Kenya and Malawi: first graduation of university students sponsored by the Jesuit Refugee Service
Rome, 24 September 2013 – After years of planning and hard work in harsh conditions, the first group of 48 refugees sponsored by the Jesuit Refugee Service will graduate from university this week. The refugee graduates have been participants in an innovative online Diploma in Liberal Studies managed by the Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins.
The first graduation ceremony took place yesterday in Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya where 25 refugees received their diplomas accredited by Regis University in Denver, Colorado. The second ceremony will be held this Friday when another 23 students in Dzaleka camp in central Malawi, will graduate.
Refugee populations are increasingly static. Whole generations are born and raised in exile. In the past, the provision of primary education was thought to have been sufficient. Recently, there has been a growing recognition of the need for second and third level education. Refugee communities need their own teachers, social workers, nurses, psychologists and business people. Otherwise, they will remain dependent on donors, NGOs and international governmental agencies.
"This is an incredible moment for these refugees, their families and communities. After being forced to flee in search of safety, shelter, food and employment, the idea of university seemed unattainable. It is a journey from survival to rebirth, the transformation in the lives of refugees and their communities", said Peter Balleis SJ, JRS International Director.
The Jesuit initiative, Higher Education at the Margins, offers refugees opportunities to broaden their minds and help their communities. It combines the best of new technology with the Jesuit philosophy of Ignatian pedagogy which emphasises learning through experience, reflection and evaluation, action, and service.
"The programme encourages the students to apply their learning to the local situation, in the hope of using education to improve the camp and surrounding region. We've seen this through students engaging in community work and facilitating formal and informal workshops related to their learning, and we expect the programme to have many more positive impacts in future", said Tom Schrieber, JC:HEM Director in Malawi.
Using the expertise of Jesuit universities and JRS field staff, the organisations employ the internet and on-site teachers, mentors and tutors, to offer accredited diploma courses to refugees, as well as certificates of learning, known as Community Service Learning Track (CSLT). In the pilot phase of the programme, ending in August 2014, more than 1,200 refugees are expected to participate, mostly in CSLT courses.
"In the midst of conflict and instability, education offers refugees the intellectual nourishment to rebuild their lives. Not only does this programme prepare participants professionally, it has an impact on whole communities. Higher education builds leaders, imbued with the values of social responsibility and justice. These graduation days are historic events. They mark a beginning in the lives of the individuals and their communities", added Fr Balleis.
Hundreds of forcibly displaced persons in Jordan, Kenya and Malawi are already enrolled in online higher education courses and diploma programmes. The programmes will be implemented shortly to displaced persons in Afghanistan and Chad and plans to expand its provision of higher education to 10 sites by 2018.
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