|Global: our mission is human, pedagogical and spiritual|
Letter on the thirty-second anniversary of the foundation of the Jesuit Refugee Service
Rome, 14 November 2012 – The Deir Vartan Centre in Aleppo, northern Syria has been destroyed. It was once a flourishing JRS centre where Iraqi refugees gathered with Syrians during the week to engage in educational and recreational activities. Deir Vartan was a centre of hope for so many. The war in Syria has destroyed hope and created despair. When everything is falling apart, our mission is not just to provide material assistance but also spiritual support.
The founder of JRS and former Superior General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe SJ, was clear about this. In the founding letter he wrote on 14 November 1980, Fr Arrupe described the mission of JRS as "not only material" but also "human, pedagogical and spiritual".
Thirty-two years later, the response of the Jesuits and JRS in Syria is very much along these lines. JRS teams have refocused their work to provide food relief. A team of cooks and helpers in Aleppo prepare 10,000 meals on a daily basis. At the same time children, affected and traumatised by the war, are learning in makeshift schools in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
Learning is an effective means to combat the trauma, a kind of psychosocial support, nourishing that spark of hope without which there is no future. Pedagogical and spiritual services are combating despair and building hope.
Kindling hope through learning is one of the strategic goals of JRS. Our formal and informal education programmes reach more than 250,000 children, young people and adults. In recent years, JRS has become increasingly engaged in tertiary education.
Refugees are completely marginalised from this level of learning; less than one percent has access to tertiary education. Thanks to a partnership between JRS and JC:HEM (Jesuit Commons – Higher Education at the Margins), 225 diploma students in Malawi, Kenya and Jordan are taking online courses. So far 360 students have completed shorter-term courses, called Community Learning Service Tracks.
JC:HEM facilitates the courses and tutoring, and offers academic recognition through Regis University in Denver. We intend to expand this online learning programme in new places. A recent meeting of JRS regional directors, JC:HEM field staff, Jesuit Commons and the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) confirmed that JC:HEM centres and students are bringing about real change in camps and among refugee populations in urban areas.
Education is at the heart of the human, spiritual and pedagogical mission of JRS, because it creates lasting hope for the future, which none of us can live without.
Buildings can be destroyed but not the spirit.
Peter Balleis SJ
Jesuit Refugee Service