Yaak Dut has spent 13 of his 24 years in a refugee camp of more than 800,000 people in Kakuma, Kenya. The Kakuma camp became home after he was forced to flee from his native Sudan to seek asylum from a country ravaged by 20 years of civil war.
After more than three years of hard work and preparation, Dut is now a University of Calgary student, through the Refugee Student Program, a collaborative effort between the Students' Union and the World University Service of Canada.
"There is a lot of suffering in the camp," said Dut. "They just gave the basic support to the refugees in terms of food and shelter."
Dut said he saw education as a means out of the camp, and he studied diligently all through high school to meet the stringent criteria set by WUSC to live and study abroad.
"I completed high school in 2003 and in the year 2004 I started applying for the WUSC program," explained Dut. "More than 300 students applied."
Of the students who applied, only 20 from the Kakuma camp were selected to come to Canadian universities, Dut among them.
"I was very much excited," said Dut. "They were all competent and this is the only opportunity that was available. I deserved it--I stayed in the camp for a very long time."
Funding to sponsor a new refugee student each year comes almost entirely from an SU student levy of $1 per semester, but this year Residence Services is helping to foot the bill. This frees up money for later years, according to Refugee Students' Board SU Representative Andrew Lehay.
"The university's only role is that they pay for 10 courses in total for the student," explained Lehay. "What took up a huge chunk is we have to pay for his residence fees but, all of his residence fees are now waived."
Director of Residence Services Joel Lynn said he was willing to support a good cause when he was asked to waive residence fees by the SU this summer.
"It gives [refugee students] a chance to live in and be a part of their community," said Lynn. "It also gives domestic students a chance to learn from others without having to leave the country."
Money for refugee students operates on a sliding scale over four years, with $16,750 allotted in their first year, $15,000 in their second, $7,142 in their third and $4,142 in their fourth. The idea, according to Students' Rights Advisor Patty Lehay--who works with the refugee students to help them transition into life in Canada--is to provide the student with full support in their first year and then less support as the student becomes more self-sufficient.
Refugee students must meet the same admittance criteria as any other U of C applicant.
"Refugee students apply to WUSC from the camp--it's very competitive," explained Lehay. "The Refuge Students' Board then meets and makes their selection based on who they think will be the most successful candidate. The biggest selection criteria is admissibility including their Test of English as a Foreign Language score and their marks."
"Each member of the SU is paying a levee and there are such tangible results," said Lehay. "A life is changed and it's not just the student but their families."
Dut said two major challenges of university life have been meeting new people, and staying on top of his biological sciences homework. He mentioned the SU and the local WUSC chapter are providing him with ongoing support.
"I came here knowing nobody," said Dut. "But, I'm getting to know people. I arrived a bit late and catching up with the readings is taking a long time."