UNHCR – the UN Refugee AgencyHow a crowdfunding campaign is empowering refugees to access higher education

How a crowdfunding campaign is empowering refugees to access higher education

UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency works with partners to offer scholarships to individuals who might not otherwise be able to complete their studies

Gabriel has wanted to be a doctor since he was 10 years old, after his grandmother fell sick and didn’t receive the care she needed due to inadequate medical training and a lack of resources. “She used to buy me sweets and tell me traditional stories, but one day she was rushed to a clinic with my mum. I went too as I didn’t want to be left behind. She died, but I decided at that point to go into medicine,” he says.

He is now pursuing his dream, with support from the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI). DAFI is part of UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency’s scholarship programme, which offers qualified refugee and returnee students the opportunity to earn an undergraduate degree in their country of asylum.

This year, UNHCR launched its Aiming Higher campaign, a crowdfunding initiative to raise money so that talented refugees can complete their education. The campaign will run for five years, with the ultimate aim to boost refugee enrolment in higher education from its current level of 3 per cent – far below the global average – to 15 per cent by 2030. 

Gabriel comes from South Sudan, where violent conflict and drought have displaced more than seven million people. He had been living in a refugee camp with his mother while his uncle supported him through school. Now, he is studying for a diploma in clinical medicine at Clarke International University in Kampala, Uganda. Gabriel adds: “My uncle had studied in Uganda and wanted to support me, but he was shot during the conflict, so I needed to find another sponsor to go to university. I asked the chairperson of our camp and he encouraged me to apply for this programme, and luckily I was successful.”

Gabriel is now in his third year and although his studies have been impacted by the pandemic (the practical aspects of medical school do not readily transfer to online learning), he hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree after this and ultimately work in a refugee camp or medical centre as a clinical officer. He says the scholarship has changed his life and brought him nearer to this dream – something that would not have been possible in his home of South Sudan. 

Another student, Solivan, has relocated to Paris to undertake a master’s degree at Sorbonne University after completing her earlier studies in Lebanon. She has received two scholarships to enable her to do this, one from DAFI and another from Campus France. Solivan was granted refugee status in France in February 2020 but is not allowed to return to her home in the Kurdish region of Syria. “I have not seen my family for three years now. I have six siblings and we have always been a very united family, constantly helping and supporting each other,” she says.

Education has always been important to Solivan’s family but only she and one of her sisters have been able to complete formal studies. “One of my sisters managed to graduate with her BA in biochemistry. She was working at the same time to sustain herself. She did not receive a scholarship,” she explains. Solivan chose to study her first degree in political and administrative sciences in Sidon, Lebanon, as this was closer to home. She supported herself financially with cleaning and childminding jobs and taught herself French.

After completing her bachelor’s degree with outstanding grades and a strong grasp of the language, Solivan was encouraged by UNHCR to apply for financial support through the Campus France programme to undertake a master’s degree at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France. “When I arrived at Nancy, I didn’t have any friends who spoke the language as I learned it all from books. The learning style was also very different, so I felt a bit lost at first,” she says.

Solivan’s life experiences have shaped her career goals, and once she finishes her master’s, she wants to keep supporting other refugees and migrants, alongside seeking job opportunities in journalism in France. “Ever since I left Syria and became a refugee, I have always dedicated my time to helping others, in particular my fellow refugees, through tutoring, mentoring and supporting them for their administrative procedures,” she says. “My view is that one cannot only receive but must give back as well. It is wonderful to receive assistance such as the DAFI scholarship, but it comes with the responsibility to empower others.”

Find out more about UNHCR’s Aiming Higher campaign and contribute to its crowdfunding efforts.

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