By Erick Maleko
Two new students at the University of Calgary have been given life-changing opportunities.
The U of C’s Student Refugee Program has provided funding for Augustine Gayang and Peter Kuany to pursue university education.
At this time last year, they were both in a refugee camp and uncertain of their future. A year later, they’re at a top university getting an opportunity to chase their dreams.
Every academic year, full-time students at the U of C are charged a $4.50 levy. The levy goes towards sponsoring students from different refugee camps around the world. Sponsored students have the opportunity to study at the U of C.
The Student Refugee Board is made up of representatives from Residence Services and the Students’ Union.
This year, the school welcomes Gayang and Kuany, who had to move from their home in Sudan to a refugee camp in Kenya due to civil war.
They arrived on August 28 after a long journey. Gayang said he was thankful to arrive in Canada.
“It was a very long trip but we’re very grateful and glad to be here,” said Gayang.
Gayang will be studying civil engineering, and Kuany wants to be a chemical engineer.
“I figured a degree in chemical engineering would be helpful in rebuilding my country,” said Kuany.
The Student Refugee Program began in 1986 and has since sponsored 23 students. Initially the funding sponsored one student per year, however, as awareness of the program increased, there was a push to increase the levy.
U of C students voted in favour of increasing the levy during a 2010 referendum to sponsor two students instead of one. At the time, SU president Dylan Jones said bringing in two refugee students was an amazing accomplishment.
“It is something that the U of C can be proud of,” Jones told the Gauntlet in May 2011.
Each student is provided with $47,000 for the duration of their undergraduate degree.
SU vice-president operations and finance Scott Weir said the Student Refugee Program provides funding for students who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to attend university.
“Not only do the students get a chance to go to school without having to worry about their next meal, they also get a chance to obtain a world-class education — an opportunity that’s hard to come by when you’re a student living in a refugee camp,” said Weir. “The students also help serve as awareness ambassadors on issues that are happening in other parts of the world but mostly go unnoticed in this part of the world.”
There are currently six refugee students at the U of C from countries around the world, including Kenya and Malawi.
The program is a partnership between participating universities across Canada and the World University Service of Canada, a student advocacy group that looks to improve learning conditions and solutions for people in developing countries.
Currently, over 40 post-secondary institutions in Canada have partnered with WUSC, including the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, McGill University and the University of Toronto.
Through networks at refugee camps around the world, WUSC gets in touch with academic standouts at the camps and begins the process of connecting them with universities in Canada.
According to Gayang, he and Kuany had the best grades in their school.
“How it works is they pick the students with the highest grades — both male and female,” said Gayang.
Portfolios of selected students are sent to participating schools where the Refugee Student Boards select the students they think will find the most success.
According to WUSC Calgary’s Amanda Floreani, the program looks at many specific details when placing a student.
“A student who’s interested in engineering will be sent to a university with a good engineering program,” said Floreani. “Another reason might be if a student knows someone [where] the school is located.”
After all the selections have been made, WUSC also assists refugee students with applications, immigration and transportation. Part of the process includes academic testing to ensure selected students can handle the curriculum upon arrival.
The Refugee Student Boards ensure that all the necessary resources and amenities are available.
Once the students are in school, they are also able to get a part-time job on campus.
Second-year law and society and international student from Nigeria Kome Enwa said the program is beneficial, but more can be done to help students in need.
“Is $4.50 per year all we can afford for a chance to change an individual’s, perhaps even a country’s, destiny?” asked Enwa.