October 3, 2013 — After years of hard work in harsh conditions, the first group of 48 refugees graduated with diplomas in Liberal Studies last week from an innovative online education program sponsored by Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins and Jesuit Refugee Service.
The first graduation ceremony took place in Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya, where 25 refugees received diplomas accredited by Regis University in Denver. The second ceremony was held in Dzaleka camp in central Malawi, where 23 more students graduated.
"This is an incredible moment for these refugees, their families and communities. After being forced to flee in search of safety, shelter, food and employment, the idea of university seemed unattainable. It is a journey from survival to rebirth, the transformation in the lives of refugees and their communities," said Jesuit Father Peter Balleis, Jesuit Refugee Service International Director.
Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins offers refugees an opportunity to obtain higher education and help their communities, combining new technology with Ignatian pedagogy, emphasizing learning through experience, reflection, evaluation and service.
With the assistance of Jesuit universities and Jesuit Refugee Service field staff, Higher Education at the Margins employs the Internet, on-site teachers, mentors and tutors to offer accredited diploma courses and certificates of learning, known as Community Service Learning Track (CSLT), to refugees. More than 1,200 refugees are expected to participate in the pilot phase of the program, ending in August 2014. Hundreds in Jordan, Kenya and Malawi are already enrolled in online higher education courses and diploma programs. The program will soon be expanded to Afghanistan and Chad, with plans to grow to 10 sites by 2018.
"In the midst of conflict and instability, education offers refugees the intellectual nourishment to rebuild their lives. Not only does this program prepare participants professionally, it has an impact on whole communities. Higher education builds leaders, imbued with the values of social responsibility and justice. These graduation days are historic events. They mark a beginning in the lives of the individuals and their communities,” said Fr. Balleis. [Jesuit Refugee Service]