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Einstein scholarships give hope to refugee students in S. Sudan

Author: Charles Wote | Published: Thursday, November 10, 2022

Manal Abdulaziz Mudir, 24, speaking during the celebration of Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative scholarship. Credit: Charles Wote/Eye Radio

Albert Einstein scholarships have brought optimism and access to higher learning to hundreds of hopeless young refugees hosted in South Sudan.

On Friday, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) with funding from the UN refugee Agency, UNHCR commemorated the 30 years anniversary of Albert Einstein’s German Academic Refugee Initiative known as DAFI at Africa Zeal University in Lobonok.

During the celebration, some refugee students under the DAFI scholarship say they want to go back and contribute to the transformation and development of their home country.

“I am planning to go back to Sudan after completion of my studies because I need to give back to my community,” Manal Abdulaziz Mudir, 24-year-old Sudanese refugee told Eye Radio on Friday.

In 2014, Manal and her family fled Khauda in South Kordofan and moved to South Sudan to seek safety and have access to basic services including education.

After scoring 76.6% in the South Sudan Certificate of secondary examination at Ajuong Thok refugee camp, Manal was offered a DAFI scholarship to where she is pursuing Bachelor of justice and conflict studies at the Catholic University of South Sudan.

“I want to establish an initiative that will bring about a just society. Let me say I may work or come up with an initiative whereby I will work to help the society by creating a platform where the community will share their voices,” she added.   

After completion of her course, Manal hopes to establish a civic engagement center to enable her to contribute to the transformation and sustainable development in South Kordofan.

Manal Abdulaziz is however appealing to UNHCR, Lutheran World Federation, and other partners to support many young refugees to enable them to attend tertiary education.

“Let UNHCR create other chances to bring more refugee students through this scholarship.”

“Also, by ensuring that the best who benefit from this scholarship when they graduate, they have to go back to the community and give back to their fellow refugees. It might be at the refugee camp or their country of origin.”

South Sudan is home to over 340,000 refugees mainly from Ethiopia, Sudan, DR Congo, and the Central African Republic.

The UNHCR estimates that global forced displacement has reached 103 million in the mid of 2022.

This year, South Sudan commemorated at Africa Zeal University the seven years anniversary of the DAFI scholarship with drama, poems, and traditional dances from different refugee students.

Stephen Ochan is another refugee student pursuing a Bachelor of Accounting and Finance at Africa Zeal University in Lobonok.

The 25-year-old was forced to leave Ethiopia after an attack on their village.

In 2009, Ochan arrived in Pochalla and was taken by the UN refugee agency to Malakal and then transported by boat to Juba.

After completing his secondary school, Ochan says he is happy to be among the few refugee students benefiting from the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative scholarship (DAFI) at Africa Zeal University.

Stephen Ochan said, “DAFI scholarship is very important to me because it was not in my mind that I will be at this level because I was thinking if I finish a primary school of course in the camp, I don’t know where I am going to continue with secondary school and even up to this level.”

Being a refugee comes with limitations, from food shortages to the absence of education and limited employment opportunities.

As part of addressing the education challenge facing many young refugee students, the Lutheran World Federation and UNHCR said they have so far offered scholarships to over 250 refugee students in the last seven years.

Through DAFI, the benefiting refugee students are offered full and partial scholarships to support their academic achievements and skill development.

It covers tuition fees, upkeep, medical, and travel to and from the refugee camps.

“Many have been progressing well. So far, 28 have graduated and this year we are looking forward to a total of 60. We are also seeing 26 graduating next year,” said Collins Onyango, the Lutheran World Federation’s Program Manager in South Sudan during the commemoration of 30 years of DAFI.

Collins Onyango went on to say, “so this is good progress considering we started with a very small number, and it has been growing but in the coming years the number will be growing even bigger.”

In June last year, some refugee students at Yusuf Batil Secondary School in Maban appealed to the government and aid partners to provide them with opportunities to further their studies.

However, Onyango said, “Our joy is that we are contributing to the durable solutions for refugees such that we give people confidence, skills, knowledge and abilities to start their lives over when they come and go back.”

He is however encouraging the refugee students to study hard to enable them to contribute positively to the development of their country. 

“The students who managed to get this scholarship should consider themselves very lucky and they should do everything that they can to take full advantage of it.”

“Our joy will be if they are able to go back to their counties and make meaningful development from what they pick while they are in the refuge.”

Rami Phanuel is another Sudanese refugee and an alumnus of the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative in South Sudan.

Phanuel graduated in February this year with a Bachelor of Economics from the Catholic University of South Sudan.

“Actually I was hopeless. Being a graduate is just like a dream to me because sometimes I don’t believe that I am now a graduate.” Rami Phanuel told Eye Radio during an interview.   

“I think the ongoing students should be kept and more others should be added because there is a rising number of refugees who completed their secondary education in various camps.”

“There are many refugee students who are idle and they are looking for the same chance, but the chances are limited,” Phanuel stressed.        

The 28-year-old father of two plans to establish a nursery school at Ajuong Thok refugee camp to help young refugee children attend basic education.

This, according to Phanuel, depends on the availability of resources.

“I have very many plans but because of financial constraints it is difficult. I want to go back to the camp here and at least open a Nursery school and bring together these young ones.”

“This is what I can afford if I get financial support. If I go, there I will also beg the UNHCR and share with them my proposal of opening a nursery school.”

Rami Phanuel, 28, speaking during the celebration of Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative scholarship. Credit: Charles Wote/Eye Radio

Speaking on behalf of UNHCR during the event, Kinyera David said they are considering increasing the number of scholarships to enable more refugee students to attend higher learning.

“We are expecting to increase the human capital because the refugees whom we are sponsoring are from different countries.”

“We have refugees from Sudan, from DR Congo from Ethiopia from Central Africa Republic and we believe that this will increase the human capital for refugees when they go back to their countries to contribute meaningfully and resettle their lives and also for refugees who would opt to remain in South Sudan and internationalize themselves as citizens will also have a meaningful and sustainable life in the country of asylum.”

David adds that though host communities do not benefit directly from DAFI scholarship, they are supporting returnees in having access to basic education.

“Host communities are our indirect beneficiaries of the DAFI scholarship. It is not benefiting them directly because the DAFI scholarship is initiated in recognition of Albert Einstein who is one of the greatest German scientist physicists who was also a refugee.” 

“It is a foundation that focuses on refugees because we believe that refugees have a potential if they are supported, they can also contribute meaningfully to the society.” 

“We are also supporting the refugees’ returnees who are coming back because we believe that they are still interrupted because of the situation, returning back we support them also in education.” 

The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative offers higher education scholarships to refugees so that they can attend universities, colleges, and polytechnics in their host countries.

The 30 years of DAFI scholarship was celebrated in South Sudan under the theme “15% of refugee youth in higher education by 2030.”

A group of refugee students performing traditional dance at Africa Zeal University to mark 30 years anniversary of DAFI scholarship on Friday Nov 4th 2022. Credit: Charles Wote/Eye Radio

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