Dispatches is a fortnightly e-mail bulletin of the JRS International Office. It features refugee news briefings, press releases, featured articles and project updates from our people in the field.

  Global: our mission is human, pedagogical and spiritual

Peter Balleis SJ, JRS International Director

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.  

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

International Director
Jesuit Refugee Service

Philippines: Laguna Lake residents weather the storm

Laguna Lake residents have suffered a succession of storms since mid-August 2012, and the storm season is not yet over. (Louie Bacomo/JRS)

The government provided 70,000 pesos [1,667 US dollars] to rebuild a house, but we had no safe land safe to build on.  

Laguna Lake, 13 November 2012 — Communities around Laguna Lake, just east of the capital, Manila, are still suffering from the aftermath of flooding from a succession of tropical storms, the latest of which, Typhoon Ofel, hit the country late last month.

"I can hear the waves crashing into the walls of our house [at night]", Helen, a 53-year old grandmother and long-time resident of Laguna, said while standing in the kitchen where lake water still splashed on her feet.

Norrie, Helen's husband, has already taken off the wooden kitchen wall to save the plywood from damage. During strong winds and rains caused by Typhoon Ofel, Helen takes her six-year old granddaughter to stay with relatives living on dryer ground.

Peoples' safety and livelihoods are continually threatened by the absence of relocation plans, insufficient support services and increasing poverty.

According to a news report by United Press International on 29 October, Typhoon Ofel left 27 people dead and 19 others injured, while displacing more than 11,000 throughout the Philippines. The Mimaropa, Calabarzon and Visayas regions were hit the hardest.

Rain, bad for business. The onslaught of natural disasters continues to wipe out investments made by people in infrastructure and materials, heightening vulnerabilities.

Jernee and Aiza make papier-mâché products for a living, earning a daily wage of 140 Philippine pesos, nearly 3.5 US dollars. Once a thriving export-industry in Laguna, papier-mâché is being ruined by the dampness of the rainy season.

Fishing, the traditional livelihood in the area, also offers few opportunities during this time as the waves are too strong to go out on the open waters, according to local people.

As one of the poorest areas in the municipality, Cabulusan residents rely heavily on farming, fishing and papier-mâché all of which have nosedived as a result of the storms.

While Laguna Lake used to be a primary source of fish, but for one local village barangay, or chief, the industry is waning.

"It now takes too long to grow fishes in cages. I have not harvested in the last two months", he said.

Other families have to take out loans to keep their businesses running. Household heads – such as single mother or four, Edna Florano – feel they have no other choice, but to go into debt.

"Otherwise we will have nothing to eat", she told Jesuit Refugee Service staff in the Philippines.

Relocation stalled. Of the more than 330,000 people living the area surrounding Laguna Lake, approximately 1,000 struggle in similar circumstances. Communities in 16 provinces on Luzon Island were in the process of relocating after the Southwest Monsoon struck last August, according to a report by the Philippine state body, the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

While the local barangay has proposed a relocation site to the municipal government, payment negotiations for the private land have been stalled.

Jernee and Aiza Agnes, a young couple with two small children, returned home a week ago to find that after two months, the water has only receded about 10 metres from where it was during the August floods that destroyed more than 14,000 houses, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.

"[Three months] was too long to stay in someone else's house", said Jernee, explaining why they returned.

Not over yet. The typhoon season will last until the end of this month, and with an annual average of 20 tropical cyclones, people only recover one storm to get hit by the next.

"I can't clean the mud off my floor because another storm might flood my house again", said one resident.

Typhoon Ofel comes three years after Typhoon Ketsana— the second most devastating typhoon in the region in recent decades— hit communities in Cabulusan, Panguil, leaving more than 740 people dead and a billion US dollars in damages.

Florida Sahagun, a widow, recalled "waves as high as coconut trees" from Ketsana that destroyed the upper section of her house. She is now repairing her mud-encrusted house from the August 2012 floods to make it liveable again.

Chona Unabia, another flood survivor in Panguil, had her house destroyed by Kestana and now wishes to be relocated.

"The government provided 70,000 pesos [1,667 US dollars] to rebuild a house, but we had no safe land safe to build on", she said.

The family continues to face the onslaught of typhoons that come their way each year.

Those who have returned to their homes after two months of flooding are once again preparing to evacuate. On 29 October, during the JRS team visit,  the government issued storm signal one – a warning to the disaster response teams in all municipalities to be on standby alert.

When will people feel safe again?

Louie Bacomo, JRS Asia Pacific Regional Programme Officer

*The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is working with the Social Action Center (SAC) network of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)-Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to assist families in the municipalities of Pakil and Panguil in the province of Laguna with food items and livelihood grants for early recovery.

Haiti: exacerbation of humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Sandy

Flooding on the Fonds-Parisien motorway, western Haiti (JRS)

The destruction of transport infrastructure may hinder the ability for humanitarian workers to assist those in the worst affected areas of the country.  

Bogotá, 9 November 2012The social impact of natural disasters in Haiti accumulate in a spiral of growing environmental vulnerability and worsening humanitarian crisis in the country.

Haitians, still recovering from the effects of tropical storm Isaac last August, have recently fallen victim to yet another disaster at the end of October, leaving 52 dead, 15 disappeared and the homes of nearly 20,000 damaged or destroyed.

There has been considerable damage to the infrastructure of the country, including bridges and major roads, as well as losses recorded in the agricultural sector are believed to have reached 140 million US dollars.

The government and humanitarian organisations in Haiti have raised the alarm regarding possible threats facing the population, including malnutrition, famine and cholera epidemic. The threat of widespread crisis now looms large over the country.

Food insecurity could lead to famine; poor weather and inadequate sanitation could lead to an intensification of the cholera epidemic; and the destruction of transport infrastructure may hinder the ability for humanitarian workers to assist those in the worst affected areas of the country.

Jesuit call for intervention. Within this volatile context, the approximate 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) struggling to survive in the camps of Port au Prince and the surrounding areas are the most poor and vulnerable among those affected. In a report about the impact of Hurricane Sandy in the IDP camps, the Jesuits in Haiti highlighted that the tents had been destroyed by the winds and flooding.

For instance, there are a great number of pregnant women, children and older persons in Automeca camp, situated on the outskirts of the capital. They are living up to their wastes in water, in severe need of humanitarian assistance, and at serious risk of contracting cholera. The Jesuits have called for urgent intervention to help these people who have otherwise been left to their own devices.

International community. The Jesuits are not alone in calling for immediate humanitarian intervention as the Haitian government has called on the international community to give more support amidst the crisis. The six million US dollars in aid have already been spent on food distribution and humanitarian kits, and according to the Haitian authorities, more is needed. The agriculture sector alone needs more than 254 million US dollars before production can be restored following damage as a result of Sandy and Isaac.

According to the state agency responsible for national coordination on food security (CNSA), there is a real threat of famine breaking out in Haiti, particularly in areas considered as black spots, such as the Sud-Est and Nord-Est regions and some districts in Ouest, Centre, Nord-Ouest and Nippes regions.

According to the CNSA, while the major food producing regions survived the last drought, which along with tropical storm Issac destroyed 60 percent of the harvest, they have been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

This situation of food insecurity coincides with recent demonstrations over the past few months, in which Haitians in many parts of the country have been protesting against rises in the cost of living, particularly, the cost of basic necessities.

Concern of humanitarian organisations. International organisations in Haiti have repeatedly supported the government call for emergency assistance from the international community.

"These stocks are running dangerously low … After tropical storm Isaac in August, these stocks have not been replenished. What we're doing is scraping the bottom", said George Ngwa, spokesman for OCHA, the UN humanitarian coordinating body in Haiti.

Sud is the vulnerable region, according to OCHA official, Johan Peleman, because "with the south being hit now, we are going to face in the next couple of months very serious problems of malnutrition and food insecurity".

Red Cross International has begun raising funds for the countries most affected by the hurricane in the Caribbean, including Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica.

Despite such initiatives to generate support for affected communities, the Red Cross in Haiti predicts further escalation of instability.

"Isaac and Sandy combined have deteriorated an already precarious situation in both health and agriculture and unfortunately this will have long-term humanitarian consequences", one official said.

Democratic Republic of Congo: stop the forgotten conflict in Masisi

JRS witnesses massive forced displacement following fighting between armed rebel groups in which at least 18 innocent civilians, including women and children, been murdered, Masisi district, eastern Congo (JRS)

A climate of fear currently reigns in the Hutu and Hunde communities in Masisi. Increased attention needs to be urgently provided by the international community...  

Press release

Masisi (North Kivu), Rome, 14 November 2012 – Since last August, communities living in Masisi district in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been displaced on a daily basis and at least 18 have been murdered, caught between tit-for-tat attacks by opposing rebel groups. Unless the peacekeeping forces (MONUSCO) and the Congolese army urgently intervene to protect the civilian population, more innocent lives will be lost.

Over the last six months, MONUSCO forces have been supporting the Congolese army in putting down the rebellion by the March 23 Movement (M23) in the nearby district of Rutshuru. Focused on responding to the security threat caused by M23 rebels, the Congolese army left several parts of Masisi district unprotected, conceding freedom of movement to rebel groups – some in formal alliances with M23.

During this period, more than 320,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North Kivu. Although most of this is the result of the conflict between government and M23 forces in Rutshuru, many have been displaced by the violence in Masisi.

"This has caused an unjustifiable lack of protection for the population in Masisi district. While it is clearly necessary that civilians attacked by M23 be protected, this should not happen at the cost of innocent lives – mainly women and children – elsewhere in the region. The population feels abandoned by MONUSCO forces which has failed in its mandate", said a JRS staff member in Masisi.

The Jesuit Refugee Service in Masisi has witnessed first-hand the consequences of the alarming escalation of violence between rebel groups from the Hunde and Hutu communities, as well as between other armed groups active in the area. In addition to the immediate consequences of the violence, the attacks leave many groups – women, children, older people, those with disabilities and health problems – in particularly vulnerable circumstances, without assistance from aid agencies and support from other community members.

A climate of fear currently reigns in the Hutu and Hunde communities in Masisi. Increased attention needs to be urgently provided by the international community, one which answers the pleas for security and humanitarian aid and pushes Congolese political, civil and military authorities to guarantee the protection of these populations. Otherwise free reign will continue to be given to militias responsible for the killing of innocent children, women and men.

Recent events
  • Between 27 and 29 September 2012, a number of Hunde villages near Loashi and Shoa districts were burned down by members of Nyatura, a Hutu militia group.
  • On 30 September, Hunde motorcyclist was murdered in Loashi, allegedly by a Hutu militia.
  • On 30 September, despite heavy rains and the presence of a MONUSCO base less than a kilometre away, members of the Hunde community burned several huts in the Kilimani camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), forcing many residents, mostly Hutus, to seek safety in other camps or with family members. Even though most people in Masisi were aware of the high risk of an attack, MONUSCO made no plans to prevent the violence and protect the IDPs.
  • After a few days of relative calm, following the intervention of the local authorities, the massacres recommenced. On 3 November, four Hunde women and two children were murdered by machete at the hands of the Nyatura militia. The women had been gathering food a few kilometres from Masisi town and were said to have been raped before being killed.
  • On 4 November, members of the Hunde community carried the bodies of the victims to the building of the local Masisi authorities, demanding their community be provided with security.
  • On 11 November, a Hutu man was killed by members of the Hunde militia FDC (Forces de Défense du Congo) in Ngote village. FDC members subsequently burned down several villages around Buhabo, causing further forced displacement. Hutu community members later carried the body to the Masisi town council, demanding their community be protected, as was done a week earlier by the Hunde community.
  • On 12 November, a Hutu armed group responded by burning down several Hunde villages around Masisi town. Thousands of people have reached Masisi town in seeking safety from the violence. In Mashaki village five dead bodies have been found; a woman and six children are still missing. Later that day, several Hutu villages were burned down.
  • Most IDPs in Kilimani have yet to return to the camp for fear of further violence and due to cuts in food delivery since 30 September. They continue to live in extremely precarious conditions without any assistance.
JRS in North Kivu. JRS started to work in North Kivu in 2008, in the camps for displaced populations around Goma. After the sudden closure of the camps in September 2009, JRS followed the people to their areas of origin and to places of new displacement. JRS currently works in two areas of North Kivu: Masisi and Mweso districts.

Masisi: Established in 2010, JRS has since expanded its services to five official and other makeshift IDP camps, offering formal and informal education and emergency assistance.

In addition to the construction and renovation of secondary schools, JRS teams provide education materials and teacher training in 84 secondary schools.

Special attention is paid to the needs of women. As such, literacy courses and skills training are provided for women, many of whom are victims of sexual violence.

The third component of the project is to provide one-to-one assistance to older people and persons with disabilities. Where necessary, staff refer these individuals to other agencies. More recently, with the establishment of five unofficial camps, JRS has begun providing food and plastic sheeting in three of the camps where people are living in extreme poverty.

For further information
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service, Great Lakes Africa; tel: +243 821 778 696; +257 78991302; email: grandslacs.advocacy@jrs.net; www.jrs.net

James Stapleton, Communications Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office); tel: +39 06 68977468; +39 346 234 3841; email: international.press@jrs.net; www.jrs.net

Global: JRS 32 years on, continues to focus on education and building hope

Refugees receive opportunities for educational and recreational activities at JRS facilities, Amman, Jordan (Dominik Asbach/JRS)

Expanding access to education, building where others have destroyed, bringing the hope of a peaceful future where refugees can live in dignity, this is why the Jesuit Refugee Service was established.  

Rome, 15 November 2012 – "Hatred, division and violence foster blindness and stupidity. They are self-destructive and have no future". With these words the JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ, focused his presentation at Georgetown University in Washington DC this morning at a conference, Kindling hope through learning, stressing the importance of higher education in refugee situations.

"These writings of Dietrich Bonheoffer, the German theologian and political dissident during the Nazi dictatorship, provide an apt message for the thirty-second anniversary of the foundation of the Jesuit Refugee Service, established to construct where others have brought destruction, to offer knowledge where ignorance reigns", said Fr Balleis.

"This is what Fr Pedro Arrupe, former Superior General of the Jesuits and founder of JRS, was aiming at when he called on Jesuits to assist refugees around the world, not only through the provision of material needs, but with human, pedagogical and spiritual assistance that allows for holistic change", continued Fr Balleis.

In his address in Washington Fr Balleis highlighted the importance of education, the use of knowledge as a means of resisting the self-destructive forces of violence. By kindling hope through learning that is based on a deep belief in the dignity and interdependence of the human family, JRS seeks to empower uprooted people and foster a future filled with hope.

The decision to provide education is part of a more holistic approach to learning. Take the latest JRS projects in Jordan and Syria. Even during an emergency when most agencies are focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance, JRS is also organising educational and recreational activities as a tool of trauma healing and promoting psychosocial well-being. It is a way of bringing a sense of normality to the lives of children. Within this vision, the role of higher education is to help foster leadership within a strong moral framework.

Online higher education. Over the past two years JRS has partnered with Jesuit Commons, an endeavour that fosters cooperation across the global Jesuit network to benefit poor communities, in sponsoring projects entitled Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM). These projects foster a holistic approach to refugee education that respects and develops students' cultural values and moral character.

JC:HEM pilot projects have already opened in refugee camps in Kenya and Malawi and expansion of this programme is beginning in Jordan. Already nearly 600 students have participated in diploma and certificate courses.

Building on the primary and secondary education services already in place, JC:HEM seeks to strengthen the capacity of displaced communities to become self-sufficient. JRS higher education projects – whether in Jordan, Malawi or Kenya – look to promote new ideas and perspectives that will reinforce the dreams of many refugees, for a more secure future where people live together in peace.

By 2015, in line with the organisational strategic goal on education, JRS hopes to increase the number of JC:HEM sites to six, strengthen its partnerships with Jesuit universities, provide additional educational materials online, and incorporate psychosocial care into the majority of educational projects.

"Expanding access to education, building where others have destroyed, bringing the hope of a peaceful future where refugees can live in dignity, this is why the Jesuit Refugee Service was established", Fr Balleis concluded.

Thailand: moving the tides of education in Ranong

Migrant children in Ranong attend a JRS supported learning centre to help them prepare for integration into Thai secondary schools (Bea Moraras/JRS).

Lack of awareness among migrant population and Thai host communities, coupled with prejudices and discrimination remain the main ingredients responsible for the lack of enrollment in schools of migrant kids.  

Ranong, 13 November 2012 – The seafood factory on the southwestern coast of Thailand is sometimes ironically referred to as the 'Burmese university in Ranong'. It is one of the only opportunities available to many Burmese migrant children denied an education due to chronic poverty and social pressure.

"Once the students are 12 years old, their parents encourage them to leave school to work in the factories so that they can support the family income", said Irene Ho, who as project director of the JRS migrant learning centres encourages communities to value education and seeks to mitigate the barriers facing Burmese children trying to go to school.

"We want to support the children to go as far as they can in their schooling", added Ms Ho.

But, as many representatives from international organisations have found, economic hardship commonly pressures families to withdraw children before completing secondary school.

"Poor wages in low skilled jobs mean that every member of the family has to work", explained Pakpoom Sawankhum, a field officer with Raks Thai, a grassroots NGO working with various Burmese migrant communities throughout Thailand.

Raising awareness. Yet economic hardship is not the only obstacle faced by children in their search for an education. Family and peer pressure encourage children to join their friends and parents in the factory, while limited quotas and exclusion of Burmese children from some Thai schools are also major stumbling blocks.

"Lack of awareness among migrant population and Thai host communities, coupled with prejudices and discrimination remain the main ingredients responsible for the lack of enrollment in schools of migrant kids", said Claudia Natali, IOM Labour Migration Programme manager based in Bangkok.

Since the 2005 Education Act, the Thai government has tried to increase attendance rates through teacher training to decrease prejudice, and granting migrant children freedom to travel, without the risk of arrest, to schools regardless of the documents they hold.

Thai policies have been paramount to efforts to universalise education in Thailand, according to the IOM and JRS.

While school attendance has increased, rates still remain low due to a variety of reasons.

"Tension between Burmese and Thai communities and fear of identification as irregular migrants also pose barriers for the school attendance of migrant children", said Pauline Aaron, JRS Thailand Director

"Facilitating cooperation between schools, parents, and communities is key", Aaron added.

Integration into Thai schools. JRS currently supports six migrant learning centres, attended by roughly 900 students who can acquire a basic education, in English, Thai and Burmese languages. The education provided in the learning centres also helps to prepare students for Thai schooling, if they choose to attend.

While many Thai schools accept Burmese migrant children, some remain exclusive for Thai nationals due to limited space and resources.

Schools also face challenges with Burmese students dropping out in the middle of the school year.

"The school headmaster budgets for a certain number of students. If many of them drop out mid-year, the school faces an issue with numbers not matching their financial allotments", said Ho.

JRS conducts outreach with communities and parents to show the value of schooling, whether in migrant learning centres or Thai schools.

"Our children have a right to education. Our job is to help them realise that right, and open up more opportunities for them in the future", said Ho.

The official government policy by the Council of Ministers of Thailand asserts that all children, regardless of legal status in Thailand, are entitled to cost-free education until the age of 15, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

While the necessary laws are in place to bind schools to accept migrant children, the MFA insists that public campaigns are necessary to encourage more migrant parents to send their children to schools, and allow them to finish.

"From 2013 to 2015, we will continue public outreach out to families to help them realise the value of education", said Ho.

Dana MacLean, Asia Pacific Regional Communications Assistant

Burundi: informal education promotes community development

Swavis Nzeyimana with her 7 months-old child beside the dishes she dries in the sun, a lesson she learned at JRS family management classes in Kibimba (Danilo Giannese/JRS)

Increasing these women's educational opportunities will foster confidence in themselves and their abilities and in turn contribute to the overall development of local communities and society as a whole.  

Bujumbura, 6 November 2012 – Investment in education, especially of women, would put Burundi firmly on the path towards sustainable development. While the primary focus of the Jesuit Refugee Service is the promotion of formal education, ignoring early-school-leaver women in Burundi not only negatively effects the individuals concerned, community development is also hindered. Or so the anecdotal evidence from JRS field staff suggests.

Experience has taught JRS that there is a clear correlation between poverty and illiteracy rates. Countries with high illiteracy rates are invariably mired in poverty, and Burundi is no different. Yet with the return of more than half a million refugees since 2008 after years in exile, mostly in Tanzania, food security became the priority issue.

Once this was addressed with the establishment of livelihood projects, JRS staff turned their attention to strengthening the position of former refugee and local women and girls in their communities through its informal education project.

"Women are the true engine of Burundian society, yet they are still strongly excluded from education opportunities, and thus from playing a more equal role in their communities. One of the principal obstacles to improved educational attainment among women is the patriarchal belief system prioritising the rights of men over women", said JRS Great Lakes Africa Director, Tony Calleja SJ.

Increasing these women's educational opportunities will foster confidence in themselves and their abilities and in turn contribute to the overall development of local communities and society as a whole. This may sound complicated and somewhat intangible. But it is the small shifts in the way communities, particularly families, approach the day-to-day which make way for more sustainable change.

The impact on daily life. Swavis Nzeyimana is a 22-year-old mother of two children, aged five and seven months. Since January, she has been attending basic literacy classes. Until a few years ago she lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania where she was denied an opportunity to go to school because her father decided to educate his sons and leave his daughters at home to do household chores.

"Now that I've learned to read and write, I feel stronger and more independent and my husband shows more respect for me", said Swavis.

"For example, if I'm not at home and he needs to tell me something urgently before going out, he leaves a written note in the knowledge I'll understand it. I, in turn, do the same. I've learned how to do calculations, I can see the benefit when I go to the market. Before, I'm sure I was often cheated by shopkeepers, who took advantage of my ignorance".

Raising awareness among men. The practice of early marriages often poses a major obstacle to women attending school in Burundi. They drop out of school because their husbands want them at home or to work in the fields. Convincing men of the importance of educating their daughters or wives is crucial to the success of the project.

Fidel Nahayo, Swavis' husband, is proud of his educated wife.

"Swavis has become president of a women's association because she can read and write, and when she obtains the official literacy certificate from the ministry, she'll be able to find a job", Fidel explained.

Fidel expressed the gratitude he had for receiving education at a young age and was glad his wife could receive the same positive benefits. Moreover, continued Fidel, his wife now feels more resourceful in managing their small house.

"At school she also learned hygiene and family management. Some time ago, she decided to build external toilets, now the quality of our life improved considerably".

There are many obstacles preventing the development of Burundi, and small projects like that of JRS will not change the course of the country. But with a better educated population – one in which the views of both sexes carry equal weight and families are economically self-reliant – communities will be in a better position to access available opportunities.

Reinforcing the position of women, in fact, has a positive impact on families, men and society as a whole.

Danilo Giannese, Regional Advocacy and Communications Officer, JRS Great Lakes Africa

South Asia: war-affected students to receive online education

Students at the JRS Herat Technical School in Afghanistan train in computer literacy skills (Peter Balleis/JRS).

The goals are really around learning. The development of new knowledge base, of leaders who can think differently, solve problems on behalf of their community, wherever that community is.  

New Delhi, 15 November, 2012 – Walking into a school in a returnee camp, an urban slum, or underprivileged rural community, young children like Azar* are always keen to say what they want to do when they grow up. He wants to be a doctor to help his country, Afghanistan. Heart-breaking, maybe not! With the expansion of online education to marginalised communities in South Asia, boys like Azar may get an opportunity to realise their dreams.

Already offering online third-level education to refugees in Kenya, Jordan and Malawi, the Jesuit Refugee Service, in cooperation with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), is about to extend this opportunity to students in South Asia. Over the next few months the Jesuit Refugee Service South Asia will begin offering online courses to displaced persons in north and east Sri Lanka and returnee communities in rural Afghanistan.

The two Jesuit organisations will provide marginalised communities access to courses accredited by Jesuit universities in India, in order to offer them a contextual, quality education. Moreover, the new Jesuit initiative will use online communications through its global network to facilitate cooperation between Jesuit structures committed to working for a more just world.

The Jesuit Commons uses "the important component of Jesuit education is its transformational nature. Our Jesuit education by-line is: transform thinking, transform the world. And that's the goal of the curriculum", said the international director of JC:HEM, Mary McFarland, in a recent interview.

JRS South Asia has always had a focus on quality education, said JRS South Asia Director, Stan Fernandes SJ.

"Extending and enriching our initiatives at the tertiary levels through online education has always been our dream," he said. "Learning from the JC:HEM experience at the Denver Conference gave us the confidence that we could make it a reality for South Asia."

Both these communities on the margins of society have had little chance to access quality education, until now.

In north and east Sri Lanka, where JRS already supports education for people displaced by conflict, JRS staff are planning to establish four distance-learning centres where 100 students will have a chance at a three-year diploma programme. Ten JRS staff are now trained as online and on-site training facilitators, and the process of selecting students for English-language and computer courses is now underway.

"But it will have to start small. We do it all gradually, starting with the training of trainers. Then we'll start with an ESL and computer science programme to get them prepared for online university education", said Fr Maria Joseph, online programme coordinator for JRS South Asia. In the interim, the two Jesuit partner universities – St Xavier's in Kolkata and St Xavier's in Mumbai – are getting prepared to offer the courses.

In Afghanistan, JRS has been providing primary, secondary and informal education since 2005. Last year, teams in Bamiyan, Herat, Daikundi and Kabul offered training and support to teachers, as well as direct services to 4,500 boys and girls. The JRS-supported Herat Technical Institute has grown rapidly in seven years, and today offers technical hands-on education and English-language training to 880 students, including more than 230 girls.

With the introduction of online education, the students of schools like the Herat Technical Institute will receive the opportunity to produce the qualified and competent workforce Afghanistan will need as it attempts to take the path of development and self-reliance.

Unlike the JC:HEM in Africa, JRS South Asia is looking to partner with local Jesuit institutes of higher education to tailor courses for the local culture in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and also introduce them to global ideas and thinking.

"The goals are really around learning. The development of new knowledge base, of leaders who can think differently, solve problems on behalf of their community, wherever that community is. So if it's in the camp, how they will enrich their own life and those they serve? It could open up a possibility for those who repatriate to assist their communities in a very different way", Ms McFarland said.

If children like Azar can safely dream of becoming doctors through the cooperation of local and regional universities, the real revolutionary change will not only be the expansion of higher education to marginalised communities, but the promotion of north-south cooperation and regional capacity. In this case it is in Indian universities, but the process has only just started.

Molly Mullen, communications consultant, Jesuit Refugee Service International Office

  JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, 00193 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39 06 69 868 468; fax: +39 06 69 868 461; email: dispatches.editor@jrs.net; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Nicole Abbeloos (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian), Chiara Peri (Italian).

Dispatches No. 328
Editor: James Stapleton