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Education without borders

Tackling the global refugee crisis one student at a time

Student Life

By Rebecca Rebeiro

A group of dedicated students have launched a local chapter of the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) organization, with support from Memorial’s Internationalization Office.

“Based on the principles of social justice and basic human rights, WUSC is essentially a mechanism that empowers youth to prosper not just academically, but also socially, mentally and physically,” said Nabila Qureshi, a graduate student in the Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine.

WUSC is a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to improving education, employment and empowerment opportunities for youth around the world. At the organization’s heart is the student refugee program, the only one of its kind, which enables refugee students to study in Canada as permanent residents through youth-to-youth sponsorship.

WUSC-MUN is needed on campus, not just for its student refugee program, but to increase awareness among Canadian youth on refugee and migrant issues,” said the chapter’s lead content writer and researcher. “Youth play an important role in preserving or creating societal acceptance — one which refugees often strive for.”

Ms. Qureshi adds: “Having a local chapter can also de-stigmatize the aura that surrounds the word refugee by simply talking more about the very same word!”

Motivated group

Shauna Griffiths, WUSC-MUN’s chair and a fourth-year kinesiology major, first learned about the organization at the conference she attended while working in the Internationalization Office during a work term.

“I went in completely blind, but over the course of the week, I began to truly admire WUSC’s mission. I thought Memorial would really benefit in having a local chapter.”

“The Internationalization Office has been supporting WUSC activities for almost a decade now,” said Arif Abu, the group’s staff advisor.

While his office has seen student interest wax and wane on the topic, Mr. Abu says he is excited to work with a new group of motivated students who are committed to raising awareness about the global refugee crisis.

In 2016-17 WUSC reported that it resettled 140 refugee students on Canadian campuses, a 65 per cent increase from the previous year.

Laying the ground work

Getting the chapter off the ground was difficult at first.

But, as like-minded individuals came on board, the group started to take shape. First up: mapping a clear direction.

The Tree of Life at a WUSC-MUN event.
Photo: Submitted

“We’re not going to be able to sponsor a student straight away,” said Ms. Griffiths. “Right now, we’re putting in the networking groundwork, raising awareness about what WUSC is and setting up support systems for when we are able to sponsor someone.”

WUSC-MUN held an awareness-raising event with a panel discussion about the global refugee crisis in October.

More recently, they held an interactive event where participants were given a mock passport and encouraged to get it stamped at four different booths.

The first booth outlined WUSC; the second booth offered a virtual reality experience that allowed participants to explore a virtual refugee camp; the third booth featured a “Tree of Life” where participants could write messages on leaves to “blossom”; and the fourth booth consisted of a quiz of 10 questions related to refugee issues.

Next, WUSC-MUN plans to look for new funding opportunities and organizations to collaborate with, as well as recruit more dedicated members such as Ms. Qureshi.

“Essentially, I wanted to join the group because finally, after two undergraduate degrees, I found my calling. And that calling is to help and work in refugee-related matters. And education is just one piece of that puzzle.”

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