WUSC U of S looks for funding to continue sponsorship of Syrian refugee students

By in News

An agreement between the University of Saskatchewan President’s Office and the World University Service of Canada U of S is soon coming to an end. The funding from this agreement allowed WUSC to sponsor the studies of one new Syrian refugee student per year.

All undergraduate students at the U of S pay a five-dollar sum every term in their student fees that goes toward facilitating the sponsorship of refugee students. This student levy allows WUSC to fund the first year of education of three new students every year.

In 2016, the President’s Office committed to sponsoring one additional refugee student of Syrian origin every year, over a three year period, in response to the escalating Syrian civil war.

Eliza Acode, WUSC co-chair and third-year horticulture student, says the group is looking for ways to extend or renew this funding for future Syrian students.

“We are hoping to meet with other deans to see if it’s something they’d be interested in supporting,” Acode said. “We are not asking them to commit forever, but it could be something that aligns with their colleges’ initiatives.”

WUSC U of S members pose for a photograph in the Saskatoon Diefenbaker Airport.

WUSC is currently looking into a partnership with Peta Bonham-Smith, dean of the College of Arts and Science, although the specifics haven’t been set.

Manaf Barghash, first-year arts and science student, is the last Syrian student to be sponsored by WUSC’s agreement with the President’s Office. Barghash says his studies were interrupted by the Syrian conflict and that he lived at a refugee camp in Jordan for five years and four months before coming to the U of S.

“We were assaulted by an armed, masked gang and forced to get out of Syria, [and] I was forced to halt my studies,” Barghash said. “I was studying at Damascus University…  I should have graduated three years ago, but I’m starting over as a freshman again.”

Students sponsored by WUSC receive everything from permanent resident status to ongoing peer-to-peer support. Barghash says that he is thankful for the support that WUSC has provided him.

“There are so many challenges, but I’m doing great. They make sure I’m good, and they will keep in contact with me for the first year — after, too, as friends,” Barghash said. “WUSC gave me a chance and a life that I wouldn’t even dream about — its benefits will certainly affect me and my family.”

Abdullah Olewi, one recipient of WUSC’s sponsorship for the 2017-2018 year, is completing his last term of a master’s program in teaching English for speakers of other languages. Before coming to Canada, he was living in a Lebanese refugee camp. For Olewi, WUSC’s sponsorship has meant an opportunity to realize his potential.

“It has given me a chance to continue a career and a future that I thought I had lost,” Olewi said. “In Lebanon, I was working as a teacher, but I wasn’t reaching my full potential. In Canada, I am re-discovering and implementing my career with the academic support of the U of S, which wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for WUSC.”

Acode believes that greater student support and recognition can also help the group to grow and offer more opportunities for study at the U of S, as student interest can translate to higher levies and more funding from administration.

“I feel like U of S [students] should be more outspoken about having this program,” Acode said. “In the Ontario and Quebec area, they are so proud to have it, and students support it. People in the administration department see it as an indication of the value of the program.”

Acode believes that WUSC’s tagline, “Education Changes the World,” applies to both the refugee students and the volunteers.

“Being one of the first people these new students coming into Canada can go to if they need anything changes your outlook in life,” Acode said. “I wish more students were active about this initiative because it’s something to be proud of.”

Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer

Photo: WUSC / Supplied