29 September 2015
|“When people become refugees, their access to many basic human opportunities including the right to education, self-improvement, and the dignity of work is suddenly closed. JRS - JC:HEM exists to give many brilliant people the opportunity to be their brilliant selves again.”|
Dzaleka, Dowa district, 29 September 2015 - With nearly 25 000 people living in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, in the Dowa District of Malawi, the camp is a de facto city. It is a community with an economy - with a motor repair workshop being built, a number of restaurants where you can sit down for delicious, yet inexpensive traditional meals, markets and a litany of other businesses. The camp has a community centre, a nursery-, primary- and secondary school, churches as well as mosques.
In as much as refugees and asylum seekers escape persecution, war and conflict, seeking a life elsewhere through resettlement, Dzaleka is testimony to one irrefutable fact; the human spirit prevails, people pick up the pieces of their lives, they rebuild themselves and their coummunities and they continue to - not just survive – live and even thrive.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in partnership with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), have designed a tertiary education model that helps foster a strong group of young community leaders within the community that is Dzaleka. The 3rd Cohort of JRS-JC:HEM graduates graduated on the 25thSeptember 2015. This group of 19 individuals are now empowered to take the skills they have developed over the last three years and re-invest back into their community.
Joe Slaven, Project Director for JRS - JC:HEM, Dzaleka, best explains what the fate of refugees are and how the programme overcomes these challenges: “When people become refugees, their access to many basic human opportunities including the right to education, self-improvement, and the dignity of work is suddenly closed. JRS - JC:HEM exists to give many brilliant people the opportunity to be their brilliant selves again.”
The 19 graduates from the 3rd Cohort are indeed brilliant! Young people dedicated to serving their communities, young people through their concentration in Education or Business who can continue in establishing Dzaleka as a community rather than simply a refugee camp.
Slaven explains what the programme entails: “The course consists of a Diploma in Liberal Studies, which takes students through two years of liberal arts courses in subjects that range from Arts, History of Africa, World Religions, Ethics, and Academic Writing, followed by a third year of studies in which students decide to concentrate in either Education or Business. Every course is delivered online by a range of volunteer faculty from Universities within and beyond the Jesuit Commons, and is accredited by Regis University.”
Slaven clarifies the vision the JRS-JC:HEM programme aims to achieve: “Our goal is to offer higher education to those community members who can rise above the limitations of refugee life and serve as leaders. We want the Arrupe Centre to become the focal point around which the community inspires itself to change.”
The 25th September saw the entire community come alive with a buzz of excitement and celebration as these 19 individuals graduated. With traditional Malawian Dancers dancing and playing their traditional instruments, the Dzaleka, JRS-JC:HEM choir crooning majestically and parents and family members brimming with pride, the teacher’s college hall that hosted the event was filled with nothing more than a spirit of joy.
Father Peter Balleis SJ, outgoing International Director of JRS, gave a stirring speech at the graduation ceremony. He urged that Malawi and other countries that keep refugees within their borders, in camps, incorporate refugees and asylum seekers into their communities. “Why are these people not allowed to contribute meaningfully to rest of Malawian society?” he asked. By keeping people in camps, by preventing them from being economically active beyond the confines of the immediacy of the refugee community, governments are robbing themselves of great opportunity Balleis said. He used Germany, and the current Syrian refugee crisis as an example. “It is good for Germany, the refugees inject youth, diversity and new ideas into German society. They learn the local languages, go to public schools, start businesses and work within German society.” he said.
Those that live in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, especially those of a younger generation, prove this to be true. Many young refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia speak Chichewa, the local Malawian language. The camp, rather than burdening the economy has stimulated it, with locals using the onsite clinic, sending their children to the schools within the camp and trading with refugees and asylum seekers.
Father David Holdcroft SJ, Regional Director of JRS Southern Africa, challenged the graduates and asked them to reflect on what this Diploma means and what their graduation entails. Is it merely to be relocated to a country that offers the promise of greater opportunity, or do they now have a responsibility to improve their communities and positively contribute to the lives of those in the camp?
After Dr M.D. Kinoti, Associate Professor of Non-profit Management at Regis University, exercised his powers and conferred the Diploma on the graduates, song and jubilation carried the graduates over the dirt road back to the camp. As the graduating party and their guests walked back, their path intersected with children returning home after a week’s instruction at the Primary and Secondary schools. The children formed a guard of honour as they watched the 3rd JRS-JC:HEM Cohort graduates in their academic regalia. The inspiration shone in the eyes of the children. What the JRS-JC:HEM graduates represented to them at that very moment was that the difficulties of camp life is not all one has to look forward to in future, they saw young people reaching their absolute potential!
The day ended with a sumptuous lunch, dancing, singing and a myriad photos capturing the absolute elation of the day. The children continued to look on, they continued to be inspired by these graduates and so the seed for the next community leaders has been planted.
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