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By Ms Nenen Ilahi
"Bu, apa kabar? Saya bantu ya?” (How are you Bu? I’ll help you with this ok?)
That was what I remember most about Najeeb, a former student with his big smile greeting me in the class, and then continuing to helping me rearrange the desks that were often left messy by the previous class.
Najeeb had been studying Indonesian language since Year 1 with me as his course convenor. Later, I met him again in Indonesian Year 3. He introduced himself as a former refugee from Afghanistan. He arrived in Australia with his parents and his younger siblings two years before he joined my class in Indonesian 1, in 2017.
Teaching at Australia’s top-ranked university, it’s not unusual to meet smart and well-motivated learners. But Najeeb was a bit different; while busy studying and working to support his family, he also took time to get involved in various voluntary work.
“Bu, saya habis berlari (I just finished running, Bu),” he informed me one day before class. And that’s how I knew he loved cross-country running. He ran for various events and causes.
Indonesian 6 Farewell Party 2019, Najeeb (first row, second from the right)
Imagine my (and everyone’s) shock when one day I received a phone call from his classmate that he had passed away from a swimming accident. Running from war, living in Malaysia as a refugee, coming to Australia in his early teens, he missed the chance to learn swimming. The deep water of Cotter Dam near Canberra took his life. It was October 2020.
For everyone who knew him, it was indeed a very sad and gloomy day in 2020.
Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun.
Various and regular group activities I assign to students in the class often extend to forming friendships outside classes. I notice that with the student-centered teaching method, they often continue their friendship into activities related to Indonesian language or other forms of activism.
Clare and Najeeb were classmates in at least two Indonesian-language classes that I convened. In a poignant way, to remember Najeeb and to ensure similar incidents don’t happen again—particularly to the country’s vulnerable community—Clare with three other of Najeeb’s friends, Annie, Andrew, and Liam, initiated a not-for-profit ‘Refugee and Migrant Swimming Project’, the first of its kind in Canberra, a couple of months after Najeeb’s passing.
The funding is received through public donations via a GoFund Me link. Please feel free to make a donation.
I write this as a late eulogy for Najeeb Rafee, a hard worker and diligent learner, a marathon runner who always came to my class(es) with a big smile and huge distinctive laughter. An inspiring soul who once recognised by the Canberra Government with the Highly Commended Award for Young Canberra Citizen of the Year for his community services (of course being a humble person, he didn’t tell his classmates about this achievement).
Indonesian 6 Farewell Party 2019, Najeeb (in the front)
But this is also an ode to Najeeb’s parents, who raised such a wonderful son.
This is my way of saluting the four fantastic mates who created the Refugee and Migrant Swimming Project: Annie Gao, Liam McBride-Kelly, Andrew Nolan and Clare McBride-Kelly. Their swimming program has taken care of a vacuum in educating water safety to marginal communities who are often unable to afford relatively expensive swimming lessons in Canberra.
Knowing we still have such empathetic and compassionate young people like Clare and her friends, I’m pretty sure the future of this country will be just fine.
Indonesian 6 Farewell Party 2019, Clare sat on the far right, Najeeb at the back on the right sight