Sara, a recent recipient of a Creighton University certificate, led us to a back patio where ten women were actively engaged in making soap to sell to the community. The soap-making process was tedious, with a complex chemical formula on a chalkboard and women nearby taking turns turning that formula into soap. The women’s cooperative soap-making business, an offshoot of Kakuma Soap Makers, was just one of the ideas pitched to a delegation led by Creighton’s president Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., for seed money for creative, innovative projects from Creighton certificate recipients. Other pitches included growing more nutritious herbs and vegetables to supplement UNHCR food distribution, a computer training business, empowering girls to stay in school, and a café in the compound where students take certificate classes. The energy in delivering these business plans was genuinely inspiring, especially since they were pitched inside Kakuma refugee camp, one of the world’s largest refugee camps.
Kakuma is the Swahili word for nowhere, and the camp hosts a quarter million refugees and asylum seekers living in a desert region in northwestern Kenya. Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) has provided academic credit courses and professional training since 2010 in various refugee camps worldwide. Kakuma began in 1992, with many of the first refugees streaming in from southern Sudan, although today, there are refugees from many countries in east and southern Africa. Creighton University is one of the schools of record for JWL, offering a pre-STEM certificate of 30 credits to 160 students per year in two cohorts of 80 students each. Last year, JWL enrolled 7.662 students in 11.443 courses in 59 Community Learning Centers (CLCs) in 23 countries. JWL provides these courses by utilizing faculty from Jesuit universities throughout the world. Xavier Institute of Management University in Bhubaneswar, India, offers a B.A. in Sustainable Development and accepts unlimited students who have completed the Creighton Pre-STEM program. Starting this fall, St. Louis University will offer a B.A. in General Studies for 50 students per year who successfully completed the Pre-STEM certificate program. Dr. Martha Habash, USA Academic Director for JWL and a Creighton Professor, stated, “In meeting with refugees in JWL’s programs, I’ve repeatedly heard how these programs make them feel remembered in a world where they thought they had been forgotten. This feeling, plus the skills and knowledge they gain from the courses, gives them hope for a better future for themselves, their family, and their community.”
Refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine who recently emigrated to the United States also want to enter or complete their higher education degrees. This has provoked a needed response from the higher education community. At the recent Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) conference held in February in Washington, D.C., there were three-panel presentations by an array of public and private universities on how they are meeting that need. John Sunnygard, associate provost for global learning and international affairs at Western Kentucky, shared that there were 19 refugee students this spring semester at his institution. UWK has been able to support tuition for these students through a unique $10-million Kentucky Innovative Scholarship Pilot Program, funded through the state lottery, which helps students at public and private colleges. According to Laura Wagner, director of refugee student initiatives at the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, “Expanding refugee access to U.S. higher education is not only a life-changing opportunity for refugee students but will unleash talent and potential which will benefit and transform campuses and communities, as greater diversity drives excellence and innovation.” Witnessing Sara and her work engaging community members in an entrepreneurial soap business in Kakuma, I couldn’t agree more.
HEI Refugee Resources-
- Directory of Presidents’ Alliance Resources to Support Students of a Refugee Background
- Quick Guide: Refugee Eligibility for Admissions to Higher Education
- Offering Scholarships for Refugee Students Overseas
- RESPONSE Campaign- Building support for a new college and university refugee sponsorship program by providing refugee students expanded pathways to resettle, study, and obtain legal permanent residence in the U.S.
Another great organization and resource that I have been engaged with is Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR). ECAR is a higher-education initiative founded in September 2015 at Guilford College. Its mission is to make every U.S. college and university a Resettlement Campus which partners with a local refugee resettlement agency to host refugees on campus grounds and supports their successful integration. Since ECAR’s inception, twelve campuses including Lafayette College, Wake Forest University, Russell Sage College, Old Dominion University, and Siena College among others have started their own ECAR Chapters. I encourage others to check it out: http://everycampusarefuge.net.