A man is posing for the camera.

Shadi Al Mesitef stands in front of the Tohoku University International House Sanjo 2 Dormitory in Sendai City, Japan. © Hristina Petrovikj

The UNHCR refugee scholarship program (DAFI) has sponsored more than 18,500 refugee students in over 50 countries since it began in 1992.

Shadi Al Mesitef was a DAFI scholar at Zarqa University in Jordan where he studied medical laboratory. He graduated in June of 2019, and is now completing his master’s degree in the Department of Neuroscience at Tohoku University in Japan. He offers a window into his early life as an inquisitive child in his homeland of Syria to his journey to higher learning as a DAFI scholar, pursuit of graduate studies, and his aspirations for the future.

Starting a new life is not easy but knowing deep down that your life will change dramatically for the best if you take some steps forward keeps you motivated.

I am Shadi Al Mesitef, 25 years old, born and raised in a beautiful Syrian city called Homs. Since I was a child, I loved science. I was like a detective who seeks to explore the invisible world and help to solve hidden mysteries. However, at one point, everything started to fall out of place when the war began in my country — Syria. No matter how much I strived to continue my studies, the situation became so uncertain and unsafe that I had to leave my country behind and everything that I held precious to my heart except for one thing: my curiosity.

I knew for sure that wherever I end up, science should be the core of my future profession. Upon finishing high school in 2015 in Jordan, I enrolled in Zarqa University to study medical laboratory, where I was an honorary recipient of the DAFI Scholarship in the third year of my undergraduate studies. DAFI has enabled me to expand my cultural horizons, contribute to the society via voluntary work, and make valuable friendships.

Following the completion of my master’s degree, I would like to pursue my PhD at the same department. I am driven to learn a lot in the upcoming years because it is my wish to do something valuable for the world through my research.

Aiming Higher background

Across the world, only three per cent of young refugees are enrolled in some form of higher education, whether that be university, college, technical and vocational education and training, or online learning.

With the Aiming Higher campaign, UNHCR seeks to make it easier for refugees to pursue higher education 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.

With support from the private sector and additional partners, 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 by 2023.

Visit unhcr.ca/aiminghigher to find out how you can help.




Originally published by: UNHCR Canada 2 St. Clair Avenue West, Suite 802, Toronto, Ontario M4V 1L5.


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