By Mabell, Dave on December 13, 2019.
Despite the best intentions, it’s difficult for a university student to “change the world.”
But when students join forces, they can make a world of difference for young refugees.
That’s been proven again at the University of Lethbridge, where a student group has been instrumental in freeing people from refugee camps to begin studies in Canada.
What’s more, after bringing its first student here in 2016, the highly motivated group convinced the U of L student body to donate each semester to bring additional refugee students here.
“I’ve been really inspired by the whole process,” says U of L professor Anne Dymond, faculty adviser to the Lethbridge chapter of the World University Service of Canada.
But it’s not just the students who rose to the occasion, she told an audience Thursday at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Faculty, staff and members of the U of L administration have given financial support as well.
After spending most of their life in a refugee camp, Dymond added, suddenly moving to another part of the world, starting classes and meeting people with far different lives will trigger culture shock.
“But all of the students have weathered that quite well.”
Abdullah Mouslli, who fled to a refugee camp in Jordan after war broke out in Syria, was the first to arrive.
“I didn’t know much about Canada, let alone southern Alberta,” when he learned he could be eligible to make the move, he said. But browsing the internet helped.
So did the fact he’d learned English in high school, before schools were closed as the battle expanded. But the screening process involved lengthy interviews with Canadian and World University Service officials, Mouslli said – and he failed to impress on his first attempt.
He was more successful on his second interview, but it wasn’t until early in August he learned he’d be packing his bags and heading to Canada in just 20 days – with classes starting 10 days later.
And it wasn’t until he was met at the Lethbridge airport, Mouslli said, that he learned it was a group of students his age – not a national organization – who were making it all possible.
While working toward degrees in marketing and new media, he has since become a co-ordinator with the sponsoring group and helps refugee students settle in. Mouslli has also served Lethbridge Family Services as a translator for other Syrian refugees here, and helped a group of women start an informal catering network as a way of meeting other Lethbridge residents.
Like many who’ve moved to Canada, Mouslli told a questioner he’s not planning to return to Syria.
“There is nothing to go back to,” with death and destruction continuing indefinitely.
The national organization in Canada runs several related programs, he told another. It supports educational upgrade programs for young women in refugee camps so they, too, might qualify for the student refugee program.
World University Service of Canada also sponsors some Canadian students who volunteer for educational initiatives oversees, he added.
For the local group, however, Dymond said one of the challenges is continuing to generate enough funds to sponsor more refugee students. At the same time, she noted, the costs of attending university continue to climb – for members of the sponsoring group as well as for refugee students who are able to start a new life in Canada.
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