(Washington, D.C.) June 2, 2015 — As the world prepares to commemorate World Refugee Day on June 20, Jesuit Refugee Service continues to place a high priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Education has important ramifications for mental health and for the social cohesion of the refugee community.
"Education is a key in combating the evil of hatred, violence and war. I'm ever more convinced of that," says Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr Peter Balleis S.J. "Learning is a way to nourish, in a situation of utter despair, the hope in people, the hope in children. It is so important to get (displaced and refugee) children into school, to establish a routine of life. It is important to keep learning, it is a form of trauma healing in the midst of a conflict."
"We civilians don't want war, we just want education, but (the leaders of the warring factions in South Sudan) don't care about our wants or see value in educating our people," an Islamic religious leader from Maban, South Sudan, recently told JRS. "Let us come together as one nation. Whether you are a Christian, come to school; whether you are a Muslim, come to school. This is for the children of tomorrow."
Access to schools and quality education is an urgent priority for all refugee children and youth. Children typically make up one half of most refugee populations, and are among the most vulnerable people in any situation of displacement. As a result of death in conflict, and/or the chaotic circumstances of flight, many refugee children are orphaned or separated from their parents and find themselves in precarious situations.
A student refugee from Sudan in the JRS/Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins program in Amman, Jordan, shared with us how going back to school pulled him back from despair.
"The program has inspired me to think of life differently. When I left college — I studied a year and a half in Sudan — I thought I was done studying. I had lost hope in everything and was depressed. But I feel as if this opportunity has saved my life. I realize that life has many opportunities in store, not only for me but for the betterment of humanity."
Adult education, both traditional and vocational, enables people to learn new languages — helpful if they are resettled to a third country — or learn new skills which enable them to provide for themselves and their families.
A 25-year-old internally displaced man from Masisi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo turned something as simple as barber lessons into a path to independence and self-sufficiency.
"I am very happy to have taken the courses and training from JRS. Thanks to learning hairdressing, I can buy myself soap or other small things for life. It gives me a new opportunity to change my life at home and help my elderly parents too," he told our staff in the DRC. “I am very proud."
Education is the key to a better future for refugees whatever form that future might take. Importantly, education provides a sense of stability, dignity and hope both for refugee children and for their families.
In Mai Aini refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, a refugee from Eritrea spoke for most refugees when he told me in February, "We as youth, we have to see some bright future. We want to work, to have a job."
Finishing the education they began in their homeland, or learning new languages or skills, may spark that bright future.
Last year alone, JRS enabled more than 140,000 children, young people and adults to receive primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services. In Washington, Rome, Geneva and Brussels, in dozens of countries, JRS advocates for the fundamental right to educational opportunities for refugee children and youth. JRS calls for better access to schooling at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels for refugee children and youth.
Working together with our partners and supporters, working together with refugees, working together we can unlock potential. Together we can provide hope. Together we can provide education. Together we can put refugees on the road to independence and self-sufficiency.
By Christian Fuchs
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
On the way of wisdom I direct you, I lead you on straightforward paths.
When you walk, your step will not be impeded, and should you run, you will not stumble.
Hold fast to instruction, never let her go; keep her, for she is your life.