Over the past year, I have volunteered with a great organization committed to building a more equitable and sustainable world through education called the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). In the process of doing so, I have learned a lot about volunteerism and the power of people working together to make the world a better place. With the current refugee crisis, I thought it would be timely to share information about WUSC’s Student Refugee Program and the experiences my fellow volunteers and I had supporting the program.
The Student Refugee Program
For over 35 years, WUSC has been helping young refugees resettle in Canada to attend university, college and cégep. WUSC’s Student Refugee Program is a resettlement program for refugee students who lack the agency to attend or continue post-secondary education in their country. The program’s emphasis on education may not provide a complete solution to the complex refugee crisis, but it increases the opportunities for refugee students enormously. Giving a refugee student the opportunity to continue studying in a Canadian university can completely change the course of their life.
WUSC is present on approximately 75 campuses in Canada, and operates on campuses through local committees. WUSC’s Student Refugee Program is funded in large part by students from the local committees raising the funds needed to welcome and support a refugee student on their campus for one year. At some schools, the funds come from the addition of a nominal student levy, which adds about the price of a cup of coffee to each student’s tuition. The WUSC local committee helps refugees with things like groceries, getting a job, banking, and any other needs they may have. In addition to supporting the refugee student, the local committee members host events on campus to fundraise for WUSC and refugee awareness campaigns. Student refugees are able to work in Canada while attending school, which also helps support their education in Canada.
Most campuses that participate in the Student Refugee program welcome one or two refugee students a year. WUSC and its partner organizations obtain and sort applications from recognized refugees in Kenya, Malawi, Jordan and Lebanon, and then match the refugee student with an appropriate university in Canada.
The Student Refugee Program is more important now than ever. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) recent Global Trends 2015 report, 65.3 million people were displaced by the end of 2015 — nearly twice the population of Canada. According to the report, an average 34,000 people per day were forced to flee from their homes in 2015 and we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. Among the displaced are 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Many of the young refugee’s higher education opportunities are cut off as a result, and this is where student volunteers through WUSC can help.
WUSC and the University of Lethbridge
At the University of Lethbridge, the WUSC local committee raised funds to sponsor one refugee for this year. They are now focusing on making the program more fiscally sustainable by proposing a referendum to the student body on the addition of a student levy. The student levy would be enough to cover the majority of the funding for the Student Refugee Program in years to come.
WUSC Experience Highlighting Importance of Access to Education & International Teamwork
The impact of WUSC extends far beyond the funding for the Student Refugee Program. It is raising awareness among student volunteers that everyone should have access to education. Wynona Nethercott, Treasurer of WUSC Lethbridge, used to take access to education for granted, but her involvement with WUSC has helped her achieve a sense of fulfillment “in sharing something that we consider as a right and a privilege to those whose access to it has been denied because of indifferences and violence.” Volunteering with WUSC has also motivated students to help expand access to education. Nicole Lalonde, Events Coordinator for WUSC Lethbridge, stated: “As an Education Major who has worked with Immigrant and Refugee students before, helping to increase access to education for everyone is a matter close to my heart. WUSC empowered me to already begin working towards that goal, while I’m still in the midst of my degree.”
Student involvement with WUSC has also driven home how critical it is for the international community to work together towards a common goal. As Elise Pudnyk, Co-Chair for WUSC Lethbridge, noted: “Being a part of WUSC has had an incredible impact on my university experience because it enabled me to learn so much about our community on campus. Through WUSC, I have been able to work with like-minded individuals on a project that will benefit our university in many ways. WUSC’s Student Refugee Program has opened my eyes not only to the national community of people our age working to make positive changes around them, but also to the international community that has come together to make the Student Refugee Program possible. I think it has been very empowering to work with my peers on a cause that we are all passionate about.”
Join WUSC & Expand Your World
The significance of WUSC’s motto, “education changes the world”, extends beyond the education the student receives in class at a university in Canada. Through the common ground of post-secondary education, WUSC’s Student Refugee Program creates an environment where students can learn first hand about immigration, international policies, and cultural differences, all while gaining meaningful experience with managing funds and organizing events. The skills, connections, and opportunities WUSC’s Student Refugee Program can change the world for every student involved.