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January 24, 2023

Four UNHCR education programs transforming the lives of young refugees

description of photo Children around the world deserve the opportunity to learn and reach their full potential, but for millions of displaced children, there are many challenges to accessing quality education. According to UNHCR's 2022 education report, nearly half of all school-aged refugee children are not in school.

For students like Emma, a refugee from Burundi, education can be the key to unlocking a brighter future. However, many refugee students face barriers that prevent them from continuing their education after being forced to flee their homes, such as lack of access to schools, technology and learning tools, language barriers and discrimination. 

Though the path to quality education for displaced youth may be difficult, UNHCR recognizes the power and importance of education through programs like Instant Network Schools (INS), DAFI Scholarships and Educate A Child. UNHCR is helping displaced youth like Emma, a DAFI recipient, achieve their dreams.

"To say I am happy to be getting this degree is an understatement," says Emma. "I am not only happy but also humbled that I am among the many refugee youths who have been given the chance to fly our flags higher."

Learn how four UNHCR programs are empowering young refugees, like Emma, and giving them hope for a brighter future.

Educate A Child (EAC)

teachers María and Uriel from Educate A Child

Since 2012, Educate A Child (EAC) has partnered with UNHCR to provide quality primary education to over 1.4 million refugee and internally displaced children around the world. For educators like María and Uriel, the EAC program has been vital for their students at Antonio Damiano Cajas Elementary School in Tapachula, Mexico.

Tapachula has a large population of undocumented migrants in transit, asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be processed and internally displaced individuals — 20 percent of whom are unaccompanied children and adolescents. 

A barrier to education in the area is that, according to Mexican refugee law, asylum seekers must remain in the location where they first apply for refugee status while their cases are being assessed. This leads many families to intentionally postpone enrolling their children in school until they relocate to their final destination. Additionally, many parents believe that registering their children in school will be costly and prioritize other basic needs—such as food and shelter—over education.

But María understands the value of education and is proud to be part of the EAC program in Tapachula. “We believe that education is a human right, regardless of nationality. Access to education supports a child’s development and is beneficial for the child, family and community,” says María.

UNHCR has been working closely with EAC to improve the quality of teaching and learning, ensure safe learning environments, raise awareness for education and strengthen partnerships with local education authorities to provide learning opportunities to more displaced children.

“The support that we have had from UNHCR has come a long way,” says Maria “We also feel supported when we receive donations, and that someone else is recognizing the needs.”

Instant Network Schools (INS) Program

student WaadAllah from Instant Network Schools

Established in 2013 by the Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR, Instant Network Schools (INS) provide young refugees, host communities and their teachers with access to digital tools, resources, internet connectivity and teacher training and support. This ensures that refugees and children from host communities have access to accredited, quality and relevant learning opportunities.

"The Instant Network School classroom is very nice, and the tablet experience is really good,” explains WaadAllah, a Syrian refugee and student at the Al Farooq Omar school in Cairo, Egypt. “I like the new way of teaching and I have benefited a lot from it," she continues.

As of November 2021, multiple schools in the greater Cairo area have launched the INS program, enabling students like WaadAllah to learn and excel in their courses. Since the program was implemented in schools across Cairo, approximately 18,000 students, 360 teachers and 54,000 members of the community in Egypt have been reached.

To date, the INS program has established 84 Instant Network Schools in Egypt, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya. The program has enrolled 158,780 students and benefited 293,535 additional people, including teachers, coaches, community members and family members.

The DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) scholarship program

student Noëlla with DAFI Scholarship

Over the last three decades, the DAFI scholarship program has transformed the lives and futures of over 21,500 refugee students around the world, including many students from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia. These scholarships provide hope to young refugees in challenging circumstances and help them build brighter futures.

In 2021, DAFI scholarships enrolled over 8,300 young refugees from 53 nationalities in 55 countries. This is an increase of nearly 1,000 students compared to the previous year. The program aims to achieve gender parity, with female students making up 41 percent of all DAFI scholarship recipients in 2021.

The program received a record number of applications in 2021, with more than 15,800 applicants, reflecting the growing demand for higher education scholarships and opportunities for refugees.

For Noëlla, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DAFI scholarship changed her life. After graduating from high school in 2014, she couldn't afford college and had to rely on odd jobs to make a living. In 2017, she applied for the DAFI program and was awarded a three-year scholarship. She even went on to serve as the president of the DAFI Association in Zambia. 

"When I applied, I knew I had potential, but I was nervous because I had stayed home for so long," says Noëlla, who is now a graduate. "I am really glad that DAFI came around for me."

Accelerated Education (AE) program

student Roza from Accelerated Education

UNHCR's Accelerated Education (AE) programs provide access to education for disadvantaged and out-of-school youth, largely benefitting children who have missed out on learning due to conflict, poverty and marginalization.

These programs are flexible, age-appropriate and run in an accelerated timeframe to help students who are behind on their schooling complete a certified, equivalent level of education in a shorter period of time. The programs focus on increased and more effective learning, with an emphasis on reading and math, and often include a socio-emotional learning component. They allow flexibility to meet the unique needs of refugee learners, such as eighteen-year-old Sudanese refugee Roza.

After completing a UNHCR-supported AE program with excellent grades, Roza was able to continue on to secondary school where she furthered her studies in science. "I am the first person in my family to go to secondary school," says Roza.

"Education is important for us refugees so we can develop our country once we go back home,” she continues. “Once I finish my studies, I want to go back to the Nuba mountains to be close to my family and make a difference in our community." 

How to help...

Educational programs are empowering young refugees to create a bright future for themselves, giving them newfound hope after the challenging circumstances they have faced. With support from UNHCR, students like Roza and Emma, and teachers like Maria and Uriel, have the tools and resources to learn and thrive.

By becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor, you too can play a vital role in helping displaced children thrive and achieve their dreams.