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Hope through learning: higher education for refugees
November 24, 2012

Hope through learning: higher education for refugees
"Education is a key in combating the evil of hatred, violence and war," said Fr. Peter Balleis S.J. "Learning is a way to nourish, in a situation of utter despair, the hope in people, the hope in children. It is important to keep learning, it is a form of trauma healing in the midst of a conflict." (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
"Refugees are one of the most under-served, marginalized populations in the world regarding access to higher education," Fr. Balleis said. The partnership with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins is a natural one, he noted.

(Washington, D.C.) November 24, 2012 – Georgetown University President Dr. John DiGioia commemorated the 32nd anniversary of Jesuit Refugee Service this month by hosting a special panel discussion stressing the importance of higher education in refugee situations. 

JRS International Director Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J. was the keynote speaker. Dr. Mary McFarland of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, Cindy Bonfini of JesuitNET and Fr. Charlie Currie, S.J., of Jesuit Commons joined Fr. Balleis on the panel.

"For the last three decades JRS has worked to serve the most marginalized, in the places where there is the most need all around our world," said Dr. DiGioia. "Georgetown is honored to host today's conversation about an important and evolving aspect of JRS' service — higher education for refugees. The work that takes place today between JRS and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins has created a new dimension of the mission of JRS, with new vigor and excitement around the possibilities of virtual and online learning."  

Fr. Balleis recalled reading from one of the letters Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote while imprisoned in 1945. "Evil, violence, hatred, division, destruction … are not just moral categories, they can also be named as intellectually or rationally stupid," said Fr. Balleis. The writings of Bonheoffer, a German theologian and political dissident during the Nazi dictatorship, provide an apt message for the 32nd anniversary of the foundation of Jesuit Refugee Service, established to construct where others have brought destruction, to offer knowledge where ignorance reigns.

Audio of Fr. Balleis' keynote address:

Making tertiary education accessible to refugees and displaced people is a strategic goal of JRS. UNHCR recently reported that less than one percent of refugees have access to higher education. 

"Education is a key in combating the evil of hatred, violence and war. I'm ever more convinced of that," said Fr. Balleis. "Learning is a way to nourish, in a situation of utter despair, the hope in people, the hope in children. It is so important to get (displaced and refugee) children into school, to establish a routine of life. It is important to keep learning, it is a form of trauma healing in the midst of a conflict."

The basic routine of school allows children to focus on something other than the destruction of war or the dull routine of a refugee camp. Fr. Balleis highlighted the importance of education and the use of knowledge as a means of resisting the self-destructive forces of violence. By kindling hope through learning based on a deep belief in the dignity and interdependence of the human family, JRS seeks to empower uprooted people and foster a future filled with hope.  

"Refugees are one of the most under-served, marginalized populations in the world regarding access to higher education," Fr. Balleis said. The partnership with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins is a natural one, he noted.

Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins projects have been underway for two years in refugee camps in Malawi and in Kenya. A new project is now starting in for urban refugees in Jordan. Already nearly 600 students have participated in diploma and certificate courses.

The decision to provide education is part of a more holistic approach to learning, as demonstrated by latest JRS projects in Jordan and Syria. Even during an emergency when most agencies are focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance, JRS is also organizing educational and recreational activities as a tool of trauma healing and promoting psychosocial well-being. It is a way of bringing a sense of normality to the lives of children. Within this vision, the role of higher education is to help foster leadership within a strong moral framework.

"JRS reaches out in direct service to about 700,000 refugees," said Fr. Balleis. "Of these, about 250,000 are children and youth — and also adults — in formal and informal education (programs). JRS is de facto a major educational work of the Society of Jesus."

Helping students continue their education gives the student an intellectual stimulus the routine of camp life can't provide, a focus away from the destructive forces of cities caught up in conflict, and hope for the future. Hope both for the student and for their country. Education received by a refugee today will help transform that young woman or man into a leader tomorrow; someone who can rebuild their country, or, if resettled to a third country, someone who can contribute in a fulfilling and vibrant manner to a new life in a new land.

"Expanding access to education, building where others have destroyed, bringing the hope of a peaceful future where refugees can live in dignity, this is why Jesuit Refugee Service was established," Fr. Balleis said.  

Text by Christian Fuchs (JRS/USA) and James Stapleton (JRS International)
Audio files provided by Georgetown University and edited by Christian Fuchs

Additional Stories about JRS and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins:

• Jordan: rethinking the traditional university model
• Finding purpose by serving refugees 
• Higher Education at the Margins charts future course
• Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins 
• Eastern Africa: technology aids isolated refugees
• Pioneering a new approach to higher ed in Kenya
• Distance education project launched in Kenya 
• Kenya: Distance-learning program provides hope



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Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
communicationsdirector@jesuit.org
202-629-5946