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DAFI at 20: Two grateful students tell how education helped

Making a Difference, 7 June 2012

A happy group of Somalian DAFI students graduate from their higher education courses.

GENEVA, June 7 (UNHCR) Since being launched by UNHCR 20 years ago, the DAFI scholarship programme has helped more than 6,000 refugees from countries around the world to pursue life-changing higher education studies. Funded by Germany, DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) began in 1992 with 220 students from 16 countries. Today, it provides funding support for 1,700 scholars in 39 countries. The graduates have gone on to successful careers, including many who have returned to their countries to play an important role in rebuilding efforts. Those who have benefited from DAFI scholarships include Khadra Abdullah Mohammed from Somalia and Shadrach Saizia Gbokie from Liberia. Khadra was awarded a DAFI scholarship to study midwifery at a health institute in Aden. She graduated in 2010 and now works in south Yemen as a health project officer for Save the Children (UK). Shadrach is a 28-year-old Liberian refugee in her last year of a sociology degree at the University of Ghana in Accra. The two recently told UNHCR how DAFI has changed their lives.


"I was born in Somalia in 1986 and I am the fourth child, between three sisters and a brother. Our life in Somalia was very happy until my father suddenly died. Then all our troubles began because of racism; my parents belonged to different tribes and there were many problems between the two sides. My mother became scared, especially when the civil war started [in 1991]. She was worried about losing her children, so she decided to take us across the sea to Yemen, where we became refugees and I grew up and studied.

"If I talk about my time in Yemen, I think of education. I believe education is like oxygen; it is everything. I've seen my mother working in hard jobs because she did not have the education to do anything better. This made me determined to study and learn so that I could help my family, especially my mother.

"I completed my primary and secondary education at a school in the Ma'ala area of Aden When I had finished high school, my friends told me about a scholarship programme called DAFI, which I had never heard of before. I applied, thinking I'd never be successful because of the strong competition. I'll never forget the moment when I found out that I had been accepted because it changed my life forever.

"Since graduating, I have been working as a midwife and helping some of the most needy and vulnerable women in remote areas of Imran and Lahj governorates, which are two of the most deprived regions in Yemen. Literacy rates among women are low and they are ill-informed about health issues. I promote a healthy culture and I train the traditional midwives to work professionally so as to reduce the high mortality rates among pregnant women and those giving birth.

"I am happy in my work because now I can provide this important service to Yemeni people, giving back something to people who have treated me and my family as any Yemeni citizen. They taught me what it means to give and love others without discrimination, and I am looking forward to returning to my homeland to work in the health sector and help rebuild when the war is over. My goal in life is to do my best in my work and, who knows, if I work hard, I might become the next Save the Children country director. I know that without the DAFI scholarship, I would not be the person I am today."


"The years of civil war [1989-2003] had an enormous affect on Liberia. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, raped or abused. Many children were left motherless or fatherless with no one to turn to for help, and huge numbers fled to other countries [or were forcibly displaced within Liberia].

Throughout this period, many young children like me were not in school. Our education came to a standstill. Most schools were closed, but in areas where schools were open, children only attended classes once or twice a week due to the fear of armed attacks at any moment. Our dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, pilots, scientists, lawyers, bankers, economists, accountants, managers, etc, were fading fast.

"After international intervention, peace was restored [in 1996] and Charles Taylor was elected as president in 1997. Many Liberians were relieved and felt that the country was now back on track. In October 1996, at the age of 12, I started 1st grade at the Mildred Taylor Academy in [the Liberian capital of] Monrovia. During my second year I was promoted to 4th Grade. It took me only three years to reach 6th Grade. All this time, I was being supported by my mother, who was a petty trader at the market in Paynesville [a suburb of Monrovia]. There was no contact with my father and we did not know where he was. My mother rented a room for us in Paynesville, where I attended school before we fled to Ghana in 2001.

"We left because of concern about the security situation in the capital. [The second Liberian civil war began in 1999 and ended in 2003]. Taylor was fighting rebels in the north and west of Liberia and young men and women were being arrested indiscriminately and taken to the frontline to fight without any military training or experience. I went by road to Côte d'Ivoire with my mother, elder brother, two sisters and two cousins. When we got to Ghana, we were hosted by some family friends at the Buduburam Refugee Camp.

"Soon, I started thinking about continuing my education. A Ghanaian sponsor paid the school fees for me and my sister. I studied hard and became the head prefect of my junior high school. I won a place to study at Adisadel College, one of the oldest and best secondary schools in Ghana. However, there was no money to continue. Then a friend told me about the DAFI secondary education scholarship programme. I applied and was selected for sponsorship. This was the beginning of great things.

"My mother was no longer responsible for paying my fees. I was given an allowance for my textbooks, transportation, clothing. So I could go to school with a relaxed mind and focus on my studies . . . I eventually was accepted by the University of Ghana to read economics, history, political science and sociology. In 2008, I applied for a regular DAFI scholarship and was accepted. I will soon finish my final and, hopefully, become the holder of a BA in sociology later this year.

"This would not have been possible without the DAFI scholarship. DAFI has made me who I am today. Eight years ago, with no hope of continuing to secondary school, DAFI came to my rescue and gave me a brighter future. Today, my dream of becoming a leader in Liberia and helping other people is alive and well."





Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

Seeds of Hope

20 Years of DAFI: A UNHCR exhibition highlights the impact of higher education for refugee communities.

Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to ServePlay video

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to Serve

War forced Lim Bol Thong to flee South Sudan, putting his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold. As a refugee in the Kule camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, he has found another way to serve. Just 21 years old, Lim started teaching chemistry at the school's primary school and last year was promoted to Vice Principal.
South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education ministerPlay video

From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education minister

The subject of the best-selling book What is the What, Valentino Achak Deng's journey has taken him from Sudanese 'Lost Boy' to education minister in his home state in South Sudan. He talks here about the causes of displacement, the risks of politicizing refugee resettlement, and the opportunities that come with staying positive.