Since September 2010, Dzaleka refugee camp has been a pilot site for a project of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), an organisation designed to bring higher education to those ‘on the margins of society’. Through the cooperation of JRS and JC:HEM, the programme has inspired an environment of learning in Dzaleka.

Theogene Bavaruva, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo and graduate from the programme who has recently become its lead tutor in JC:HEM Malawi, feels that it provides an invaluable opportunity for refugees in Dzaleka.

“Each and every moment of the programme is exciting”, said Theogene.

By offering higher education in Dzaleka, JC:HEM hopes to assist refugees in reclaiming opportunity, something that is lost when a refugee flees his or her home. Refugees are forced to sacrifice their qualifications, certifications and even their education accomplishments in order to escape.

Upon arriving in a refugee camp, they lack the ability to find jobs and care for their families, which can lead to them becoming more and more idle and turning towards crime, prostitution and suicide. 

“Being confined in (a refugee camp) for so long is like being in prison without having done any crime”, said David Holdcroft, Regional Director of JRS Southern Africa.

With the average stay in a refugee camp being 17 years, living this way with no hope of moving forward can give way to depression and hopelessness.

“The main problem is boredom and depression, the feeling where you cannot change your circumstances”, Holdcroft said.

Using higher education initiatives such as individual classes and a diploma programme, JC:HEM provides refugees with the ability to learn new skills, gain rudimentary credentials and above all, reclaim the opportunity lost by living in a refugee camp.

“(JC:HEM) gives hope and opportunities to learn and focus on issues beyond the challenges of day to day refugee existence”, said Tom Schreiber, Project Director of JC:HEM Malawi.

“(JC:HEM) puts refugees in a routine, keeps (them) from focusing on their circumstances… it’s both challenging and stimulating in a good way”, Holdcroft said.

Students of the programme are also encouraged to contribute to community service projects, such as  leading informal workshops related to what they’ve learned, supporting marginalized groups to continue their education, or develop activities.

“The programme encourages the students to apply their learning to the local situation in the hope of using their education to improve the camp and surrounding region”, said Tom.

The JC:HEM programme in Dzaleka offers two separate avenues for higher education: Community Service Learning Tracks (CSLT) and a Diploma in Liberal Studies.

In Dzaleka, the JC:HEM programme has been successful, but has also faced its share of challenges that come with being in a refugee camp, such as power outages and limited access to resources. At one point, the roof of the JC:HEM building was struck by lightning during the rainy season, cutting off the Internet connection and forcing participants of JC:HEM to work around the situation by having a staff member take their assignments to Lilongwe to get submitted.

Despite these setbacks, members of JRS are confident that JC:HEM alleviates the issue of idleness and lack of opportunity in Dzaleka camp. JC:HEM brings the chance of opportunity to those in the camp, allowing them to maintain hope for the future while learning some valuable skills. 

“Preparing for the future, even if you don’t know exactly what that future is, brings hope”, Holdcroft said. 

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