Dzaleka, 24 February 2016 -- Less than one percent of refugees have access to higher education, and this percentage is even lower for refugee women. Since 2010, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) along with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), has been offering tertiary education for refugees in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. The beginning of 2016 marked an incredible new chapter for these programmes: for the first time, half of the enrolments to the Community Health course are young women.
The JRS-JC:HEM Community Health course and other Community Service Learning Tracks (CSLTs) aim to foster future community leaders. Due to an ever-increasing population in the camp, there is a growing need for members of the community to participate in improving community health conditions as it relates to first aid skills, food, sanitation and hygiene. The nine-month Community Health course, run by Dr Janet Quillian of Seattle University, is split into six months of classroom work and three months of practicum in the camp community.
Irambona Swema Gyslaine, a student in the Community Health course, has plans to share what she has learned with the community:
"I plan on starting a project of sensitising people to know more about health, to share knowledge with those who did not get the chance to be part of this programme in order to help change their attitudes toward health and sanitation issues for the better," she said.
Gift Thomas, a 20-years-old, was forced to flee Rwanda with his family at age four. He is also currently enrolled in the Community Health course and has similar plans to Irambona.
"The life of a refugee is difficult, but JRS has helped me immensely by providing me a free education so that I can accomplish my vision of becoming a community first aid provider. I now have a valuable skill to contribute to my community and carry out my mission to educate people, to train them and give them the proper knowledge that will help both them and the community," Thomas explained.
In addition to receiving an education, young women in particular benefit from the added sense of empowerment in their communities. Women are not only enrolled in courses but taking positions of leadership as well. Aline Bala, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2010, had studied nursing for five years at the University of Lubumbashi, DRC before fleeing to Dzaleka. After completing the Child Protection and Participation CSLT, she has become the first female facilitator of the JRS-JC:HEM programme in Dzaleka.
Because the course received so many qualified applicants, it even had to be split into two classes. JRS believes that education gives refugees the tools to improve their communities and hopefully eventually rebuild their old ones.
--Adapted from an article written by Robert Kabale Mbanda, Hugo Hivanove Mpenzi and Joseph Kabila Bahulule, JRS Southern Africa