“I have been living in Malawi as a refugee for almost 10 years. Before arriving there, I have been displaced in several different countries from Zambia to Mozambique”. Today, more than 10,000 km separate Emmanuel from Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in February 2023 he arrived in Rome, Italy, to attend a master’s degree in economics at La Sapienza University, as part of the UNICORE scholarship programme, implemented by UNHCR and partners, including Centro Astalli/JRS Italy.
In Dzaleka, JRS and several different actors are involved in facilitating access to education within the camp through various initiatives. These range from large-scale online learning degree programmes to the provision of scholarships to enable refugees to pursue their academic studies. “Personally, education introduced me to special opportunities. First, I attended the JRS programmes such English, computer skills and from there I applied for a bachelor’s degree in business management through an online learning programme,” says Emmanuel. However, young people living in a refugee camp often struggle to access these opportunities, “they don’t have tech skills and a high level of English, they lack some basic skills to enter various degree programmes offered.”
As soon as he graduated, Emmanuel looked for a way to support other young refugees in the camp and provide them with the information and confidence to pursue their post-secondary studies. “I always wanted to be an economist, but my other mission is to empower refugees by providing them with the resources and support they need to succeed. I wanted to allow other young people like me to access the same opportunities as me. So, I asked myself: how do we do this? Let’s create an organisation that can provide the skills necessary to enter the degree course.”
This idea led him to cofound ATE-Hub a refugee-led organisation where refugees in Dzaleka work together, providing academic support and implementing initiatives to help increase the students’ wellbeing and make them ready to start their degree course. “We now work in partnership with an American University to provide degree programmes for refugee students in the Dzaleka camp. Before starting university, we offer the students a basic programme to learn English academic writing skills, technical skills, soft skills and increase the self-confidence of the learner. We run the programme for three months and when the students are ready, we start enrolling them to the university to start the degree course.”
ATE-Hub is composed of seven people who work in two departments, one providing operational/holistic support and the other academic support, with counselors, academic tutors, and teaching assistants. “The feedback from the students is that we don’t just provide a scholarship, we get into their lives, address their holistic needs, and try to ensure wellbeing. Precious* graduated in management in February , she’s a single mum, and struggled to balance her responsibilities as a mother and as a student. She came to the centre seven hours a day together with her daughters who spent the day in our day care while she studied. Precious is an example that we always share with other students.”
New challenges and perspectives are crossing the path of ATE-Hub. The organisation’s future hopes are to find a way to help students enter the workplace, “another reason why higher education is so important to the beneficiaries of ATE-Hub programmes is because of their need to economically transform their lives. So from that understanding, ATE-Hub does not only measure its success on degree completion but also on placing its students in employment opportunities.”
Refugee led organisations have a better understanding of the social, economic, or political consequences of being displaced. This unique perspective makes them privileged actors compared to international organisations. They are able to adapt more quickly to the needs of the community and better understand the challenges, as well as provide the most effective and relevant support possible. “We call for the provision of more opportunities for refugee-led organisations like ATE-Hub, ranging from increased partnerships to the provision of resources, so that we can collectively build the next generation of leaders in the Dzaleka community. It should not just be seen as a mere refugee camp, but as a society of innovative, tech-savvy, creative, and empowered people”.
*name of fantasy to protect the identity of the person.