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Navid (top) and his team mates climbing the areca pole. (JRS Indonesia)

Bogor, 20 October 2017 – Navid*, is one of the students in the Bahasa Indonesia class at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Learning Centre in Bogor, Indonesia. He is one of a few in the class who can communicate fluently in the language, and despite his poor health, Navid is very diligent and active in learning activities at the centre. He is a polite, friendly, and passionate young man from Afghanistan.  

Last August, JRS communicated with the Babakan neighbourhood head in Cisarua and its youth group about possibilities for refugees to participate in Indonesia’s Independence Day celebration. JRS saw an opportunity to build stronger relationships between refugees and the local community. With a generous heart, the youth group, residents, and their neighbourhood head invited refugees to participate in the festivities. JRS passed on the good news to Navid’s class at the JRS Learning Centre in Bahasa.  

On the morning of August 17th, Navid and his friends gathered at the JRS Learning Centre, all well-dressed in shirts, jeans, and sneakers. They were happy to be allowed to attend the Independence Day celebration. At exactly 9.30am, JRS Navid and friends headed to the Babakan field. When they arrived, some preparations were still being made. The refugee students immediately responded by helping residents set up the areca palm pole for the areca-climbing race.  

There were various kinds of competitions held for the children: a marble racing contest, putting pencils into bottles, inserting threads into needles, eating crackers, and a sack race. Residents and refugees were cheering excitedly during the tug of war game while young refugees competed with local children. Residents and refugees were cheering excitedly, making the atmosphere so festive and warm. Navid and some of his friends cheered in support of their fellow refugees. Two of the child refugees successfully won the marble race and thread the needle competition; they were proud and happy.  

Then it was time for the adult competitions, where adult and adolescent refugees joined the clog race, pillow fight, and tug of war game. No one wanted to join the areca-climbing competition, except Navid. He said that the areca-climbing race was unique and he was excited to join the competition for the first time. Navid immediately went home and changed his clothes. He came back to the field wearing shorts and a terracotta coloured t-shirt. Navid was confident, even as the only refugee among the 12 local youths he was competing against. His thin and tiny body did not weaken his confidence or break his spirits. Before he started climbing the areca pole, he listened to the directions from a local boy, his teammate.  

Despite the size of his body, Navid was very strong and unyielding. He occupied mostly the bottom position and was always ready to provide his shoulders to support other youths who tried to climb and conquer the tall, slippery pole. In the heat of the sun, Navid did not complain at all and remained excited. He occasionally climbed on his own, but kept slipping due to the oil rubbed along the areca pole. For approximately two hours, they tried unsuccessfully to make it to the top of the pole. The audience was still cheering faithfully, believing that the team could conquer the areca pole.  

Half an hour later, Navid and his teammates were finally able to make it to the top of the areca pole, waving the red and white flag once they arrived. Everyone was touched and they all applauded, including the refugees. Some women even shed tears while clapping and cheering. The beauty of unity and the warmth that radiated from the experience showed that the celebration of Indonesia’s independence could be enjoyed not only by Indonesian citizens but also by newcomers. Happy and proud smiles appeared across faces, as the red and white flag waved beautifully in the summer air.

– Leocadia Puspitasari, Caregiver and Education Officer JRS Indonesia

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals