Indonesia: carving livelihoods through handicrafts

26 August 2012

Mahani makes beaded handicrafts to support her three children while awaiting refugee status determination. (JRS)

Bogor, 26 August 2012 – I met Mahani* in her home in Indonesia. She was cooking lunch with her three children, aged 13, seven and six. In her modest home, she spends her days making handicrafts to support the family, taking care of her children, and waiting for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) to decide whether or not she is a refugee. Her hope for the future rests on resettlement.

Since May 2012, Mahani has been attending classes at Church World Service to learn more skills to make handicrafts, cloths and beaded bags. She also studies English and computer technology. While sitting on the computer at Villa 666- a centre for asylum seekers and refugees run by World Relief- she typed out her story. Here is what she wrote.

“When I was a child, I had five brothers and two sisters.  But two of my brothers were later killed by the Sri Lankan army. My brothers helped me with my studies and my sisters helped me with things around the house. I had a good life and a happy childhood. After school I studied typing, music and shorthand. I married my husband in 1996. I loved him very much. He was so handsome.

My parents did not agree with our marriage so his parents cared for us. After we had our three children, my mother-in-law worked on a farm to save money for their education. We were a happy family. In 2009, a bomb destroyed our village. The Sri Lankan army was at war with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam and Tamil communities were being destroyed. A bomb killed my husband and broke my heart.

My son was only ten, and my daughters were nearly three and two years old. We were all so sad. I went to work as a typist to care for my family, but our home was destroyed by another bomb. We went to live in a camp with half a million other people. I lived with my children in a tent for three months. My children became very sick and I contacted my mother to move in with her. We moved to my mother’s community and my children were able to live in a house and go to school. Things were better [temporarily].

But then the Sri Lankan military came to our new home and took me away. They tortured me because they thought I had information that would be useful to them. They wanted me to be a translator and a typist for them but I refused. We had to leave my mother’s village. I knew the military would keep coming after me. And I knew how dangerous it was to be a single widow in that situation. So I packed up my things and boarded a plane for Malaysia with my children. From there we took a boat to Indonesia.

Although I am safe from the military, things are very bad for us here. The house is very small and rent is very high. I can see that my children are not happy. They cannot go to school. I know I am a good mother but sometimes I get very angry and there is so much tension in our house.

Every day I wake up early in the morning and cook, go to class and sleep. I must do everything on my own. I wait for the day we can go to a new country.  In the future I want my children to have a free and peaceful life. I want them to have a good job and a good future. They have already experienced so much. They are the most important thing to me”.

Since 2009, JRS helps urban refugees in Bogor to access health care, find an education for their children, and develop skills that will prepare them for resettlement.

*Names have been changed to protect identity


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