Mission in Action
Mission in Action
“I was born and raised in a refugee camp in the end of the world, in a forgotten and impossible to reach corner of the great African desert. Yet, UWC put the time and the effort to reach that part of the world, and now here I am.” Bachir, UWC Costa Rica alumnus (2011–2013) from the Smara refugee camp, now studying at Brown University
Recent statistics on refugees are overwhelming. 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. 21.3 million refugees, of whom half are under 18. Ten million stateless people without access to basic rights. 34,000 people forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.
But while the numbers may show the scale of the issue, they also underline the limitations of statistics. Statistics don’t tell us anything about the unimaginable loss behind the numbers, or of the individual stories and complex causes that must be part of understanding the complete picture. Most problematically of all, statistics can mean we remain overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and distanced from our ability to respond. Statistics don’t make us take action, but individual stories can.
For many years UWC has educated refugees from areas of conflict. There are currently 50 scholars from refugee backgrounds studying at UWC colleges around the world. These young people from places with complex histories and uncertain futures bring a unique perspective to our UWC communities. Their shared experience with others who are impacted by the current global crisis provide the UWC movement with an important insight into reality for young displaced people. Most importantly, they ensure that the voice of young refugees are voices in our communities, instead of unknown stories behind statistics.
While agencies and individuals around the world work to meet the basic needs of displaced people and provide them with some stability, the UWC movement has looked to the future. Knowing that post-conflict countries require ethical leaders with a bias for action, the movement has launched the UWC Refugee Initiative, which aims to raise US$7.5 million for an additional 100 IB Diploma scholarships per year for refugee students, beginning in August 2017. Providing young refugees and their peers from around the world with a UWC education that unites people, nations and cultures can help to guarantee the peaceful and sustainable future the world so badly needs.
Finding students who can benefit from the programme is challenging. Typically, young refugees will have very broken educational backgrounds. Many will have attended multiple schools in multiple countries and some will have had periods with no education at all. They are commonly multi-lingual but their academic English may not withstand the rigours of the IB Diploma. The UWC National Committees, particularly those connected to areas of conflict (Sudan, South Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Nigeria, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq), work with government agencies, local schools and charities to find the students who can benefit from the programme and whose families are willing to let them take up the scholarship.
Currently, the students attend UWC Atlantic, UWC Mostar, UWC Red Cross Nordic and UWC Dilijan. These colleges are close to where many of the refugee students’ families are located and have specific support systems designed to meet the unique needs of refugee and stateless children. UWCSEA is supporting the UWC Refugee Initiative through the establishment of the UWCSEA Kay Everett Scholarship Fund. Kay, Class of ’91, (pictured below) was a humanitarian lawyer who dedicated her career to supporting refugees and individuals of stateless status. Kay passed away in August 2016 at the age of 43, just days before her UWCSEA 25th class reunion. In honour of her commitment to fighting inordinate immigration detention and to being a powerful voice for the voiceless, some of her UWCSEA classmates joined together to initiate the scholarship in her name. Visit www.uwcsea.edu.sg/supportus to learn more.
Maya Angelou said that the ache for home lives in all of us. For those young refugees who can’t yet go home, a UWC scholarship can provide a bridge to opportunities that may eventually bring them home to help rebuild their countries.