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‘It sounds like something so small, this idea that they started a little school with two rooms'

Former UN worker and refugee Muzafar Ali and filmmaker Jolyon Hoff joined Purposely to share their founder story with the Cisarua Learning Centre. Pictured centre Khadim Dias.

‘It sounds like something so small, this idea that they started a little school with two rooms… but something bigger happened as well and that was about the refugees reclaiming agency.’

Stuck in Indonesia after Australia 'stopped the boats' and facing many years in limbo, they built a community and started the school which inspired a refugee education revolution.

A story about friendship, connection and the power of community.

How did it start for Jolyon Hoff:

'We were living in Jakarta Indonesia when Australia stopped the boats. I realized I'd never met a refugee in my life and they had been a massive story in Australia in the media. Coupled with the fact that I always felt that Australia can do a much better job of supporting refugees. I wanted to know who they were and where they had came from and what they were going to do now.

As simple as it sounds I looked online, worked out where they were and one day I drove up the hill... a very fateful journey. I got out of the car and I met this man, it turned out to be Muzafer and we instantly became friends. We connected creatively through his photography and my filmmaking.

We also went on to create the Cisarua Learning Centre to help educate local refugee children, Musafer’s daughter was one of those educated through the school.

Cisarua is where we started the first school for refugees and run by refugees in Indonesia. Interestingly we started with seven female teachers, mainly because male teachers refused to teach because they thought they could be arrested and because refugees were not allowed to work. They wouldn't risk that that status refugee status.

We started to gain momentum and funding… mainly because people could see what was happening. They could see kids going to school, they could see the refugee teachers learning how to teach.'

Cisarua Learning Centre

This episode not only covers their founder story but it also traces Muzafer’s incredible life story from Afghanistan to Pakistan and then on to Indonesia;

‘My car was hit by a landmine and that was the first ever attack by the Taliban on the United Nations personnel. I received threats from the commanders because I was working on their disarmament and reporting their human rights abuse. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to leave Afghanistan when Taliban stopped my car. I was sitting with my wife in the car and my daughter was very young. Thankfully they did not recognize me or that I worked for the UN. I escaped alive and travelled to Pakistan to live. However just a week later there was a very powerful bomb blast in which left more than 100 people dead because of a suicide attack. It was time to leave’

Musafer Ali, Photographer & Charity Founder

To find out more about their story listen to episode #40 of Purposely Podcast and if you want to know more about the learning centres they created visit


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