Before enrolling at Michigan State University in 2017, Raymond Lesiyon visited Kenya’s Eldume refugee camp near Lake Baringo to support youth who had witnessed atrocities or been victims of violence in their villages.
All of Raymond’s grandparents had fled from this mainland area to his home on nearby Kokwa Island in 2005 because of tribal violence. Having grown up with ethnic tensions as a backdrop, Raymond wanted to leave a message of hope for refugee children, to show them what is possible if, as he puts it, “they hold on to their education.”
Raymond benefitted from the college-access Education and Social Empowerment Program. Just out of high school, he was a guide/interpreter when program students visited his village for community needs assessments. A year later he was an EaSEP student himself, leading a new class to the island to follow up on the assessments, focusing on solutions to community issues including governance and education. He’d soon learn he had been awarded a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship at Michigan State—all expenses paid.
High-achieving refugee students would seem an aspirational fit for HALI Access Network organizations and more than a few have refugees among their students. About 30 percent of African children live in conflict zones and some HALI programs emphasize the refugee community by choice and/or proximity.
Tujenge Scholars Program in tiny Burundi has worked with 16 refugees and IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) since its inception in 2017. “All our students are Burundian. Some have been refugees in Tanzania and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), others have been internally displaced in Burundi,” says Tujunge director Ben Dickensheets.
“Our students largely come through the existing public school network. Students self-identify as refugees and/or IDP’s on their applications (to Tujenge). We have done a small amount of recruiting in refugee and IDP camps in the country, and hope to expand our recruiting efforts.”
CIYOTA (COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa) is based in Kampala, but conducts most of its activities at the Kyangwali refugee settlement in western Uganda. The program has helped 40 refugee students attain a university education since its founding in 2005. CIYOTA refugees come from the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan. The total number of refugees living in Uganda has grown by more than a million in the past two years.
Working within the settlement, CIYOTA identifies “potential young leaders affected by conflict and nurtures their development through formal education beginning with primary and secondary school,” reports program associate Favourite Regina. Helping the young refugees transition to and complete high school outside the settlement is a first step; the next is supporting graduates in the transition to tertiary education opportunities that will allow them ultimately to return to their communities “to drive a lasting transformation for Africa.”
Most of CIYOTA’s students are orphans whose parents were killed during civil violence. Favourite herself is a refugee from Rwanda who lived in the Kyangwali settlement and became a rare refugee woman to gain a university degree (as a MasterCard Foundation Scholar at the United States International University in Nairobi).
Here are some tips from HALI Access programs serving refugees :
- Use trusted NGOs to connect with refugee communities and the high schools that serve them. Find people who are engaging HALI students on a regular basis, whether as teachers, community leaders, or aid workers.
- If possible, send HALI alums and current students to those communities and schools to share their stories and mentor young people and their families about the importance of education.
- On the one hand, emphasize the same qualifications you look for in all your HALI students: high academic potential, leadership, community involvement, motivation, and financial need.
- On the other, allow for the trauma, extreme poverty and inadequate education that generally characterize the refugee population. Help students develop a coherent account of their background, a critical part of their university application. This autobiography should go in the additional information section of the Common Application, or be sent separately to universities that use other applications.
- Use HALI Access connections to identify universities positioned to help students living in conflict zones or excluded communities. The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, for example, has recently expanded its programs at African universities.
- Be prepared for a refugee’s challenges such as needing travel documents from the UN Human Rights Council, lack of a permanent home, lack of parents, lack of language proficiency, or weak study skills.
- Ensure that students heading to universities have the resources they need to cover transportation, climate-appropriate clothing, a computer and other necessities. Coordinate with campus organizations that can help support your students and be pro-active with universities that may not have much experience with refugees. Continue to mentor your students.
With tremendous support from the MasterCard Foundation and Michigan State—plus some winter clothing from friends of EaSEP—Raymond is now an “A” student at MSU, majoring in biomedical engineering. He hopes to improve the quality of life in his subsistence fishing community and bring leadership amid civil strife. Like Favourite, he inspires others.