Last week, former WUSC McGill Co-Chair and McGill University alumnus Amelie Fabian shared her inspiring story at the UN High-Level Meeting on Action for Refugee Education. She provided a firsthand account of the importance of education for young refugees, herself a former refugee from Rwanda, speaking to representatives of organizations, foundations, and institutions who gathered in New York City for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Born in Rwanda, raised in Malawi as a refugee, and later resettled to Canada via the Student Refugee Program, Amelie’s speech during the opening remarks provided a concrete example of the life-changing potential of education.
Opportunity through education
“I never even for one second considered dropping out,” said Amelie, describing her struggles with bullying at her high school in Malawi. “I’m often asked by people with good intentions: what kept you going? The answer is always the same: the World University Service of Canada’s Student Refugee Program (SRP). I knew I could qualify for it if I graduated with top marks… Good grades in high school led me to the SRP. The SRP led me to McGill University. And McGill led me to be in front of you today.”
Amelie described camp culture and how “the more kids stay out of school, the more comfortable they become without an education”. Many girls, she said, become married in an effort to relieve their parents of their responsibilities to provide food and shelter for them. “Education advocacy can help show that this isn’t the only option,” she said.
UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, spoke highly of Amelie at the event, saying that “it was worth coming here just to listen to her.” He described her as a success story that demonstrates how education can help youth overcome difficult situations and gain opportunities. “She is an embodiment of how these opportunities become reality,” he said. “I would say that she is unique in her skills, in her intelligence, in her eloquence, but she should not be unique in the opportunities that she is given.”
Four million refugee children out of school
More than half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18. Four million refugee children do not go to school — which is about 50 per cent of school-aged refugees. The number of students in school only decreases as children get older: less than a quarter of refugee youth go to secondary school, and only one per cent continue to post-secondary education.
The global community must act faster to respond to the educational needs of refugees and displaced youth around the world. Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Chair of the Education Cannot Wait fund, and co-panelist at the meeting urged the global community into action: “Our promise in the [fourth] sustainable development goal – that we will provide educational opportunity to all by 2030 – will remain hollow and will remain an unrealized promise unless we devote our energies, and more of them, to securing an education for every refugee child, every displaced child, and every child in a zone of conflict at the moment. That must be our aim.”
The High-Level Meeting on Action for Refugee Education
The High-Level Meeting brought together refugee hosting states, donor governments, multilateral institutions, philanthropists, and representatives from the private sector and civil society. The meeting fostered discussions on how the international community can improve and accelerate its efforts to improve education for young refugees. Education is the most portable asset young refugees can have to prepare themselves for the path ahead, regardless of their durable solution. “Education equips us with a power to determine our own fate,” said Amelie. “A power that often seems as foreign to us as the land to which we’ve been displaced.”
WUSC was pleased to be a part of this meeting, where we also endorsed the Charter for Action – a collective agreement between signees to work collaboratively in meeting the promises made in the New York Declaration and Global Compact on Refugees to improve education for all.