Carleton University will welcome two more student refugees to campus in January 2016 thanks to fundraising efforts by students, staff and faculty organized in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Each year since 1978, Carleton has sponsored the resettlement and studies of a student refugee through an undergraduate student levy for the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program. In a 2014 referendum, undergraduate students voted to increase their WUSC levy to support two student refugees annually beginning in fall 2015.
In September, President Roseann O’Reilly Runte called on the campus community to provide more help.
The $23,250 raised through Carleton’s crowdfunding campaign as of Dec. 8, 2015, paired with funds from faculty, staff and campus groups, is enough to bring two extra students in January 2016, raising the total number of student refugees to four this academic year. Another will come to campus in September 2016, on top of the two students funded each year.
“Students, faculty, staff and the university have all come together,” says Suzanne Blanchard, vice-president (Students and Enrolment). “As the students join our campus community, I know we will all welcome them and encourage them to take advantage of all that Carleton has to offer.”
Ella Sylvester, co-chair of the WUSC Carleton local committee, says the group’s goal this year was to “raise awareness on a bigger scope” by collaborating with people across campus.
“We’re trying our best to bring as many and help as many (refugees) as possible,” she says. Already this year, the student group has organized a mock refugee camp in the University Centre atrium and partnered with the East African Students Association and the Salam Association to raise funds for the Student Refugee Program.
On Nov. 24, WUSC Carleton also teamed up with Oxfam Carleton, UNICEF Carleton, the Carleton University Philanthropy Council and the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA) to host the United for a Cause Gala. The event raised more than $3,500 for a number of different refugee relief initiatives, a portion of which will support the Student Refugee Program, says Efrem Berhe, WUSC Carleton co-chair.
Berhe, who is originally from Eritrea and lived in a refugee camp in Sudan when he was 14, knows the kind of impact that WUSC’s Student Refugee Program can have for young people escaping conflict.
“Having been a refugee and now being a university student, I really recognize the importance of education for refugees,” Berhe says.
“They’re not going to school, they’re not going to university, they don’t have stable secondary schools,” he says. “Nobody really talks about those issues.”
The Student Refugee Program provides refugees with support during their transition to Canada and university life, and helps them get on their feet so they can support themselves after the one-year sponsorship. It costs approximately $25,000 to $30,000 to cover each student refugee’s expenses, such as flights, tuition, books, housing and other necessities.
This summer, Sylvester and Berhe spent months ensuring everything was in order for this year’s two student refugees to arrive at Carleton in September. While it’s a great deal of work, it’s something they find extremely rewarding.
“The student who came last year is friends with the student who came this year,” Berhe says. “When they met at the airport, they just had this long hug for 15 minutes.”
“This is what is great. That satisfies me,” Berhe says. “For me, it’s about contributing to something (where) I can see the change.”