(Rome) September 22, 2014 — For the second consecutive year, refugee students in camps in Kenya and Malawi will graduate from an online Liberal Arts Diploma program managed by Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins (JC:HEM). JRS has found that the most graduates are likely to find employment or continue their studies, and nearly all the students engage in service to their communities.
The Diploma in Liberal Arts — a three-year full time program — is awarded by Regis, a Jesuit University in Denver. The curriculum includes on-line undergraduate courses contributed by nearly 50 Jesuit universities. To earn the diploma, students complete 45 academic credits, with three credits offered every eight weeks.
This year, 42 refugees from dozens of African countries will receive diplomas, bringing the total number of graduates over the past two years to 91. The program is one of the few opportunities for refugees to receive higher education. Less than two percent of the world's refugee population gain access to higher education.
"So few refugees get an opportunity to attend higher education courses. I hope this second graduation ceremony indicates how that is beginning to change. And as time passes and JC:HEM becomes part of the normal fabric of Kakuma, that university attendance becomes the norm for refugees," said Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Peter Balleis S.J. at the graduation ceremony at Kakuma camp. The second graduation ceremony this year will be held in Malawi this Friday.
Of the students who graduated from the Diploma program in 2013, eight people went on to study in universities in Kenya, Malawi or the U.S. as a result of their participation in the program. Three of the eight students received scholarships.
While nearly all of the students in Kakuma camp (Kenya) have been employed since they began the program, the situation is more complex in Dzaleka, where Malawian government policy on refugee employment is more restrictive.
Tracking the further progress of students after they leave the camps has proved to be difficult due to the wide dispersal of students after they return home or resettle in third countries. However, of the 43 graduate refugees from the first two groups of the Diploma classes in Dzaleka, 18 are known to have accessed employment opportunities, and eight are known to have gone on to further study either overseas or in Malawi.
Service to the community. At the heart of the program is the concept of giving back to community, and many graduates have done so. A January 2014 survey at Dzaleka discovered that 85% of current graduates were engaged in some kind of weekly service activity in the camp.
The Lead Academic Tutor at Dzaleka, a post previously filled by international staff, is now a graduate from the first cohort of Diploma students.
"In 2010, it seemed we were swimming against the tide, but we managed to get our diplomas. I never even dreamed I would be able to manage the workload, but now whenever I face a challenge in my life, I have confidence to research, to think, and seek solutions to these problems. This is really the fruit of being part of JC:HEM," said Baravura Theogene.
Baravura's perspective as a refugee graduate has helped unlock understanding and inspire the students, bridging intercultural misconceptions, identifying challenges faced by different students and making suggestions of processes to overcome them.
Two other graduates, Jesse Kizungu (Business) and Bengheya Muhaya (Education) partnered to design and deliver a three-week business skills training course to 100 refugees, asylum seekers and local Malawians. Many who completed the training started small businesses. Bengheya and Jesse have since been hired by JRS.
Expanding opportunity. The three-year pilot Diploma program was made available to refugees living in camps in Kakuma (Kenya) and Dzaleka (Malawi), and urban refugees in Amman (Jordan). The first group in Jordan will graduate in 2015. The program was subsequently expanded to a camp in Mae Hong Son (Thailand) and to Herat (Afghanistan) and is expected to open in Burma, Chad and Sri Lanka within the next three years.
JRS and JC:HEM also offer a number of three- to six-month certificate courses, known as Community Service Learning Tracks (CSLT). The certificate courses — counseling, special needs education, English as a second language, and mother and child healthcare — are more practically oriented and directly applicable in the immediate environment of the students. To date, nearly 700 students have graduated from the CSLT courses and another 250 are currently registered.
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