JRS nurtures the potential of young talent among refugees

Jill Dzrewiecki; Percy Chikwela; David Holdcroft, SJ - JRS International
[From “Jesuits 2023 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]

Gender-responsive education programmes that address gender barriers to education.

Divine grew up in the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. She is the second of six children. Growing up with the complexities of living in a refugee camp was compounded by a strict stepfather who did not value girls’ education. Her father died before she was born, and her mother’s new husband insisted that Divine perform housework rather than go to school.

Despite this, her mother encouraged her to pursue her education, and Divine was able to move to her uncle’s house and enrol in school away from the camp. She excelled and progressed to secondary school. “My uncle was so impressed by how well I did that he agreed to pay for my form-one school fees,” Divine said. She thrived and life became easier: but during her third term, her uncle was killed in a car accident. She returned to the Dzaleka camp with no prospects of continuing her education.


Some grim statistics

Of the 82.4 million forcibly displaced people 34.6 million - or forty-two percent - are under the age of eighteen, while young adults between nineteen and twenty-four make up a large part of the remainder. Also, eighty-six percent of the world’s displaced are hosted in low- or middle-income countries. This places huge stress on education systems in environments that are poorly resourced in some of the world’s poorest areas. Only thirty-four percent of the world’s refugee youth study at secondary school, while five percent enter any form of post-secondary education.

Refugee girls face disproportionate challenges to receiving an education. They are extremely vulnerable to early marriage and pregnancy and are subjected to socio-cultural traditions and gender roles that limit their educational opportunities. Like Divine, many refugee girls are expected to perform domestic chores.


The power of education

Yet education is a lifeline for girls living in displacement. When girls in conflict-affected settings complete secondary education they develop leadership skills, become income generators and build self-reliance. When girls are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential, they contribute to the well-being of their families and communities. This is why JRS is committed to keeping girls in school. In partnership with other organisations, JRS offers gender-responsive education programmes that address gendered barriers to education and enable refugee girls like Divine to invest in their future.

Divine’s mother refused to let her daughter quit on her education. She asked some friends for help, and in time the whole community ended up supporting Divine, who was able to finish her secondary education.

Divine’s hard work earned her high scores, particularly in math and science. She had a love for science that drew her into the field of nursing. When it came time to prepare for university, she was introduced to JRS’s Naweza Project, a girls’ education initiative in partnership with the Fidel Götz Foundation: Naweza provided Divine a scholarship to pursue nursing studies. Then during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic the project provided scholarship students like Divine with laptops and internet bundles that allowed them to follow online courses.


Courses for school leavers and Digital Inclusion

As well as scholarships, JRS provides courses for school leavers as part of its Pathfinder program. These equip young people with in-demand professional skills after which they are assisted into internships and jobs. One of these courses is Digital Inclusion, which is offered in collaboration with French NGO Konexio, gives students the technical knowledge needed to obtain jobs such as data entry, translation and graphic design online and to earn an income.

Immaculée tells the story that the same day she finished Digital Inclusion, she got a job. “Life changed completely,” she says. “I am able to support my sister and myself, and I really enjoy my work.”

The opportunity to work and be self-reliant is one of the most effective ways for young refugees to rebuild their lives and make a positive contribution to their communities. “My dream is to be a woman who inspires and encourages others. That’s all.” Immaculée helps refugees around the camp, whether they lack basic needs or need some company. She encourages everyone to learn, and she shares her knowledge with others so they can also become independent.


“The training I underwent in the Digital Inclusion Program made it possible for me to get a job beyond borders despite my geographic, legal and social status limitations. Now I feel confident and empowered, and I have the hope for the future,” she says.

JRS-Pathfinder is now present in four countries and is part of a growing network of post-secondary education for refugees who sometimes have not completed secondary education and have very limited opportunities for professional training. Through programs like Naweza and Pathfinder, JRS is helping realize the enormous potential of young talent among refugees while raising their living standards and meeting the need for skills in the emerging world. And in doing this, JRS is helping people to rebuild their trust and faith in themselves, their communities and ultimately in God.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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