Three Kenyan refugee students recently landed in Canada on Sept. 10 and will be studying at the University of Saskatchewan with the help of scholarships that cover tuition and living expenses; an opportunity made possible by the U of S Student Refugee Program.
The SRP is run through the World University Service of Canada and is the only youth program in the world that uses a combination of higher education and resettlement.
WUSC is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the educational opportunities of disadvantaged youth from around the world through co-ordination with post-secondary institutions, private sector partners and volunteers. The U of S is home to one of more than 50 chapters of WUSC.
Since its inception in 1978, the SRP has helped more than 1200 refugees enroll in universities and colleges across Canada. Unlike an exchange program, students accepted by the SRP gain permanent residence status upon landing in Canada.
Anna Tsui, co-chair of the U of S WUSC, recognizes the significance of this opportunity for student refugees.
“Because they come through our program, they get permanent residence status and can become Canadian citizens after they arrive; they get to overcome the process of having a visitor’s visa or a student visa,” she said.
Tsui explained that the application process is intense but extremely rewarding for those accepted.
“It’s actually a really difficult process for them to get the scholarship because there are only so many spots assigned.”
WUSC works with partner organizations to recruit students to the SRP. Tsui and other volunteer executives at the U of S chapter receive applications and must review them to choose the best candidates out of a list of deserving students. Ultimately the decision is made at the headquarters in Ottawa.
Volunteers also help refugee students get organized before and after they arrive in Canada. The SRP ensures that the students have been formally accepted into The College of Arts and Science. They also arrange for a room in residence and sign the students up for all of their classes, all before the students land in Canada.
Upon arrival, the volunteers are there to welcome the students at the airport, get them settled in residence and provide an orientation to the campus and to Saskatoon. The SRP also hosts potlucks, movie nights and other activities throughout the year to help them adjust and get to know other students.
“We are totally in charge of integrating them from their life in the refugee camp to life in Canada,” Tsui said.
This program is made possible by a levy paid by U of S students. Every refugee’s first year of tuition, books and living expenses are covered by the program. By collecting $4 from every undergraduate student at the U of S through student fees, the SRP is able to fund three or four students each semester.
According to Tsui, this is a small price to pay for a good cause.
“With everyone together, we are acting in solidarity,” she said. “To help students have a better life and have more opportunities than they would otherwise back home.”
These thoughts are shared by Lorot Michael, a refugee student studying geology in The College of Arts and Science. Michael arrived at the U of S two years ago after spending more than 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
Michael hopes that undergraduate students know how grateful he is for their support.
“It has changed my life and it has changed the life of many people. It’s worth a bright future to someone. I am so grateful and I would like them to know.”
Photo: Caitlin Taylor/Photo Editor