How the DAFI programme gives new hope for refugees seeking higher education in Ukraine (VIDEO)
24 January 2020 – Today, the world marks International Day of Education, which was proclaimed in 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly in celebration of the role of education for peace and development.
Education is extremely important for refugees. It represents the surest path towards recovering a sense of purpose and dignity after the trauma of displacement. It is – or should be – the route to labour markets and economic self-sufficiency, spelling an end to months, and often years, of depending on others.
Nowadays, there are over 40 million of refugees in the world, seven millions of which are children. Globally, the rate of refugee enrollment in primary school in 2018 was 63 percent, and this rate progressively declined through the stages of education, with the admission rate for secondary school enrollment at 24 percent, and only 3 percent for higher education (figures according to UNHCR’s report “SteppingUp Refugee Education in Crisis“) .
One of the programmes aiming to ensure refugee education in Ukraine is the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee initiative, also known as DAFI. For eleven years, the DAFI has been offering the most important scholarship programs in higher education for refugees and asylum seekers. Twenty-seven refugees have benefited from this unique programme, which is generously funded by the German government.
Higher education is a priority for UNHCR, as outlined in the Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Education, and forms an integral part of UNHCR’s protection and solutions mandate. Higher-level education turns students into leaders. It harnesses the creativity, energy and idealism of refugee youth and young adults, casting them in the mould of their role models, enabling them to develop critical skills for decision-making, amplifying their voices and cultivating rapid generational change.
The DAFI program empowers young refugees to unlock their potential, with many of them becoming activists and volunteers. Their vision of the world is expanding, and they are beginning to inspire their Ukrainian friends. This program is an important component for refugees, creating an environment where they can exchange experiences and learn more about Ukraine, but also share their memories with their classmates, their culture and the challenges they may be facing – making for a smoother adaptation to their host country.
To support their academic achievements and skills development, DAFI scholars receive additional support and monitoring, academic preparatory and language classes based on the individual needs of each student, as well as psychosocial support, mentoring and networking opportunities. The programme offers real support to nurture scholars as they become an integrated part of society and begin to contribute to the development of the host country’s economy.
Aziz, Khalil, and Mina are three young refugees among a group of ten current DAFI scholars – truly inspiring individuals with powerful stories, and a heartening testimony that anything is possible.
Aziz arrived in Ukraine seven years ago from Afghanistan. Alone, without a parent or guardian, he arrived as an unaccompanied minor. Despite the war in his native country, Aziz dreamed of studying and getting married like anyone else, but his biggest desire was to live in safety. This wish was enough motivation for him to embark on the long journey to Ukraine and start a new life.
“They say that if God can take away something you never expected losing, He can replace it with something you never imagined having. And I think what I got here was worth what I left in my home country”,
At first, Aziz studied at the lyceum and worked in the mines for around two years. He then entered the Chervonohrad Mining and Economics College at the Faculty of Underground Mining, after which he received a DAFI scholarship that changed his life. Nowadays, besides training, Aziz enjoys playing football in his spare time. He immediately fell in love with Ukraine and its culture, mastered Ukrainian, the local life has become familiar to him, and he has made a lot of friends.
“In Ukraine, people are nice and kind, one should not be afraid to approach and communicate with them.”
Khalil arrived in Ukraine five years ago after the war in Syria, his home country, broke out. He was planning to study to become a doctor in his hometown, but the destiny decided otherwise. Khalil first arrived in Ukraine during the cold months of winter, dressed in light clothing and unable to understand the language. He found himself in Poltava, where he worked with his brother in a street café. After some time, he entered a local university, but soon after decided to go to Kharkiv, with the aim of finally pursuing his dream and attempting to enter the medical faculty. Eventually, he did it with the support of the DAFI, and is currently studying at V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. On his spare time, Khalil writes poems in Kurdish language.
“My dream was to become a doctor, now this has become a reality and I had been learning a totally different culture, I love Ukraine!”
Mina came from Iraq five years ago with her family. Thanks to her father, she has a keen interest in computer programming, and at a very young age she started studying through video lessons on YouTube, where she learned several programming languages on her own through social networks. Ukraine for Mina is the second Motherland now, she believes that here she will find opportunities to develop her career and become what she dreamed of for herself. Mina successfully passed the preliminary tests to enter University and with the support of DAFI scholarship, she’s studying at the Cherkasy National University of Technology at “Computer Engineering” department.
“Nothing happens very quickly, we have to try, endure and everything will work out,”
Her dream is to become a web designer, apply for postgraduate studies and teach at the university.
DAFI has been changing the lives of these young people in very significant ways, giving them hope and a new beginning in a country of prosperity and opportunity.
The UNHCR Ukraine’s office has been coordinating the DAFI programme already for eleven years. We are happy to see how this programme changes the lives of young talented refugees and asylum seekers. Many of them already graduated and have mastered many important professions, with several of them having become doctors, designers, sportsmen and artists.