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From refugee camp to McGill student: Canadian sponsorship program makes a dream come true

Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Dowa, Malawi. WUSC class of 2014.

Amelie Fabian (far left) with WUSC Class of 2014 at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa, Malawi. © Photo courtesy of WUSC

Thanks to the Student Sponsorship Program (SRP), Amelie Fabian will be able to create the life she wants for herself

By Fatima Muneer in Ottawa, Canada

“There’s no need for girls to just get a degree and then get married. We’re in a position where we can go for things that we’ve always wanted to do,” says Amelie Fabian, a fourth year student of accounting at McGill University in Montreal.

Born in Rwanda, Amelie was six when she and her family moved to Malawi in 2001 as refugees. There, she encountered severe bullying from her classmates because she was a hardworking student and a foreigner. Despite these setbacks, she chose to focus on her studies with the goal of qualifying to the World University Service Canada’s (WUSC) SRP.

“It is easy to feel defeated by your circumstances and give up, but this program gives so much hope to people in a similar situation as mine. Had I not had a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, I can only imagine where I would be right now.”

Amelie eventually graduated as one of the top and only female students from high school. Consequently, she then became one of 21 refugee students from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi who were selected to be resettled to Canada and acquire a post-secondary education.

“I really wanted to go to university,” states Amelie. “But at the back of my mind, I was always thinking, how am I going to afford it? In Malawi, the tuition is partly subsidized by the government but for the most part, it has to come from your own pocket.”

Amelie explains that the SRP has given her the chance to not only pursue further education on full financial support, but to also do so at a world renowned institution like McGill University. She also recognizes the dual benefit of the program which allows qualified refugee students to come in as a college or university student while also having the permanent resident status in Canada.

“This is a privilege to say the least. For most of my peers and myself included, it is the first time we have belonged to a country.”

Since 1978, the SRP has enabled more than 1,700 youth refugees from 39 nationalities to come to Canada as permanent residents and study at over 80 universities, colleges, and CEGEPS. Refugee students are chosen based on their academic excellence and outstanding leadership qualities.

A 2017 SRP and Local Committee Impact Study revealed that an overwhelming 96% of students who came to Canada through the SRP were found to have completed a degree. Moreover, 80% of this group obtained employment in their field of education following graduation.

Amelie on campus at McGill University, where she is currently a fourth year student.

Amelie on a trip to Mexico City during a break from her studies at McGill University. © Photo courtesy of Amelie Fabian

In just 2016, the number of students supported increased by 63%. The spike was mostly caused by an invigorated sense of urgency amongst Canadian students to speed up Canada’s reaction to the global refugee crisis.

Since landing in Canada in August 2014, Amelie’s grit, hard work and determination has helped her to overcome numerous obstacles, achieve many successes and give back to her adopted land. In addition to volunteering with the local WUSC committee at her university, Amelie has supported refugee students on how to navigate the system after the sponsorship year.

“You become a hustler at heart. If there’s an issue, I know I have to figure it out. There’s a human being underneath that refugee status. And just because I’ve been through that experience, people should not judge me before they get to know me.”

Now Amelie is waiting with anticipation to start her dream job. After a successful internship with Deloitte, a prestigious global audit and consulting firm, she has been offered a full-time position to start this September at their downtown office in Toronto.

“I’m very grateful to the SRP because being in Canada I have the opportunity to create a life that I actually want and not settle for. I have choices and that’s the privilege of being here.”

More information on the Student Refugee Program is available here.