The right to education is a lifeline for refugees and displaced persons. It provides stability and a sense of normalcy. Schools are safe places that reduce the risk of exposure to abuse and violence for the most vulnerable. Having access to education promotes healing and the acquiring of new skills, enabling refugees to unlock their full potential and easily participate in the life of their new communities.
However, there are thousands of refugees and displaced persons who are denied their right to education. Without access to quality education, they are often prevented from finding hope and properly preparing for their future, uncertain as it may be.
Education as protection for girls living in contexts of displacement
In fragile situations, like that of living in exile, staying in school protects girls against sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, and early pregnancy. Yet, displaced girls are among those facing disproportionate challenges in accessing and continuing their education.
Progressing further into their education paves the way to self-reliance, enabling girls to actively contribute to the growth and wellbeing of their families and communities.
As is the case of Divine, who grew up in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. The complexity of life in a refugee camp was compounded by the influence of her stepfather who did not see the value of providing a girl with an education. She was forced to do housework rather than go to school. Determined to follow her dream of becoming a nurse, she succeeded in finishing secondary school. Once introduced to JRS, Divine received a scholarship and today studies nursing at Mzuzu University.
“Take up the challenge and forge ahead despite obstacles,” she says to other refugee girls and women, encouraging them to study and have the possibility to choose for themselves the future they want.
To break the trend of disrupted learning, JRS also conducts Accelerated Education Programmes (AEPs) . These are flexible, age-appropriate learning programmes that seek primarily to provide quality education without leaving anyone behind. We provide students with educational skills that compensate for the years spent outside the typical age range for secondary education due to crisis-related life disruptions.
Education helps children heal from the damaging experience of displacement
Providing children with educational support in a secure and caring atmosphere promotes their socio-emotional healing and wellbeing. It allows them to cultivate their talents and abilities, and facilitates their positive participation in new communities.
For displaced children, adapting to a new context is not easy. Violence, discrimination, and social exclusion cause invisible wounds on refugee children and youth. Negative experiences associated with fleeing their home countries and arrival in new host communities may strongly affect their mental and physical health, cognitive development, and academic achievement.
This is what happened to Leila. She took refuge in Lebanon following the conflict in Syria. The war impacted her personal and academic life. The struggle to access public schooling, due to the lack of official documents, was compounded by the difficulty of processing the atrocities experienced during the conflict.
Her parents enrolled her in a JRS-run school in Mikseh. Through integrated mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) intervention and education, Leila discovered her talent and passion for drawing and painting.
Art became her way of healing, allowing her to express and process the emotions and experiences that had marked her journey.
Education facilitates overcoming barriers to inclusive learning for children with disabilities
Lack of trained teachers and educational staff, inadequate physical infrastructure, and teaching materials are further obstacles to the schooling of many students, especially those with disabilities.
Exclusion from participation in social activities and access to education makes them highly vulnerable to abuse, stigma, and segregation by the rest of society.
The creation of inclusive learning environments enables the breaking down of physical, social, cultural and political barriers that marginalise and exclude children with disabilities from enjoying the same opportunities as their peers.
JRS developed a guide to enhance and support inclusive education projects and to accompany JRS field staff in creating a more inclusive learning environment.
Education provides displaced persons with self-reliance and economic independence
Improving educational opportunities can help refugees determine their own future. It not only leads to economic self-sufficiency but restores dignity, confidence, and hope, thereby promoting integration into the local community and strengthening social cohesion.
Through vocational training and the JRS Pathfinder programme, young people acquire resources and knowledge that enable them to grow professionally and personally. Mahamat is one such participant of these projects.
He is a refugee living in Garoua Boulai, a town on the border between Cameroon and Central African Republic (CAR). Forced to drop out of school in his country, once he arrived in Cameroon, Mahamat attended training in computer maintenance and opened his own business. He provides photocopying, printing, computer repair and other services. He believes this is a vital resource for the community, because the world is computerised today and the people of Garoua Boulai also need access to these types of services. “People congratulate me on this initiative. I am very proud and all the neighbours encourage me,” he affirms.
Education is not simply about learning, but about healing, promoting meaningful relationships, and building peaceful and resilient communities. It engenders hope while preparing refugees to meet future challenges.