By Amy Badry
“Without the program I wouldn’t have come to Canada. I really appreciate it,” said Tuyisenge Celestin in a Gauntlet interview last year.
Celestin arrived in Canada last fall thanks to sponsorship by the Student Refugee Program– a collaboration between the University of Calgary and Students’ Union club World University Services of Canada.
“Sometimes I miss home and the food I am used to but I am making new friends and I am adapting to the environment,” he told the Gauntlet in September 2010.
The Student Refugee Program has been functioning at the U of C campus since 1988. Since then it has sponsored 21 students.
This fall, the U of C will give two more refugees the opportunity to study.
“This is an amazing accomplishment,” said SU President Dylan Jones. “It is something that the U of C can be proud of.”
In a 2010 referendum, U of C students voted to increase the SRP levy from $1 to $2.25 per semester for full-time students. The increased funds enabled the U of C to sponsor two student refugees.
“There is no other place you can put this amount of money into something for such a big impact,” said Jones.
The SRP will also be sponsoring a female student this year, the second female refugee student to come to Calgary. The first female refugee was sponsored in 2003.
“This year we are going to be sponsoring one male student and one female student,” said Jones. “Living in a refugee camp, it is often the case that it is very difficult for a female to make it this far in their education.”
Jones said females are often responsible for household duties, whereas the males are more often given the opportunity to finish school.
“If you have to pick between a boy and girl to go to school, oftentimes it is going to be the boy,” he said. “We believe we should equally sponsor men and women and give equal opportunity.”
However, due to living conditions it is difficult for females to reach the level of education needed for university admission.
The SRP has partnerships with three refugee camps in Africa – two in Kenya and one in Malawi.
The two student refugees will arrive in Calgary in August. The male is Sudanese coming from a camp in Kenya and the female is coming from a camp in Malawi.
WUSC ensures there is adequate social support for the refugees. The club’s role is to provide social support.
“As a club, we support them and put on social events for them to get to know the club and get to know Calgary,” said WUSC co-chair Amanda Floreani.
The SU is in contact with the WUSC head office to arrange funds and other administrative processes.
“The SU helps students sign up for their classes, arrange their schedule, talk to program advisors and go over their budgets with them,” said Jones.
Co-chair of WUSC Carol Chu said it is inspiring to hear what each refugee has accomplished, despite their difficult circumstance.
“The program is beneficial to refugee students because it is their only chance of being able to continue their education after high school,” she said. “The Student Refugee Program allows them to get an education so that they can then go back and help the country that they come from.”
Chu said the program is beneficial for students at the U of C as well.
“It allows people to see that donated money can actually have a positive effect,” said Chu. “While people may get to see a breakdown of how money is spent, it is rare that they get to see the actual results.”
Floreani agrees all university students benefit from the program.
“You have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and what people go through in their lives outside of Canada.”