|Twenty three refugee students graduated in Dzaleka camp in Malawi with Diplomas in Liberal Studies from Denver's Regis University via the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins program. (Peter Balleis S.J. — Jesuit Refugee Service)|
|"The real lesson here is how diverse groups of people can work together for a common goal and for the common good," said David Holdcroft S.J., JRS Southern Africa Director.|
(Dzaleka, Malawi) October 7, 2013 – In many ways, the graduation ceremony in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi looked like any other —mortarboards and tassels, proud parents and renowned speakers giving advice. But it was anything but ordinary; it was first time ever that students were granted access to higher education in this refugee camp, or for that matter in most others.
The 23 graduates, hailing from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, were members of the Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins pilot program which began in 2010. The students received a Diploma in Liberal Studies from Regis University, a Jesuit university in Denver.
"The real lesson here is how diverse groups of people can work together for a common goal and for the common good," said David Holdcroft S.J., JRS Southern Africa Director.
The ceremony, held at Dapp Teacher College on September 27, included speakers from JRS, Regis University and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Earlier in the week, another group of refugee students graduated from the program at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
Graduate Putois Ciband Chaboud concluded the ceremony with a speech prepared by all the students of the class, thanking all those involved for allowing the students to reclaim the hope they had lost when they left their homelands.
"This graduation event is historic and significant as it is both a celebration of a successful completion of three years of academic work, and the first of its kind within this refugee camp," said Putois.
Like any graduation, families cheered while their children walked across the stage and took photos together. But these students were making history.
"They have faced a lot of challenges along the way. I've been really impressed with how they have come together to form a support system and reached out [to each other] beyond just doing the course," said Tom Schrieber, Project Director of JC:HEM Malawi.
The Dzaleka course is part of a partnership between JRS and JC:HEM to bring online tertiary education to those on the margins of society. JRS staff, refugees and university institutions work together to establish learning centers in areas where education is needed most. JC:HEM also has learning centers in Kenya, Jordan, Afghanistan and Thailand, and soon to be operational in Chad and Burma.
Theogene Baravura, a refugee from DRC who graduated with a diploma in education, said that the graduation ceremony was like a dream come true.
"When you have finished your course, nothing feels like it has changed, but then they call out your name and give you your certificate, so it's real," said Theogene.
These students are part of the first group of refugees in Dzaleka to receive diplomas from Regis University. Some students have already begun working jobs, such as Theogene, who is the head educational tutor at Dzaleka camp.
JC:HEM in Malawi currently runs two other diploma classes as well as Community Service Learning Tracks, which are designed to teach refugees specific skills, such as communication, health care and entrepreneurship.
"The better world we all want starts today, now go out and start to build this new world", Holdcroft told students before leaving the ceremony with their diplomas in hand.
by Patrick Keaveny, JRS Southern Africa Communications Assistant