For refugees, with refugees: Reflections on the 76th International Seminar
Around the world, refugees are actively making positive contributions to their communities by sharing their knowledge and skills, and by enriching local economies, through business start-ups. In order for communities to better benefit from their contributions, more enabling and empowering environments for welcoming and inclusive economies are needed. From May 9 to June 17, WUSC hosted our 76th International Seminar, bringing together refugees and allies from across the globe to drive systemic change and tackle the issue of economic opportunities for young refugees.
The International Seminar is an annual WUSC event for young leaders from around the world. During this six-week event, participants collaborate, share ideas, and create long lasting relationships. Since it was first held in 1948, the International Seminar has brought together thousands of young people to tackle contemporary and complex development issues through youth-driven ideas, research, and solutions.
For this year’s virtual International Seminar, 23 participants recruited from six countries (Canada, Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Sri Lanka) explored the topic of economic opportunities for refugee youth. Participants collaborated to understand the lived experiences of youth coming from refugee contexts, and used a systems thinking approach to identify the factors that either promote or hinder access to economic opportunities for young refugees.
Over the course of six weeks, refugees and allies worked together to develop and present recommendations on how WUSC and organizational partners in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and Canada can support economic opportunities for refugees. These recommendations include:
- linking refugee and host community entrepreneurs through mentorship;
- streamlining the process of recognizing foreign credentials;
- advocating for policy changes, particularly those related to movement of refugees;
- building coalitions between governments, civil society, and partners;
- and increasing opportunities for scholarships.
We connected with some of the youth leaders from the International Seminar to hear more about their experience and what they have learned during their time.
Moraa Beryl holds a bachelor degree in Biomedical Sciences with Information Technology from Maseno University in Kenya. She is an Akili Dada Fellow and the founder of She Deserves to Soar, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting young women through solidarity and education.
She decided to apply to join the International Seminar because she wanted to learn more about issues affecting refugees and how to use systems thinking. When asked to describe her experience as a seminarist, she called it “unprecedented!” “I had so much [more] fun than I had anticipated,” she continued.
One of the highlights of her experience was working with her group members. “[The International Seminar] taught me the importance of self-motivation, discipline, and patience, especially working with a team virtually and from different time zones.” She also shared how she especially enjoyed collaborating with two other young women during the International Seminar on a team project and looks forward to opportunities for them to work together in the future. “I confidently and patiently look forward to when the three of us (Thalitha, Tulasi, and I) can design and execute a joint project. The world will come to a standstill. Watch this space!” she teased.
One of Moraa’s favourite parts of the Seminar was Intercultural Fridays, an activity in which participants shared different aspects of their culture, including music, poetry, and food. In addition, she shared how moved and inspired she felt after meeting with youth leaders from across the world and listening to their stories. “The Seminar held such a powerful space for people to become vulnerable and share. Listening to refugees share their stories opened my eyes to my privileges and further ignited an unquenchable fire to use my network to enhance access to education opportunities for refugee girls,” she shared.
Her takeaway from the International Seminar? “As long as you have the passion, you can contribute towards advancing the rights and creating a better and just world where all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, education, religion, and economic status, are free from any form of discrimination and oppression. You can make a difference in your small way; it counts.” Finally, she encourages other young people to join the International Seminar. “Joining the International Seminar is such a competitive and life-changing opportunity. You get to meet, share, learn, and be inspired by young people – refugees and refugee allies from different parts of the world.”
Caitlin is an undergraduate student at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada. She is also a member of her university’s WUSC Local Committee. She decided to join the International Seminar because she wanted to learn more about the issues that refugees are facing in their communities.
When asked to describe her experience at the International Seminar, she called it “eye-opening.” She explained that “while there were a lot of laughs and learning about other cultures, the Seminar opened my eyes to situations I had no idea about.” Like Moraa, Intercultural Fridays were a highlight. Caitlin enjoyed hearing different songs suggested by the seminarists, adding that “it was a great way for me to wake up (the Seminar started at 6AM British Columbia time).”
When asked about what she will remember from her time at the International Seminar, she shared with us this takeaway: “It’s important to step out of your comfort zone.” Although this is not always “an easy [task],” she adds. She also enjoyed having the opportunity to work closely with her fellow seminarists and learn from their lived experiences. “The International Seminar is an amazing way to make connections, learn about cultures you may not be familiar with, [and] educate yourself about so many things that are overlooked in the media.”
She highly recommends the experience for others to experience for themselves. “The six-week program taught me so much and we all had a common purpose: to better the lives of others and to learn how to do this sustainably and with compassion, empathy, and an eagerness to learn,” she said.
As the 2022 WUSC International Seminar chapter comes to an end, we will soon be getting ready for the next International Seminar. Stay tuned for more information!
Learn more about how WUSC is working to empower and amplify the voices of refugees through our work.