November 14, 2012
|Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J. in Rome. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)|
|Kindling hope through learning is one of the strategic goals of JRS. Our formal and informal education programs reach more than 250,000 children, young people and adults. In recent years, JRS has become increasingly engaged in tertiary education.|
(Rome) November 14, 2012 – To mark the the thirty-second anniversary of the foundation of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS International Director Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J. sent the following letter reflecting on the human, pedagogical and spiritual aspects of the JRS mission.
The Deir Vartan Centre in Aleppo, northern Syria has been destroyed. It was once a flourishing Jesuit Refugee Service center where Iraqi refugees gathered with Syrians during the week to engage in educational and recreational activities. Deir Vartan was a centre of hope for so many. The war in Syria has destroyed hope and created despair. When everything is falling apart, our mission is not just to provide material assistance but also spiritual support.
The founder of JRS and former Superior General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe S.J., was clear about this. In the founding letter he wrote on 14 November 1980, Fr. Arrupe described the mission of JRS as "not only material" but also "human, pedagogical and spiritual."
Thirty-two years later, the response of the Jesuits and JRS in Syria is very much along these lines. JRS teams have refocused their work to provide food relief. A team of cooks and helpers in Aleppo prepare 10,000 meals on a daily basis. At the same time children, affected and traumatized by the war, are learning in makeshift schools in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
Learning is an effective means to combat the trauma, a kind of psychosocial support, nourishing that spark of hope without which there is no future. Pedagogical and spiritual services are combating despair and building hope.
Kindling hope through learning is one of the strategic goals of JRS. Our formal and informal education programs reach more than 250,000 children, young people and adults. In recent years, JRS has become increasingly engaged in tertiary education.
Refugees are completely marginalized from this level of learning; less than one percent has access to tertiary education. Thanks to a partnership between JRS and Jesuit Commons – Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), 225 diploma students in Malawi, Kenya and Jordan are taking online courses. So far 360 students have completed shorter-term courses, called Community Learning Service Tracks.
JC:HEM facilitates the courses and tutoring, and offers academic recognition through Regis University in Denver. We intend to expand this online learning program in new places. A recent meeting of JRS regional directors, JC:HEM field staff, Jesuit Commons and the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) confirmed that JC:HEM centers and students are bringing about real change in camps and among refugee populations in urban areas.
Education is at the heart of the human, spiritual and pedagogical mission of JRS, because it creates lasting hope for the future, which none of us can live without.
Buildings can be destroyed but not the spirit.
Peter Balleis S.J.
Jesuit Refugee Service
Fr. Balleis is in Washington, D.C. to participate in a lecture and panel discussion hosted by Georgetown University in commemoration of the 32nd Anniversary of Jesuit Refugee Service on Thursday, November 15, 2012
"Kindling Hope Through Learning—Higher Education for Refugees at the Margins"
Peter Balleis, S.J.
Jesuit Refugee Service
John J. DeGioia
Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins