The Vulnerable Scholars Program (VSP), a global initiative of Scottie’s Place, is working to provide transformative education and leadership development for high-potential girls living within the confines of refugee camps. Having been directly affected by conflict and crisis, these young women have the passion and resolve to help lead their communities from fragility to stability, and from hostility to peace.
“We should be able to tap the talent of children in refugee camps. We should be able to nurture it, and we should be able to mobilize resources to help. Then we will be building responsible generations that can return home and make a positive impact. Having had firsthand experience of the consequences of war, these will be people who will do everything to work for and enhance peace.”
– Lynn Ngugi, UNHCR Country Representative, Botswana
The core objective of VSP is to assist high-performing girls in their educational goals, positioning scholars to contribute actively to the development of their host and home countries. VSP will work with refugee girls to facilitate the academic leap from good to great, strengthen talents and abilities, and develop critical leadership skills. Programs will be designed for ambitious students with far-reaching academic goals that include a college degree and meaningful long-term aspirations.
VSP seeks to:
- Provide academic assistance in targeted subject areas
- Facilitate the design and implementation of community-based service projects
- Increase access and opportunities to top-level boarding schools and universities
- Connect students with personal and professional mentors for secondary and post-secondary guidance, and career development
- Identify and fill positions of leadership that will enhance peace and development within fragile and displaced communities
Why Refugee Education?
UNHCR estimates that 3.5 million people worldwide live within the confines of refugee camps. With today’s expanding conflicts, increasing numbers of individuals and families are forced to flee their homes for the relative protection of a camp. The reality is that short-term refuge often evolves into decades of encampment and a widespread struggle for survival. Children are born and raised in the camps, their futures threatened by extreme poverty, ongoing conflict, and a tangle of laws that confine them by the thousands within camp borders. Education offers the greatest hope for these youth by preparing them for successful return to their countries. Yet shortages of resources waylay even the most promising students, and graduation rates, especially for girls, are among the lowest in the world. Creating access to high quality education for academically talented girls is fundamental to ensuring equal opportunities for women in the peace building and rebuilding of their communities.
In Refugee Education: A Global Review (2011), Sarah Dryden-Peterson states that, “The quality of education refugee children receive in exile determines their ability to contribute to their home and host societies.” Education is viewed by many as the key to any durable solution for refugees, whether repatriation, local integration, or resettlement. Especially in protracted situations as in Botswana, Kenya, and Rwanda, a targeted focus on secondary, vocational, and higher education is critical to preparing populations for an exit from the camp environment.
In 2010, in an effort to expand the positive outcomes of the Scottie’s Place domestic programs to vulnerable youth worldwide, Founding Director Paul Winter began fostering relationships and building partnerships with representatives from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and education-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to identify needs and services that Scottie’s Place could support.
In early 2012, with assistance from UNHCR in Botswana, Kenya, and Rwanda, as well as Windle Trust Kenya, Winter and colleague Matt Vincent conducted an educational needs assessment in five refugee camps in Africa. Through their research, they met and interviewed hundreds of high-achieving young women and girls, in addition to refugee community leaders, school administrators, and representatives from UNHCR, SOS Children’s Villages, Skillshare, Refugee Education Trust, Refuge Point, UNICEF, Windle Trust, Jesuit Refugee Services, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, American Refugee Services, Hilde Back Foundation, Starehe School for Girls, Education for all Children, Masomo Mashinana, and relevant government officials from each country. Click here for the Summary of Findings.
Winter and Vincent witnessed firsthand the challenges for girls whose entire lives had been spent in the camps. They learned of the students’ desperation for education, and of the girls’ diminishing hopes for their future. Refugee students, girls in particular, face some of the most life-threatening conditions on earth. Their pursuit of an education is in direct competition with their struggle for food and shelter, and they experience daily risks to their safety. Yet education remains paramount, and it is common for parents to trade food for school fees and supplies for their children. In the definitive words of Etress, a student in the Dukwi refugee camp in Botswana, “Education is life for a refugee.”
The goal of VSP is to initiate preparatory programs in refugee camps that will ensure a high level of education and training, preparing participants to lead in all sectors. Following the US model of college preparatory programs for talented yet disadvantaged youth, VSP will provide mentoring, on-going support, networking, and advocacy for best placements of graduates. The Vulnerable Scholars Program seeks to ensure that a transformative academic experience will lead to greater career opportunities and a global commitment. By working to empower and educate students, VSP will help them to rewrite their futures, and prepare them to contribute meaningfully to the restoration of their host and home communities.