Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Refugee Education in Crisis

The first batch of Congolese refugees in Rwanda that have graduated under Kepler University Program.  Photo Credit: KT Press

Refugee Education in Crisis: There, but for the grace of God, go I
By Jean Pierre Ndagijimana, MEd student

The images of my Fellow Africans in the Mediterranean Sea running away from the continent entered my being as I looked at the posters in the offices we visited in Italy/Rome. As I looked at them, I asked my self what the world and Africa in particular, could do to support the younger generation.

I have had my own personal story in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and I am thankful that the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) offered me an education. The opportunity as a refugee to learn is critical. Education is the Light at the End of the Tunnel. *

Prior to my Academic Global Refugee Learning Immersion in Rome, my knowledge of refugees came from actual experiences in life as people ran away from their homes, carrying jerrycans, pans, beds, bags, and anything else they value most for small memory and survival.

Babies on their parents’ backs, the hands of children who can walk are grasped firmly. Big clouds of people moving with so much luggage you cannot see their faces all with the hope that the situation might soon improve and that they will come back to their homes and resume their lives.

These scenarios happened often in my life. The destination was a refugee camp, with nothing other than inflamed legs, hunger, and begging for water to drink. Their wounds both internal and external are ignored - everything they had was lost. The goal is to be able to live and survive the everyday hardships from life in refugee camps.

Their lives depend on the generosity of strangers. In refugee camps, food, shelter, water, plates, pans, forks, clothes, children’s pens, notebooks, and so on, none is under their control. When one cannot make autonomous decisions on the very fundamental needs - life is in transition. The hope is that at some point in their lives, they will see the end of the tunnel, enjoying the fundamental rights of self-reliance, self-determination, and hence, “live again.”

Parents hope their children born in the refugee camps will survive in a situation they do not understand – how and why it all began. However, many organizations have limited their interventions to a handout model limiting the provision of education to primary and secondary school which does not stop the refugees' dependency on donors.

In developing countries and in Africa in particular, which are home to 92% of the world’s refugees, one-half of refugee children are left without the opportunity to attend primary school and the situation is only getting worse.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), only 1 percent of refugees have access to Higher Education. The opportunity to get a strong Higher Education is an important opportunity for a refugee who hopes to build a bridge from surviving to thriving.

Children caught up in conflicts will either become peacemakers or peace-breakers. In line with the Global Compact for Refugees, support for refugees to access higher education would enhance refugee self-reliance, ease the pressures on host countries, and expand access to third-country solutions.

*My Story JRS/USA 2016 report page 17