Refugee youth join Indonesians in planting seeds for a better future through organic farming

Abdi (not his real name), a young refugee from Ethiopia, walked into neat rows of vegetables managed by UNHCR’s partner The Learning Farm (TLF) on one sunny morning in Cianjur regency, West Java. He proudly showed various vegetables that he grew in the vegetable garden. “This is kangkung [morning glory]. These are tomatoes, lettuces,” said Abdi.

Seorang pengungsi muda dari Ethiopia merupakan salah satu dari 10 lulusan terbaik program dari partner UNHCR The Learning Farm (TLF) di Cianjur, Jawa Barat. "Di sini, saya belajar bagaimana menanam sayuran seperti tomat dan selada. Saya juga belajar bekerja sama dalam tim," katanya.
© UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

He excitedly went on explaining how he started to learn organic farming at TLF. “Here, I learned how to grow vegetables like tomatoes and lettuces. I also learned how to work together as a team,” he said. Abdi was one of the top 10 recent graduates at TLF.

He is one among dozens of young Indonesians and refugees given the opportunity to learn organic farming at the organization under its residential course. Besides organic farming, Abdi also learned skills in other classes, such as computer, Bahasa Indonesia, English and financial literacy.

“Now, alhamdulillah [thank God] my Bahasa Indonesia is improving,” Abdi said, expressing his gratitude to friends and teachers who had been very helpful during his stint at TLF. Abdi and dozens of local youth graduated in June and received certificates of completion from TLF.

Founded by World Education in 2005, TLF is a non-profit organization, which empowers disadvantaged youth across Indonesia to become independent, responsible and contributing member of societies by learning organic farming and caring for nature, said Executive Director Nona Pooroe Utomo.

“TLF provides life skills that can be used [by the participants] to achieve a blooming life,” Nona said, adding that TLF has accepted refugees since 2016. As of August 2017, 11 refugees have enrolled in the programme.

Disadvantaged youth include those who dropped out of school, poverty-stricken youth, as well as refugees facing hardships. During the transition process, Nona continued, youth enrolled at TLF are taught some skills and values in the hope that those skills will be useful for them in the future.

TLF youth aged between 15 and 25 comes from diverse backgrounds from across the archipelago. For all candidates, as part of the recruitment process, TLF interviews shortlisted candidates. “We need to know their motivation, whether they are ready take part in our programme,” said Nona.

TLF usually accepts up to four refugees in one batch. During the training, selected youth participate in life skills, vocational and entrepreneurial training activities with an emphasis on organic farming, while the remaining instruction consists of soft skills, such as computer and English and Bahasa Indonesia classes for refugees.

“We also teach them financial literacy, communication skills and marketing entrepreneurship. Such skills are good to get them prepared in entering the job market,” Nona went on.

From Monday to Saturday, the participants start their day as early as 6 a.m. to do a string of activities, both in the classroom and at the farm, until around 6 p.m.

TLF has its own staff for the organic farming classes, but for the soft skills classes, the organization relies on individual volunteers and those from partner organizations, both international and local NGOs, in teaching the youth. TLF, for instance, teams up with local teachers to teach refugees Bahasa Indonesia, while it collaborates with a bank in delivering a financial literacy class, as well as a private university to provide computer classes.

Nona praised the refugees for showing their tireless learning spirit. The only obstacle faced by refugees is their lack of ability in Bahasa Indonesia. “Not all of TLF facilitators can speak English so the learning process was difficult at the beginning,” said Nona. “Now we have Bahasa Indonesia instructor who specifically teaches refugees. The refugees themselves have shown their dedication in learning the language,” she added.

Another young refugee named Rahim from Afghanistan also expressed his joy in learning organic farming at TLF. “[Beforehand] I didn’t know anything about farming, now I know how to grow vegetables. We grew lettuce, cauliflower, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, onion and many others,” he said.

The young refugee, who recently graduated from TLF’s organic farming program, also expressed his gratitude to his fellow Indonesians for helping him settle in the city and learn Bahasa Indonesia. “It’s good to have this experience, so [later] I can grow plants at my [future] home,” Salman said.