The room was not too large. It was simple too. However, it was clean and nice. Several tables, chairs and laptops were available. But, they preferred to sit on the floor and generally in pairs, to then have fun discussion. Some people were seen moving their hands, forming certain codes accompanied by serious expressions. Yes, they were students who were assisting their hearing impaired friends.
In another corner, two students were looking at a cellphone screen. The other student stared without blinking as he brought his ear to the speaker. He is Fajrin, a visually impaired student who was taking International relations major and was studying with his companion, Fira. Turning to another corner, a pair of students in wheelchairs appeared entering the room.
Staring at those faces, I could not hide my joy. Instinctively, I smiled. I am proud to know them. Proud to be part of their community.
A little flashback, I asked myself, “at their age, what was I doing?” I was still busy with myself. If it’s not college matters, it’s puppy love matters. I was taking care of trivial matters, while these youth are assisting diffable students studying at Universitas Brawijaya (UB), Malang.
UB is one of the most inclusive campuses in Indonesia. This campus opens its doors wide for diffable people. Besides giving opportunities to compete through public channels, UB also opens a special path for prospective diffable students through the Center for Disability Studies and Services (PSLD). Every year, there are at least 20 diffabled students accepted in various majors. At present, there are 80 diffable students in UB with various types of disabilities, including hearing impaired, visually impaired, physically disabled, and autism.
In addition to providing access to infrastructure that is more disability friendly, such as elevators, ramps, handrails, and mobile service cars, UB also recruits volunteers to assist diffable students. The requirement to be the volunteer is an active student of UB, although there are some students who have graduated that can still volunteer. Every year, the number of volunteers increases with the growing awareness of students about the rights of diffable people.
That day I mingled with them. I sat and watched how they studied together; supported each other, helped each other. They worked on questions, wrote essays, prepared presentation materials, and also joked around with laughter.
“What motivated you to become a volunteer, Rien?” I asked Akmarina, one of the volunteer students in the room.
“A call to my heart because I used to have a hearing impaired junior (at school),” she said.
Akmarina was currently assisting two deaf students. She is fluent in sign language. When I conducted a book review in UB, she was the translator for her hearing impaired friends.
I feel touched.
“Then, how is your study? Not disturbed?”
She smiled and shook her head.
“During my time as a volunteer, I learn to understand that the volunteer’s task is not limited to the task of assisting in academics, but at the same time being a friend to diffable students. I got the opportunity to learn to be a good friend to my diffable friends by trying to see and understand various problems around from a diffable perspective.”
I choked. Rien is not only wise and kind. Her words flowed like serenade touching the deepest recesses of the heart.
“What does Rien get from all this?” feeling a bit uneasy, I asked further.
“Happiness.” She smiled as she said it. “Becoming a volunteer at PSLD makes me aware of the beauty of going together, striving to develop self capacity together. The world is dynamic.”
She paused, before finally added, “Associating with diffable friends brings new awareness without the need to think about who is the best because the most important thing is how the process and all the efforts made to become the best version of ourselves.”
I could no longer speak. I wrote exactly as she said. There is nothing I add, edit or subtract. That answer explained why they seemed willing and happy, even though their activities were quite tight and time-consuming.
That day I learned a few words in sign language. Not easy, even tiring. However, seeing the excitement of Akmarina and other friends, I found hope: Indonesia will become more powerful in the next few years.
Writer: Ade Siti Barokah
Program Officer for Disability Pillar of Program Peduli