A record number of 8,347 students were enrolled on DAFI scholarships in the last study year.
“Dear graduates, congratulations on acquiring your bachelor’s degree!” Only 8 years ago, Reema, 26, couldn’t imagine she would ever hear these long-desired life-changing words.
From Syria, Reema arrived in Ukraine with her large family in 2012. Their initial expectations were very modest: they simply hoped to wait a couple of months for the war to end. However, 9 years later, the war is still far from over. Meanwhile, Ukraine has become their new Motherland.
From the very beginning, schooling became one of the most urgent issues for a family with six children. It was fundamental for them to acquire an education, to learn how to write, read and communicate in order to become independent, mature individuals able to integrate into a new society and find a job. Their parents knew all too well of the hardships of a life without the opportunities a proper education can offer.
Crisis in their own Syria delivered a huge blow to the education system, with more than 7,000 schools destroyed or damaged and around 2 million children left without access to education. Many of them are from socially vulnerable groups, including those who became refugees.
In 2018, through the German and Danish-funded Albert Einstein Stipend Program (DAFI), Reema managed to enroll in the Economy and Management education program at the Open International University of Human Development “Ukraine”.
This scholarship provides students-refugees with opportunities to acquire a university Bachelors’ degree. Through the dedicated support of the governments of Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic, UNHCR and private donors, the program has supported over 18,000 young refugees through further education since 1992. The grant covers most expenses, including university fees, study materials, transport, as well as accommodation, food, and other living costs.
Now Reema is able to help educate her younger brothers and sisters and support her parents. The DAFI scholarship also provides language courses which Reema attends to improve her English and Ukrainian.
“Reema has always been keen to receive an education, she always finds different courses to do, and reads a lot. I, too, tried to apply for the program, but unfortunately only one person from any given family is allowed to be enrolled at the same time” – explains Reema’s sister Rahaf, 23. Like her sister, Rahaf graduated from the university with a specialization in International Relations.
After graduating from the National Aviation University college in 2017, Reema continued her studies until 2018 at the “Osvita” school, which is part of the Open International University of Human Development of Ukraine, majoring in tourism.
In the past, Reema could only have dreamed of going into higher education, due to the impossibly high cost for the family. They recall the day they were informed of the good news. It was the happiest day of her life. For the entire family, it was a ray of hope, a precious opportunity for a better future for their children. It is of paramount importance for Syrians that girls receive an education, learn more about life and the world they live in and share their knowledge with their parents and children. Women who can work on an equal basis with men are highly respected in the community.
In addition, Reema’s brothers and sisters have been volunteering at the World Peace Federation of Ukraine University for three years now. They help children in the Institute of cancer as well as lonely pensioners and translate for UNHCR partner organizations such as CF “Rokada” and the NGO “Right to Protection”.
“I like learning about new cultures very much. During the years I was studying at university, I made friends from Ukraine, Egypt, Mongolia, and Saudi Arabia. The very best this scholarship can give you is the opportunity to share experiences and tell others about my culture and contribute to the welcoming community,” says Rahaf.
Now, the girls face a new challenge. They have been trying to find a job for three years. Numerous CVs were sent to countless companies, but time and time again, their hopes dashed by the requirement to possess Ukrainian citizenship in order to be eligible for employment. Reema and Rahaf have complimentary protection status and only have a tax ID and residence registration documents, which are not enough. Their father is unable to work due to health issues, and their mother is a stay-at-home mum. Therefore, the family relies on Reema and Rahaf, who have just graduated from university.
Reema dreams of working as a manager in a company; she likes to overcome new challenges; design anti-crisis plans and be useful to society. “We are very grateful to the DAFI program and UNHCR, for believing in us, our potentials and all we stand for!” explains Reema.
When asked what they dream of the most, the sisters have the same answer: “We wish for a peaceful life without wars. We dream of finding a job to be able to support our family. Of course, we wish for good health for all.”
As emphasized in the report “Education 2030: Strategy for education for refugees”, higher education is a top priority for UNHCR. It constitutes an integral part of the UNHCR mandate to defend and develop durable solutions.
Only 3% of refugees have access to higher education, compared to a 37% global higher education access rate. Higher education transforms students into future leaders. It promotes energy and imagination in young refugees, develops critical skills for decision-making, empowers their voices and facilitates rapid change.
Since 2010 students have been able to receive DAFI funding in Ukraine. The program makes it easier for students to access college or university education, beyond basic education. Higher education nurtures a generation of future change-makers that can steer the world in addressing the concerns affecting refugees from a human perspective.
This article was edited by Giulia Ferrara. Find volunteering opportunities at https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en