One of the main concerns expressed by the parents of the roughly 1,400 migrant children under IOM care across Indonesia is that they are missing out on their education because generally they are not allowed to attend mainstream national schools.
In Medan, North Sumatra, 43-year-old Mathi and two fellow refugees from Sri Lanka are making a real difference.
“I used to feel so bored sitting all alone in my room,” Mathi said. “One day while I was having a cup of tea and looking out my window I saw all the little children of my fellow migrants playing on the ground very cheerfully without knowing their future. They inspired me!
“I told myself that I shouldn’t be sitting idle and wasting my time and talent. I should do something useful for myself and my community. I took stock of my abilities and realized the thing I had to offer them was my passion for teaching.
“When I shared my thoughts with my friends Suresh and Selvi, they said they’d had exactly the same idea! It all clicked so well. So we called all the parents in for a talk and explained our intentions. All of them welcomed our idea and agreed to send their children to attend our classes.
“Now we have 25 Sri Lankan and Somali children aged between six to 12 years old and the classes are going very well. We run the classes from Monday through Friday, from 8.00 am till 3.00 pm just like a regular school, only we are unpaid volunteers.
“The classes include the Tamil and English languages, mathematics and general knowledge based on school syllabuses used in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia, and materials found on the Internet.
“If I can shed some light into another person’s life and make them a better person, then why not? It makes me feel like a very complete person.”
Feedback from parents and pupils is enthusiastic
“Being migrants, we can’t send our children to formal schools in Medan like the locals,” one of the parents, Mrs. V says. That vacuum has been filled up by Mani and his volunteer teachers. I really thank and appreciate their noble efforts.”
Another parent, Mr. D adds, “I see a lot of improvements in both my boys. Now they communicate well, they are respectful, very helpful and obedient. This is because the teachers are feeding them not only academics but also exposing the children to extra-curricular activities like sports, exhibitions; they took them on an excursion to the zoo for example.”
“I like the lions in the zoo,” his eldest pipes up, to the cheers of the children around him.
“I want to become a doctor so that if my mother falls sick I can give her an injection and she will recover soon,” adds a nine-year-old boy.
“I like to attend these classes because I can meet all my friends and I can learn Tamil and English,” says an eight-year-old girl. “I like the teachers because they are very kind and they teach us how to count.”
"I ask for nothing more."
Says Mathi: “Being a migrant is very painful, mentally and physically. Leaving my family, my wife and son behind to seek asylum in a foreign land because of the war, means living a life that is bleak and full of uncertainties.
“It would be a new lease on life if I could be resettled in a peaceful country and be reunited with my family. I ask for nothing more.
“I must tell you that I really appreciate IOM for giving us the morale and material support like tables and chairs, whiteboards and markers, and photocopies of text books, to make this project a success.”