Indonesian volunteers share arts and ways to protect the environment with refugees

“Look! I painted a turtle!” said Ahmad*, a 10-year-old refugee, while doing glass painting. Ahmad is one of dozens of refugee children who took part in arts and educational activities organized by non-governmental organization Kanaditya in Jakarta. The two-day event was held on 24 and 25 July in celebration of National Children’s Day.

A refugee boy paints a turtle during a glass painting workshop. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

Founded by Debby Lukito Goeyardi and Dewa Gede Agung Dharmayasa in 2012 in Bali, Kanaditya focuses on literacy and education through a number of arts, cultural and educational programs for less fortunate children, including children of porters at the Badung traditional market, and children from needy families or with special needs.

Kanaditya has expanded its programs to children in nearby islands, such as Sumba and Flores.  Now, the organization lends a hand to assist refugees in Greater Jakarta. For the Jakarta initiatives, Debby and her team recruited volunteers through its social media platforms.

On day one, volunteers taught young refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Eritrea to create bag and glass paintings, as well as a village mock-up at the refugee community center. “Before today, refugees seem to be ‘unreachable’ as we only see them in news reports. When I finally met them, it turns out that they are just like any Indonesian children. They like to play and learn about everything,” said Debby.

Nabila (left), a volunteer, assists refugees during glass painting session. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

During a story-telling session, Debby recited a story titled “When Uncle Kala Stays Silent” in English and Indonesian. She was impressed with the refugees’ Indonesian language skills. The refugee children were beaming with joy when Debby and some volunteers gave away prizes during quizzes, which was followed with a session to create a village mock-up based on Debby’s story.

An Eritrean refugee, who is also a mother of four, was grateful for being able to participate in the event. “At the beginning, my sons were reluctant to come. Now they really enjoy all of the activities. We do learn something. This really means a lot for us,” Sana said.

On day two, Debby and 15 volunteers visited a refugee shelter and worked together with around 40 young refugees there. Environmentalist Taufiq Saguanto, well-known for his efforts in recycling used plastic bottles and founder of Recycle Bottles Museum in Malang, East Java, taught refugees and volunteers to create a mini motorbike from used plastic bottles.

“I think it’s great to make something out of used plastic bottles. It’s good for me to learn new things,” said Aria, a Yemeni refugee. “I like building things since I have a dream of becoming an architect. I heard that you can make buildings out of plastic bottles,” he added.

Debby tells a story in front of dozens of refugee children. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

After learning to create some environmentally-friendly craft, refugees and volunteers were divided into four groups to work hand-in-hand in a cooking competition to make crepes. Everybody seemed to be pumped up to be the best and didn’t mind getting their hands dirty to mix the dough, cook and garnish it. The trickiest parts were to make the right dough and cook a smooth thin slice of crepes. Debby, Taufiq and a UNHCR staff served as the judges to decide the winner based on their teamwork and the crepes’ appearance and taste. All teams were winners that day since Kanaditya gave away gifts for all refugees.

Volunteers shared their excitement in working together with refugees for the first time. “I never knew that they live around us here. I only knew refugees in other countries from news reports. The refugee children are so creative,” Nabila said. Another volunteer, Arnold, even took two days off to volunteer. “This is my first time working with refugees. They are just like us. It feels good to be able to help them,” he said.

Refugee kids and their parents are busy creating village mock-ups. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

Taufiq Saguanto shows his craft creation made of used plastic bottle. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

Taufiq (left) demonstrates how to make motorcycle from used plastic bottles. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

Refugees and volunteers work hand-in-hand to make tasty crepes in a cooking competition. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari


*Names of all refugees were changed for this article.