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Hope and Opportunity: Amala's High School Diploma for Young Refugees Takes Flight

Courtney Carlson, Former Senior Communications Manager
18 December 2020

UWCSEA supports transformational education for refugee and displaced youth around the world through Amala

"I can now see things in different ways, I have become more confident in myself and I am learning to become the change I want to see in the world.”
—Edel from Somalia, Amala High School Diploma student in Amman, Jordan

Education is undeniably a vital opportunity in life. All the more if you do not have—or lose—access to it. Globally, tens of millions of displaced and refugee youth are without access to essential secondary education, greatly limiting their options and outlook for the future. But one organisation is offering hope.

In the June 2018 edition of Dunia, we first introduced readers to a groundbreaking partnership between UWCSEA and Amala Education (formerly Sky School). The name Amala is inspired by the Arabic word for ‘hope’ and reflects both the hope and opportunity their educational programmes provide. Co-founded and co-directed by Mia Eskelund Pedersen (UWC Mahindra College ’07) and Polly Akhurst (UWC Atlantic College ’06), Amala is dedicated to providing high-quality secondary education tailored for refugee youth around the world. The story of Amala exemplifies the UWC mission in action.

Founded in 2017, the organisation has grown quickly thanks to their entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration with committed partners, including UWCSEA.

High School Diploma Programme launch

After three years of development, including 11 curriculum hackathons (an innovative method of rapid course development), the Amala High School Diploma Programme is now a reality. The diploma programme officially launched in June 2020 in Amman, Jordan and is the first international high school diploma designed specifically for refugee youth and host communities.

Following a successful start with 25 students from six different countries in Africa and the Middle East, Amala is now preparing for the second diploma programme cohort to commence their studies in January 2021 in Amman. Additionally, the programme will launch in Kakuma Camp, Kenya in February 2021 with a cohort of 50 students.

A flexible, accelerated learning programme  completed  over 15  months, the Amala High School Diploma eliminates many of the barriers to accessing education that students may have faced previously. In light of COVID-19, the curriculum was adapted to ensure that all learning can take place online if required until it is safe to have in-person class sessions. The modular programme  offers both breadth and depth in five key streams, each comprising two courses.

Amala High School Diploma Structure

In parallel to their studies in the five streams, students conduct a ‘Personal Interest Project’ to further develop and explore specific interests and passions. Students also receive support in preparing for life beyond the diploma programme, including guidance counselling to help them identify pathways for higher education, employment,  entrepreneurship,  or whatever their ambition is beyond their studies with Amala. The diploma programme has already attracted interest from higher education providers including University of the People, Arizona State University and African Leadership University.

The Amala High School Diploma Programme represents the dedication and collaboration of educators, NGO leaders, students, former refugees, and other aligned individuals coming together and collectively contributing their expertise over countless hours to developing the Amala High School Diploma. Among them are a number of UWCSEA educators, staff, students, parents and alumni committed to making secondary education a reality for young refugees – and the College’s connections  extend  beyond  the diploma programme as well. 

Fugee School partnership

Closer to Singapore, Amala is partnering with the Fugee School, an organisation providing access to educational opportunities for refugees in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This collaboration came about thanks to a connection through  alumna  Aayesha  Fazal  ’15 who has been working with Rohingya refugees in Malaysia for several years, and who also leads Amala’s ‘Living Peace and Wellbeing’ course. Commenting on working with Amala students, Aayesha said, “With every individual student I get to know, the future suddenly seems abundant  in  possibility.”

The connections between the College and Amala include parents as well. Inspired by what he read about Amala, UWCSEA parent Brendan Hannigan was able to secure funding through the corporate and social responsibility arm of Allen & Overy Singapore to support a joint project between Amala and Fugee School. This led to a 10-week pilot in October 2020 of Amala’s Social Entrepreneurship and Ethical Leadership course modules to refugee students from Pakistan and Somalia who are now in Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, Brendan supported Amala to apply for a larger grant from Allen & Overy that will enable them to run the High School Diploma Programme in Kakuma Camp, Kenya for the next three years, as well as pro bono support from the firm. Amala and Fugee School are now in early discussions about the potential of running the Amala High School Diploma programme in Malaysia.

“Amala’s work addresses an undeniable and pressing need – it is simply unacceptable that only 24% of young displaced persons have access to secondary education”, Brendan said, going on to note that “Allen & Overy was impressed by the innovative approach shown by this very young organisation in addressing such a longstanding and egregious neglect … We were also struck by the manner in which Amala developed the programme,  leveraging  connections with leading educators and tailoring a programme to address the specific needs  of  young  displaced  people.”

Partners in purpose

Connections  between  UWCSEA  and Amala continue to deepen. Of the 11 curriculum hackathons held since June 2018 to develop the diploma programme  curriculum  and  courses, seven were hosted at the College. In addition, three UWCSEA-affiliated colleagues currently serve on Amala’s Executive Team. Louie Barnett, Education Lead at Amala, is responsible for leading the development and delivery of their educational work, and continues to teach part-time in the East High  School.

As Amala’s Programme Coordinator, Jessica Rapp ’12 is responsible for coordinating programme delivery, developing new partnerships and coordinating the organisation’s communications. Jessica was drawn to Amala following her previous experience working with refugees and displaced people in Greece and Colombia  where  she  witnessed  the impact of education on refugee communities.

East University Advisor, Niki Dinsdale, serves as Amala’s voluntary Head of Pathways Advising, working with a team including UWCSEA UAC colleagues Shruti Tewari (Dover) and Patrick Desbarats (East) to help Amala students find their path after the diploma programme, whether to higher education, employment, entrepreneurship or in another direction that suits their needs and skills.

Additionally, Tomoko Miyakoshi ’20 and Philippa Baxter ‘20, two of the founding members of the student-led Amala Focus Group on East Campus, continue to volunteer with the organisation. Tomoko supports their communications efforts through writing student profiles and Philippa is co-leading a project with Sreeya Mukherjee ’15 to ensure the curriculum is culturally responsive and inclusive.

Back on campus, students in the Amala Focus Group continue to actively support the organisation – and in doing so, they are developing themselves as changemakers and leaders. Writing to prospective student group members earlier this year, Tomoko shared a compelling message:

“By  educating  ourselves,  raising awareness, and reflecting on our work, we are building our own capacities as changemakers. Being part of the student group gave me opportunities to learn to listen to others, think more critically about the way I lead, and get to know and work with students from different grades. The skills and mindsets members … develop aren’t just applicable to supporting Amala. And that’s important because making transformative education accessible to displaced youth is just one of the multitudinous causes worth supporting in today’s world. I truly believe that the changes I’ve seen in myself throughout my time in the student group will benefit me in whatever I choose to pursue.”

In December 2020, UWCSEA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Amala which names the College as a Founding Partner and reaffirms our commitments  to one another. There is no doubt that through our shared values and goals, UWCSEA and Amala’s partnership will continue to grow and to inspire our communities to create a better world for all.

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Photo and graphic courtesy of Amala Education.