Johannesburg, 20 December 2013 – Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs lists five stages of need in an individual's life. The bottom stage is the need for food and shelter, the next being the need for education and security. Each stage of need, once satisfied, allows an individual to ascend to a higher stage, becoming a more fulfilled and developed human being in the process.

Yet in a refugee camp, fulfilling even the most basic of these needs is difficult. This makes the possibility of education especially challenging for refugees, especially for those accustomed to being at a higher stage of Maslow's needs.

Theogene Baravura, a recent graduate of the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) diploma programme in Dzaleka and head tutor in the programme, reflects that completing the requirements for the diploma is a challenging task in a refugee camp, where the needs of food, shelter and security are difficult to fulfil.

Standing tall and well dressed, Theogene, or Theo, for short, leads a discussion on the psychology of learning in a spare room within the JC:HEM facility in Dzaleka camp. With his square glasses set just below his eyes and his chalk in hand, Theo looks like a young university professor despite the low light and meagre surroundings of the spare room.

Theo is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, fleeing the civil war going on there. After arriving in Dzaleka in 2009, Theo eventually became involved in the JC:HEM diploma programme, the first of its kind in Dzaleka.

Theo was interested in JC:HEM for the opportunity to pursue higher education, but also because he felt it would allow him to be an active member of the refugee community.

"With my life experience, I came to understand that people don't only need something to eat to be happy. They also need to live in a harmonious community, in an independent and interdependent life along with social justice", Theo said speaking about wanting to get involved in JC:HEM.

An individual of constant reflection, Theo laments that the most challenging part of the JC:HEM programme was the nature of online learning. Being from the French-speaking DRC, Theo says that everything from communicating with teachers remotely in English to using the computer software proved difficult for him.

"All the means to my education were totally new, so I had to learn everything", Theo said, reflecting on his experience. "It was difficult to think I would be successful".

Another problem Theo endured was getting accustomed to the Western style of teaching, such as having due dates and conforming to standards of time.

"We Africans, we have time. With things in the Western world, they don't have time, which is why they wear watches!" Theo said, laughing.

Although he now holds a diploma from Regis University (roughly equivalent to a two-year Associate's Degree), Theo says the prospect of the future is difficult. Even though he holds the diploma, he doesn't know what he can do with it in the refugee camp, where employment and security are scarce.

"Many of us don't have the things at the bottom (of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs) to start thinking about things like education and employment", Theo said.

Nevertheless, Theo remains hopeful of the future, focusing on trying to shape it as best he can despite the uncertainty of the future. Since graduating, Theo has maintained a job as head tutor for JC:HEM in Dzaleka, and hopes to continue applying the skills he's learned in the uncertain environment of the refugee camp.

"No one knows the future, but you can still do your best to shape it".

Countries Related to this Region