the importance of an approach based on JRS values such as compassion, justice, solidarity, and participation. All JRS staff members appreciate spiritual values and the diversity of cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.
As a Muslim, I always feel comfortable practicing my religion among my Catholic friends. I can pray in the office, and also, when fasting in Ramadhan for one month, I feel comfortable running while still working in the office and accompanying refugees in the field. Interfaith dialogues I have both with friends at work and refugees are more attractive.
I think this is an implementation of JRS values, namely respecting each individual’s dignity as human beings, even for JRS staff or refugees served by JRS. The team is comfortable to work because the JRS staff strive to respect and uphold the values of compassion.
JRS talks about walking with the people we accompany, serve, and advocate them on their journeys,. What does these 3 words mean to you?
For me, accompanying, serving, and advocating refugees are mutually reinforcing activities in helping refugees and solving their problems. Refugees who have exiled from their home countries think that host communities presume that they are strangers or foreigners. Refugees will feel alienated or lonely in their new place or community. Usually, people who face problems need friends with whom they share a deep level of understanding. So, accompaniment is essential. I will be there for refugees and listen to them.
Sometimes asylum seekers and refugees need help. They face various difficulties, such as financial problems, difficulties in facing new situations, and problems related to their status, either dealing with regulations or laws in a new place or country. Advocacy is essential to protect the refugees.
We can’t split the mission of JRS. Accompaniment, service, and advocacy are united compactly. By being with and for refugees, and being on their side, we promote every person’s dignity and commit to solidarity and justice.