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A refugee from the Darfur region of Sudan consults her dictionary during an English class in the Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins program at Djabal refugee camp near Goz Beida, Chad. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Washington, D.C.) June 29, 2015 — In Djabal refugee camp, just outside the town of Goz Beida in eastern Chad, Jesuit Refugee Service is expanding our partnership with Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins and has started a new program in the camp that will eventually offer an online, university-level diploma program.

A landlocked country of more than 13 million people located in West Central Africa, Chad was home to more than 500,000 refugees, asylum seekers and other people of concern at the end of 2014, according to data from the UN refugee agency (UNCHR).

Jesuit Refugee Service has served refugees in the harsh semiarid environment of eastern Chad since 2006, and offers pre-school and primary education in eight refugee camps, and secondary education in five camps. A tertiary education program is now underway at Djabal camp.

Djabal camp is home to more than 20,000 refugees from the Darfur region of neighboring Sudan. Fewer than 10% of teachers in the camp have a university diploma, pointing to the significant need for higher education. In addition to providing hope, the Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JCHEM) program will enable graduates to become more independent and self-reliant.

"I think JCHEM is a very beautiful program," said Juan Pedro Davila, the Djabal project director in March. "It’s something completely new. We are trying to form leaders."

The participation in the first class of a minimum of 30% women and 10% Chadians from the local host community was ensured through meetings with the JRS-run Women’s Club, as well as meetings with local educational representatives. 

The first classes are designed to prepare the students to fully participate in the online courses. In January of 2015, after entrance exams and interviews, 42 refugee students started taking English as a Foreign Language.

"The importance of the English language class is to raise the English language level to such a point in the camp where refugees will be able to pursue an online diploma with Jesuit universities in the United States," said Colette Finneran, the English as a Foreign Language Facilitator.

"I thought that English was difficult, but now I know that nothing is difficult it just needs effort, to be serious and to have thoughtful consideration," said Adam, one of the refugee students. "When I finish this course and receive my diploma, it will give me an opportunity to look for a job or go on to study higher education, or go to teach my people what I have studied."

Classes in computer use are next on the JCHEM education schedule at Djabal.

"They start using such basic programs as Microsoft Office, Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc. They start to learn how to use the Internet. The skills that will help them study for the diploma," said Davila.

"I want to be a doctor," says Daoud, another refugee student, who like the other students is motivated to increase his knowledge for the greater good. "There’s no doctors here, so I want to be a doctor in order to help my community in the future."

"They’re very motivated in general," said Finneran of her students. "Most of them are educators; they're very conscious of the importance of education — both for themselves and for the community at large. They’re conscious of what this learning can bring to their community."

JRS believes education is the key to a better the future for refugees whatever form that future might take. Importantly, education provides a sense of stability, dignity and hope for the future both for refugee children and for their families. It has important ramifications for mental health and for social cohesion of the refugee community.

The JCHEM program "has given opportunities to people that don’t have them. Here there is no tertiary education for refugees," said Davila.

As a refugee, "you’re looking at a future where employment is uncertain and I suppose education is probably the one hope, so that if you educate yourself to a sufficient level you can get a job of a decent standard," said Finneran. "Probably the most important aspect is the hope it gives to refugees."

JRS advocates globally for the fundamental right to emergency and long-term educational opportunities for refugees, and urges better access to schooling at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels for refugee children and youth. In anticipation of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals to be finalized later this year, JRS urges the global community to prioritize access to a quality education for refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

"Life without education is like tea without sugar," said Hawa, one of the female student refugees in the class. "If you can educate yourself, your life will be good and your life will be nice," she added.

On Tuesday, June 30, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., Jesuit Refugee Service/USA will host Providing Hope for the Future: Refugee Education, a brown bag lunch discussion with Fr. Eric Goeh-Akue, S.J., the JRS Chad Country Director.

If you would like to attend, please RSVP here and bring your lunch! The discussion will take place at 1016 16th St NW on the 7th floor.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

JRS works in more than 45 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of nearly 760,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.

In 2014, approximately 142,000 children, young people and adults received primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

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