Left: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Singapore volunteer Thomas Flinchum teaching English to officers at the detention centre housing asylum seekers in Manado, Indonesia. Right: Trainee teachers making flash cards for young children at a lesson taught by JRS Singapore in Myitkyina, Myanmar.Left: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Singapore volunteer Thomas Flinchum teaching English to officers at the detention centre housing asylum seekers in Manado, Indonesia. Right: Trainee teachers making flash cards for young children at a lesson taught by JRS Singapore in Myitkyina, Myanmar.

Amid a global refugee crisis, volunteers from Singapore have been reaching out to refugee and migrant communities in neighbouring Indonesia and Myanmar.

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Singapore, like other JRS chapters around the world, has been working on projects that educate and serve refugees and other displaced and marginalised persons.

Assisting in education is one way for JRS Singapore to help build a future for people who may spend years in limbo and unable to work legally.
A view of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Myitkyina, Myanmar. A view of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Myitkyina, Myanmar.

JRS Singapore is commemorating World Refugee Day on the weekend of June 18 and 19 at the Church of St Ignatius. There will also be an exhibition on refugees in Southeast Asia and on Mercy in Motion, an initiative inspired by Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy, where JRS seeks to expand educational services globally for an additional 100,000 refugees by 2020.

The UN and other groups traditionally hold events on World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20, highlighting the issues that face the approximately 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide, who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution.

Former teachers are among a small group of JRS volunteers from Singapore who have visited Myanmar and Indonesia to impart their skills to displaced communities.

In several JRS projects in late 2014 and early 2015, seven Singaporeans made separate short trips to Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State in Myanmar.

In November 2014, JRS volunteer Doris Khoo trained 19 soon-to-be teachers inside a camp that hosts IDPs. Many of these people were forced from their homes under circumstances such as political conflict or the forcible seizure of their land.

Ms Khoo instructed the trainee teachers, aged 17 to 25 years, in the use of group work in the classroom, as well as project-based learning. The aim of this training module was to empower these trainees to help educate preschool and primary school-aged children return to their communities.

In December 2014, JRS Singapore was involved in conducting hands-on science projects on sustainability, using recycled products to make useful and scarce items such as fuel-efficient stoves, detergents and mosquito repellents.

In January 2015, JRS members and other Singaporeans facilitated an anti-human trafficking workshop in Mytikyina. There were 34 participants at the course. They were taught to recognise trafficker strategies, such as promising $3,000 for a waitressing job in Singapore, among other things.

“It was exhilarating to have this opportunity to provide education to them as it’s a concrete start to combating human trafficking,” said Ms Stacie Tan, one of five Singaporeans who facilitated the training course held at a youth centre near the IDPs camp.

In another education project last year, four volunteers from Singapore were involved in a joint initiative between JRS Indonesia and JRS Singapore.

They conducted basic English classes for the immigration officers at the Immigration Detention Centre in Manado, Indonesia, in North Sulawesi province. The objective was to teach the immigration officers English in order to help them communicate with the detainees at the centre.

The majority of the detainees are asylum-seekers, mostly from Afghanistan, the Philippines, Myanmar and other Middle EAst countries.

JRS Singapore member Thomas Flinchum prepared the course curriculum and lesson plans, and provided guidance on the teaching of English, taking three trips to Manado last year for this purpose.

“It was almost like feeding baby birds, they were so hungry, they so wanted to learn,” said Mr Flinchum.

JRS will eventually embark on a similar project like the one in Manado, Indonesia, but this time in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta, where asylum-seeker detainees will learn English.

The website of JRS Singapore is http://www.jrssg.org/http://www.jrssg.org/


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