While thousands of students across Canada have made the leap to college, university, trade school or vocational school this year, millions of deserving refugees won’t be as fortunate. Across the world, only three per cent of young refugees are enrolled in some form of higher education, compared to 37 per cent of their non-refugee counterparts globally.
With the Aiming Higher campaign, UNHCR hopes to help ease the pathway for refugees to pursue higher learning by funding scholarships for university and technical skills training. Aiming Higher is seeking private sector support to bridge the severe funding gap of UNHCR’s refugee tertiary scholarship program (DAFI). The program offers qualified refugee and returnee students the possibility of earning an undergraduate degree in their country of asylum or home country.
Meet the Scholars:
Ousmane Sow was born and raised in Senegal, after his family was forced to flee Mauritania due to racial discrimination. The 23-year-old DAFI scholar is studying accounting and finance and has aspirations of pursuing a master’s degree.
“Fulfilling my dreams would somehow send a message to anyone who thinks they cannot be successful just because they are refugees.”
“I dream of a better, stable and equitable world, a world of peace where everyone can express themselves freely without fear of being judged or fear for their life. And that I think only education and instruction can guarantee it,” said Ousmane.
Ana Bárbara and her family were forced to flee their home in Venezuela. All along, she held steadfast to her childhood love of science. The 18-year-old is currently studying biotechnology on a DAFI scholarship in Mexico. “We had a collection of chemistry books at home, and my dad always explained things to me,” recalled Ana, whose father is a chemical technician.
“When I listen to [my dad] talking about his career, how passionate he is about his profession, it really inspired me.”
After settling in a new country, Ana thought she would have to postpone her pursuit of higher education. The DAFI scholarship was a lifeline. “If I hadn’t received the support from UNHCR I feel I would have been dissatisfied. I would have felt that there was something missing, that I wouldn’t be fulfilled. Maybe I would be doing something else, but I wouldn’t be doing it with the same joy that I do now.”
Salam Al-Hariri was studying chemistry at a university in Syria. But after just two weeks, she was forced to abandon her studies due to escalating fighting. After graduating as a DAFI scholar from the University of Jordan, the 26-year-old is training at a local pharmacy and has provided vital support to the local community.
“The DAFI scholarship was a spark for change in my life. It has provided me with endless opportunities and given me the motivation to succeed.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, she has posted videos on Instagram answering health care questions, and her pharmacy delivers medicine to the most vulnerable. More than 800 refugee students have become DAFI scholars in Jordan since the program began in 2013.
With support from the private sector and additional capital, Aiming Higher will fund 1,800 refugee scholars for their entire higher education and meet UNHCR’s target of 9,200 scholars enrolled and studying at any one time by 2023.