Connected Learning Consortium Features of Kepler Scholar Ella

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Source: Connected Learning Consortium | Original Article Link

Ella: Kepler & Southern New Hampshire University

Note: Kepler is a non-profit organization that links students with accredited online offerings leading to a degree from SNHU.

When I was young, I had the conviction that things would change, and opportunities would be realized if I stood up for myself and worked for chances to succeed. When I participated in the Mobile Learning Week Symposium 2017, I was reminded that we live in a world full of opportunity, but the level of access is undeniably low in developing countries. Opportunities are often limited or non-existent for refugees around the world.

During my keynote speech at Mobile Learning Week, I spoke about how education can change refugees’ lives. In order to realize the opportunities available, and to have a chance at access, we need to increase what is available to refugees and other vulnerable populations with limited access. This includes looking creatively for solutions to improve access to education in emergencies. Refugees can learn from others and succeed like others; there are programmes around the world providing evidence of this. The whole world needs to remember that refugees move with their experience and potential. Countries where refugees end up can provide openings for refugees to contribute positively to societies, communities and economies.

My experience and my learning journey have proven people wrong. Those that doubt refugees’ ability to study and pursue their dreams can see from what I’ve accomplished that refugees have as much potential as anyone else. It even took me a while to realize this. When the opportunity came to participate in Mobile Learning Week, I was sceptical about my contribution to it. I wasn’t sure if I would handle the challenge of speaking on behalf of all refugees around the world. I am proud of myself that, in my speech, I managed to highlight how refugees struggle to access education and what they expect from Mobile Learning Week – which focused on “The Quality Improvement of Education in Emergencies”. It is indeed improving: many organizations are standing up for the cause after Mobile Learning Week 2017. Also, preparing the keynote wasn’t easy as I had to put myself in all refugees’ shoes around the world, and think out of the box in order to find the right words and the right focus. For that, I did some research, talked to refugees, such as Foni Joyce from Kenya, another representative advocating on behalf of young refugees from Kiziba camp in Rwanda where Kepler has a campus helped me; and I researched programmes that are boosting refugees’ education. With all this information and my own life experience as a refugee student, I inspired the large audience, including the UNHCR team that I was with, by facing them all with confidence, both during my keynote speech and whilst presenting as a panelist in workshops. I was motivated by other refugee students present there and inspired by their stories and hard work to get where they are. One example is that of the incredible, talented refugees from a camp situated in Kakuma, Kenya. I learnt about the challenges they are facing to gain access to tertiary education. Nonetheless, they didn’t choose to give up. Instead, they seek out scholarships, programmes, and opportunities. They even spend time teaching young children in primary, giving them too a chance to succeed.

During MLW, I met a lot of people who are working hard to support refugee education. Now, I am motivated to continue to advocate for all those young people who lack education. Knowing in particular that refugee access to tertiary education is challenging, and as I’ve been given an opportunity through the Kepler programme in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, I decided to stand up and do something for my colleagues who are not attending schools, by sharing with them opportunities that can be made available to them. The thing is to connect them with programmes that can support them in their studies, and encourage them not to give up. When I got back from MLW 2017, I advocated for people from Mahama camp to receive registration fee waivers to help support their access to university. These eight students have now been enrolled. They have regained hope about their future. I also volunteered at Maison Shalom, a center where refugees can learn English, technology, and access other courses on Coursera while waiting for scholarships. Even if I can’t offer all refugees a university education, it has strengthened my connection to people in need, not only to those who are attending Kepler. My concern is that the education currently provided to refugees is not adequate. After Mobile Learning Week, many organizations and programmes, especially UNHCR, are implementing new solutions to cope with these issues. Southern New Hampshire University with Kepler and other partners are increasing the refugees’ rate of attendance at university. Now, I find myself among students who will be going to train young people in camps and urban refugees’ sites so that they might be eligible to attend university through the Kepler ITEME programme. This will be an opportunity to learn English, technology, and professional skills so that they can more easily access tertiary education. My experience of spending more time with refugees has awakened my passion for volunteering to advocate for people who need a hand up to access a basic need: education.

I have dreams and goals, and I am committed to changing the world around me through education. I feel as if I am the luckiest refugee on earth. Refugees around the world are facing many problems that make it hard to hope for a better future. I was able to get quality tertiary education – unlike many other refugees. I know that I have to be their voice, to give something back to the community. Education gives a helping hand. Advocating for refugees is one of the few things that I can contribute to my community by using my skills, experience and networks. I want to be sure to highlight that giving a chance to those who are in need of education is a critical, positive move. I have noticed that education can foster an open mind and help to adapt to new environments, to dream new dreams, to nurture hope and to gain confidence in overcoming each and every challenge.

When delivering my keynote speech in Mobile Learning Week, I emphasized that refugees didn’t choose to be where they are, but that they move with their knowledge. This is the reason why giving them a chance to access education will be the only efficient and effective way to resolve conflicts that are occurring in their home countries. Furthermore, they will contribute to the rehabilitation and development of their countries when they return.

Education provides refugees with tools to increase their earning potential. Education also gives refugees hope and a sense of a better future amid the tumult of the displacement. Someone invested in my education and now I support and empower other refugees like me in need of education. My goal and dreams are to encourage other refugees who have stopped studying to pursue their education despite the difficulties. I encourage their self-motivation and the hope that they place in their dreams.

Education for refugees is fundamental because it opens new horizons in seemingly hopeless situations. Education will have long-term benefits for refugees in the countries where they find themselves currently and will play a big role when it comes to their rebuilding their home countries successfully. Education means contributions to the development of individuals and communities. It will help refugees to live their lives in contentment as productive members of their communities.