|"I want to be a leader somewhere so I can show despite being a disabled person I can do what ‘normal’ people [persons without any disability] say they can do. I want to be a lawyer, that is my first choice. To get access to education here in Africa is hard because of fees, if it wasn’t for JRS I couldn’t do anything, I’d just be sitting in my community not doing anything," Bol said.|
By Sophie Vodvarka
JRS Eastern Africa
(Kakuma, Kenya) — Every day Bol, a 26-year old paraplegic man, pedals his hand-powered tricycle an hour each way from his home through Kakuma refugee camp to attend the first introductory training sessions for the new Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM) distance-learning accredited university courses that are scheduled to begin in January.
Bol fled alone from his home in Sudan because of tribal conflicts and political difficulties nine years ago. He first stayed in Lobone, Southern Sudan, then settled in Kakuma refugee camp, located in the desert of the Turkana region of north-western Kenya. He was first introduced to Jesuit Refugee Service in Kakuma through the Mental Health Program.
"I joined JRS as a student participant in basic counseling skills for two months, became a community counsellor, then I applied for this course [JCHEM] and am succeeding as a student. This is the only program like it here. I feel very happy to be here in this program, it is my interest now. Life is very difficult without studies, without school it is stressful in a refugee camp. We think, after this, where will we be? If we go to Sudan we need an education to get a job," Bol said.
The new distance-learning program will offer a two-year liberal arts certificate, with course subjects including leadership, business and Jesuit values.
"They are telling us there will be a leadership course — it is very important in my feeling. I want to be a leader somewhere so I can show despite being a disabled person I can do what ‘normal’ people [persons without any disability] say they can do. I want to be a lawyer, that is my first choice. To get access to education here in Africa is hard because of fees, if it wasn’t for JRS I couldn’t do anything, I’d just be sitting in my community not doing anything," Bol said.
The referendum coming up on January 9, 2011, to help Southern Sudan decide on whether to become autonomous has been on the mind of Bol and other Sudanese who are afraid of more violence in their country and have heard rumors of forced return to Sudan.
"There is no chance for resettlement here [in Kenya]. If you are just waiting here you are killing your life. So this year I visited Sudan and I saw the situation, it is a difficult situation. That is why I feel better here. We disabled people are the first victims [in unstable countries]. In most communities disabled people are not respected. People think you’re not contributing to society. In the future I will be a productive person, to give services to other people and the community will use me," Bol said.
JC-HEM is part of JRS’ latest initiative to bring higher education to refugees by promoting access to education. Each track of JC-HEM will include six months of study and application of learning in the camp. At the end of each year, students will receive certificates of completion from Regis University in Denver, and after three years of successful studies they will be awarded their diplomas.
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