Education

When a Refugee Child’s Education Stops

While living in the south Asian country of Bhutan, Pabi’s family was forced to flee their home due to political and ethnic persecution. At a young age, Pabi became a refugee. And like many refugee children, Pabi’s education risked coming to a halt. When her family fled to nearby Nepal, Pabi received some education, but the conditions of the school proved too harsh for her to flourish.

Eventually, the UN selected Pabi’s family for resettlement in the United States—specifically in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. As World Relief’s Dupage/Aurora office began to resettle Pabi’s family, staff and volunteers carefully considered how they could help provide Pabi with the tools she needed to thrive in her education.

Pabi was only in 5th grade when she began schooling in the U.S. She remembers not being able to speak English and feeling fearful. “It was really scary, and I was worried every day,” Pabi recalls. “For a month I cried every night because students were not nice. I used to cry under the blanket so my parents couldn’t find out that I was crying.”

Thankfully, Pabi was able to join World Relief’s after-school program at an area church where she quickly found friends and academic assistance. She also befriended Nepali students, who were in higher level classes in school and helped her quickly learn English.

With a strengthened foundation because of the support Pabi received in the after school program, Pabi was poised to flourish in her academic pursuits. She continued to excel throughout middle school and high school. In fact, her academic achievement has resulted in a college scholarship through philanthropist Bob Carr’s Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF); Pabi was selected as only one of seven scholarship winners out of over 40 applicants. The scholarship, along with government financial aid, will allow Pabi to attend college tuition-free.

Pabi’s education could have ended the day she and her family fled Bhutan. But by the grace of God, Pabi’s tireless efforts and the help of World Relief and partner churches, Pabi will become the first in her family to attend college and is now filled with hope for her bright future.


Pabi’s story is one of many. Around the world, World Relief has made it a priority to partner with local churches and organizations to provide safe spaces for refugee children to continue learning, especially when formal education is not a viable option. In the U.S., we help newly arriving refugee families enroll in schools, provide school supplies to children and conduct after-school tutoring—ensuring that refugee children like Pabi can not only restart their education but thrive at every level. You can play a critical role in supporting refugees like Pabi through the work of World Relief.

Join us as we invest in the future of refugees around the world.

 

When Refugees Go Back to School (Q&A)

Children across the U.S. are returning to school. Recently resettled refugees will be among those children. Tabitha McDuffee, Communications Coordinator for World Relief Dupage/Aurora (WRDA) sat down with both Malita Gardner, Children & Youth Program Manager at WRDA, and Deborah, a former refugee from Southeast Asia and staff member at WRDA, to discuss what the back-to-school season means for refugees.

Their conversation addresses the challenges refugee children face in their education and the ways World Relief and our partners come alongside them, working to ensure a bright educational future for each child.


Tabitha: What happens to a child’s education when his or her family is forced to flee their home and country?

Deborah: When a family is forced to flee their home and country, a child’s education is interrupted. In some cases families may have to flee on such short notice that they do not have time to gather school documents or transcripts before leaving their home. This can make it difficult for children to enroll in school in the country they flee to.


What are some of the challenges refugee children face when they arrive in their temporary host country, before they are permanently resettled? Do they even have the option of going to school in these other countries?

Deborah: Oftentimes, the classes are very large, and the teachers are not well trained. The quality of education is very poor. Parents often do not encourage their children to attend school in the host country or refugee camp because they view their situation as temporary. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR 2016 Global Trends Report], refugees remain in a host country for an average of 17 years before returning home or being resettled. This means that refugee children may miss out on large portions of their education while in a refugee camp. If a child escapes their home when they are 12, and then they spends ten years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S., when they get here they are too old to attend school.


When a refugee child’s family is resettled in the U.S., is public education immediately available to them?

Malita: Yes. U.S. resettlement agencies like World Relief assist refugee families to enroll their children in school, usually within 30 days of arrival.


And what are the greatest challenges refugee children face as they restart their education in the U.S.?

Language. 
Malita: Refugee children’s biggest hurdle is learning English. They must progress in their language ability in order to thrive and succeed in school. However, children tend to learn a new language very quickly, so they may become fluent in as little as 18-24 months after arriving in the U.S.

Culture.
Deborah explains that schools are operated very differently in different parts of the world, so refugee children must adjust to this as well. Co-ed schools may be a new experience for some children. For her own children, the differences in grading systems were confusing.

Deborah: “I wish that teachers were more direct when telling me about my children’s progress. One of my kids was struggling in a class, but his teacher did not sound very serious or urgent when she told me, so I didn’t realize how important it was.”

Integration.
Refugee children can become isolated when they begin school in the U.S.

Malita: Refugee children are enrolled in an ESL (English as a Second Language) track so that they can improve their English while they attend school. While they benefit from spending much of the day with their assigned ESL teacher and other refugee children, it may isolate them from the rest of their classmates.


In the Middle East, World Relief works alongside local partners to host Kids Clubs, safe spaces for children to learn, play and grow. How does World Relief help refugee children arriving to the U.S.? What ongoing help and support does World Relief and its partner churches provide as children continue their education?

Malita: World Relief assists refugee children by enrolling them in school. Some local offices and partner churches  organize after-school clubs or one-on-one tutoring for students.  In some cases, ongoing help and support may include regular follow-up visits during the first year of resettlement to make sure that refugee children are adjusting well. Refugee families may also be connected with an individual or group of volunteers from the local community who visit them weekly to help the kids with homework, practice conversational English with the parents and answer questions they might have about American culture and practices.  


What is the outcome when a refugee child begins to thrive educationally here in the U.S.?

Malita: Refugee children have a lot of potential. For instance, I think of a high school girl who was nominated as the school district’s “Student of the Month,” just four years after arriving in the U.S. She gave  a speech to the school board and did an amazing job. It was so encouraging to see her success. When refugee children learn English, become involved in extracurricular activities and have access to academic support and resources, they begin to thrive. Through our youth programs, World Relief is privileged to play an important role in many success stories like this one.


World Relief’s work with refugee children and youth plays a vital role in their adjustment to new schools and their success in their new communities.

If you would like to donate to the work of World Relief during this back-to-school season visit our Refugee Crisis page.

Stopping Slavery before it Starts – A Story from Cambodia

Human trafficking continues to flourish today in 167 countries – that’s 85 percent of the world. Every day, women, men and children of all ages and nationalities are captured and forced to work on farms, in factories, in hotels or in the commercial sex trade – generating billions of dollars of revenue each year. But the worldwide church has stepped into the fight against this gross injustice. World Relief stands with local churches in Cambodia and the United States and empowers them to protect their communities from human traffickers. Cambodia’s bustling capital city, Phnom Penh, is a hot spot for slavery and trafficking – but across Cambodia, there’s a growing movement of churches standing with their communities to end slavery. In 2014, over 400 Cambodian churches worked together to spread awareness about human trafficking. This crime flourishes in darkness, but when it’s brought into the light, perpetrators begin to lose their power.

Yim Srey Oun in Cambodia
Yim Srey Oun in Cambodia

Yim Srey Oun, a farmer and mother of three, lives just outside Phnom Penh. As a busy mom, she counted on her family to work together to finish the ever-growing list of chores. “My husband and I always encouraged our children to study and we worked hard to support them. However, many times we would need their help to do other work in the farm but I never had thought of letting my children have enough time to study at home,” said Oun.

Then, last year, she attended a human trafficking training session through World Relief. She learned she could love her children by allowing them more time to devote to their studies. Their education is an investment in the security of their future – and it could protect the children from situations in which they’d be vulnerable to traffickers.

“I hope the anti-trafficking project of World Relief will continue to help and train the rest of the parents in my community...Moreover, I am looking forward to seeing fruitful cooperation and more efficient and effective implementation to prevent human trafficking in our country and stand for vulnerable people who live in our community as well,” said Oun. Pastors, youth volunteers and village leaders are spreading awareness about human trafficking far and wide across Cambodia.

Until all are free, the church will stand strong in the pursuit of justice.