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Refugee Education Council

As part of the Together for Learning campaign, the Refugee Education Council was created in consultation with the Canadian International Education Policy Working Group and will be hosted by World Vision Canada. Made up of developing-country nationals, the council will ensure that solutions and approaches are shaped by the knowledge and experiences of youth advocates, women, teachers, parents and community leaders who are living as refugees, forcibly displaced persons or in communities that host them.

Refugee Education Council members include:

Istarlin Abdi: South Sudan, Somalia

Istarlin is a single mother of 2 girls, an advocate for human rights, a storyteller and a photographer. She has worked with FilmAid International and REFUNITE as a content creator and photographer. In 2017, Istarlin co-founded Dream Studio, a refugee-based media company focused on creating space for fellow refugees to share their own stories with the rest of the world. She has also worked with Windle International Kenya as a community worker for 5 years, working with vulnerable schoolgirls, parents and the community at large. As a refugee from Somalia who has experienced displacement for over 20 years, Istarlin has long struggled with her sense of identity, self-worth and belonging. She fears that her daughters, caught in the same circumstances of displacement, are beginning to struggle with this too. Istarlin believes that education is a great equalizer. She has joined the council to help break the generational curse of displacement by making education a global priority.

Qais Ghasan Abdulrazzaq: Jordan, Syria

During the Syrian civil war, Qais and his family fled their homes in search of safety and opportunity. The journey to Jordan was not easy, and things didn’t get much easier once he arrived at the refugee camp they would call home. Qais quickly recognized the unique importance of education for refugees, who are already at a disadvantage in their host communities and often faced with poor job prospects and high rates of unemployment. Qais saw education as a means of empowering himself to support his family and his community. He studied press and media at Amity University. From there, he joined the Zaha Cultural Centre as a robotics trainee through World Vision’s Youth Career Guidance project. Now, while still living in a refugee camp in Jordan, 24-year-old Qais has improved his technical skills and is teaching other youth as a robotics trainer. He is a lifelong learner and is passionate about seeking out opportunities that will continue to help him learn more, grow and enrich his community.

Bikienga Amdiatou: Burkina Faso

Bikienga is from the Center-North region of Burkina Faso. Fragility and insecurity in her area led many students to drop out of school due to classroom closures. In fact, Bikienga herself almost dropped out of secondary school due to lack of funds. Luckily, she received support from organizations such as Plan International that enabled her to continue her education. Now, at 20 years old, Bikienga is a second-year university student in human resources. She is a former fellow of the Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools project, the winner of the Excellence Award of the President of Burkina Faso and among the top 5 highest academic achievers nationally for her grade level in 2019. Beyond excelling in her own studies, Bikienga wants to make sure that more girls are able to become their best selves despite conflict and internal displacement. She is an active member of a number of school and community initiatives that are concerned with issues related to access to education and hopes to advocate, on the global stage, for girls who have had to drop out of school.

Suleman Arshad: Pakistan

Suleman is a visually challenged youth activist from Pakistan who advocates for the rights and development of those in his community. At 12 years old, Suleman started to lose his sight and was enrolled in a school for people who were visually challenged. In his community, children and youth with disabilities are discouraged from getting education alongside able-bodied children and are pushed aside in society. Suleman has been working to fight the stigma and challenges faced by marginalized students. He founded the School of Inclusion: a youth-led organization that promotes inclusive and quality education for youth with disabilities. He is also a member of the Commonwealth Children and Youth with Disability Network, which seeks to provide quality education to children and youth with disabilities. In 2016, he won the Commonwealth Youth Worker Award. As a member of a host community, Suleman has also witnessed the challenges and hostility faced by refugees from Afghanistan. He hopes to leverage his experience and skills to make schooling more inclusive for refugees, especially those with differing abilities.

Laura Barbosa: Colombia, Canada

Laura is an educator, community worker and human rights advocate. She was born in Colombia, a country whose people have limited access to education and where forced displacement by the military is a long-standing issue. When she was 12 years old, her mother was murdered by members of illegal armed groups. Her father disappeared soon after. At 18, she fled to China, looking and hoping to build a better future. Now, Laura works to encourage those who are afraid or disheartened by their circumstances to be brave and fight for their dreams. She has volunteered with refugee children from Myanmar who had been recently displaced to Malaysia. She has worked as a Spanish teacher, facilitating classes, mentoring students, reviewing lesson plans and using neuro-linguistic programming. Currently, Laura works as the program coordinator at Students Offering Support, a student-led charity that strives to create positive learning environments to help youth reach their full potential. Laura is passionate about community development and wants to support safe and sustainable environments for youth facing forced displacements.

Malual Bol Kiir: South Sudan, Canada

Malual is a South Sudanese peacebuilder who has been made a refugee twice. He co-founded the African Youth Action Network, a leadership and peacebuilding organization that recruits youth to work together as agents of peace and conflict prevention. Malual is a committed advocate dedicated to promoting refugee education, a member of the Refugee Advisory Network and a founding member of Search for Common Ground’s Global Youth Leadership Council. He was a member of the Advisory Group of Experts for the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, which was mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015) and produced a final report entitled The Missing Peace. In 2017, Malual received the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Award.

Nhial Deng: South Sudan, Ethiopia

In 2010, when he was 22 years old, Nhial fled to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya after an armed attack on his village in Ethiopia. He now heads the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors, an initiative led by refugee youth in Kakuma that works toward promoting peaceful coexistence between communities in the camp and empowering young people as peacebuilders and social entrepreneurs. He is also an education consultant for Kakuma’s Innovation Lab Schools and a member of Amala’s Youth Advisory Group. He firmly believes that education enables young refugees to secure more hopeful and bright futures for not only themselves but also their communities and the communities that host them. Nhial does a lot of advocacy on refugee issues and has spoken at several forums, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 12th High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges. He has also been involved in a number of youth networks and initiatives, including Global Changemakers, ONE Campaign Champions for East Africa and Women Deliver Young Leaders Program.

Amelie Fabian: Canada, Rwanda

Amelie is completing her Master of Public Policy and Master of Global Affairs as part of a dual-degree program involving the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris and the University of Toronto. Her main passion is in education policy and its role in facilitating the inclusion of marginalized communities, such as refugee communities, to reduce inequality. She previously conducted research for UNESCO and continues to pursue her interest in refugee education through advocacy with organizations such as the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). Fearing persecution following the Rwandan genocide, Amelie’s family fled Rwanda, and she lived as a refugee in Malawi between the ages of 6 and 18. She came to Canada in 2014 through WUSC’s Student Refugee Program to complete an undergraduate degree at McGill University. Since arriving in Canada, Amelie has been dedicated to improving access to education. She has volunteered as the co-chair of WUSC’s local committee, as a member of the WUSC Board of Directors and as a member of the Canadian International Education Policy Working Group’s Youth Advisory Council. Amelie has met with members of Canada’s Parliament and policy advisers to advocate for the prioritization of education and has participated in speaking engagements on refugee education, such as at the 2018 UN General Assembly, and in a round table with the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, on the impact of COVID-19 on refugee education. Amelie hopes to apply her education, lived experience and connections to helping more refugees and displaced youth obtain an education.

Moriom Khatun: Bangladesh

Moriom is a 16-year-old student and leader in her community in Bangladesh. She is a member of her local adolescent club and Community-Based Child Protection Committee. Moriom has a deep understanding of issues related to child protection, and she plays an active role in advocating against harm to children, adolescents and her community at large. In 2020, after receiving training from World Vision, Moriom led initiatives to disseminate life-saving information about COVID-19 to adolescents in her community.

Nabaloum Pascaline: Burkina Faso

Nabaloum is a 22-year-old woman who is acutely aware of the challenges faced by young people navigating fragility, uncertainty and displacement. In 2019, she was internally displaced from her home in Burkina Faso. Not long after, Nabaloum lost both of her parents, so she, her sisters and her brothers began living with their grandpa. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nabaloum joined an initiative of the Fondation Hirondelle to receive training and raise awareness in her community about the virus. As part of the project, Nabaloum conducts interviews with different stakeholders in the community; the interviews are broadcast on the radio. Through her work, Nabaloum has developed strong communication and advocacy skills that she hopes to use to continue connecting with other advocates around the world and to uplift her peers who have been forcibly displaced.

Yvana Portillo: Venezuela, Peru

Yvana is a 15-year-old student, advocate and refugee. In 2017, faced with the crisis in Venezuela, her parents sold their car and her family fled to Peru by bus. Yvana was forced to start at a new school while navigating uncertainty, hunger and a lack of money. Despite this, she quickly became a leader in her grade. Now, she leads sessions in her classroom and is an emerging advocate for accessible and quality education. Yvana’s favourite subject is communications, and she wants to continue to improve her capacity to express herself and ask for what she needs. As a team player, Yvana hopes to learn from other members on the council while offering her perspective on global education based on what she has seen and lived.

Anojitha Sivaskaran: Sri Lanka

Anojitha is a youth activist based in Sri Lanka. Growing up in the northern part of the country, Anojitha has directly experienced throughout her lifetime a number of challenges resulting from its long-running civil war, including displacement, food shortage, insecurity, injustice and inadequate shelter. Passionate about sustainable peace, Anojitha obtained a Bachelor of Peace and Conflict Resolution from the University of Kelaniya and has completed diplomas in human resource management and transitional justice. Currently, Anojitha works at the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka as a project officer on an initiative that aims to strengthen Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process by working with students to raise awareness and positively influence the public discourse about pluralism and intercommunity relations. She has worked with the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, Tomorrow’s Futurism, AIESEC, the Inter-University Gender Festival and a number of other initiatives committed to conflict transformation. Anojitha strongly believes that including young people is a critical component of effective, wide-reaching and sustainable efforts to overcome conflict and fragility.

Foni Joyce Vuni: Kenya, South Sudan

Foni Joyce is an enthusiastic and open-minded advocate and team player. She graduated top of her class from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology with a degree in mass communication and a major in public relations. Because of conflict and war, her family fled South Sudan and has lived in Kenya for over 25 years, forced to navigate the stigma associated with refugees. Today, she uses her experience in communications to shift the narrative of refugees as beneficiaries to one of refugees as partners. She is also working to encourage greater inclusion of youth, women and girls in the decision-making processes that are important to them. She has advocated for refugee-youth issues at UNHCR-NGO consultations, the High Commissioner’s Protection Dialogue, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul and the UN General Assembly, among other events. Foni was also a member and a co-chair of the UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council from 2017 to 2020; the council serves as a consultative group on issues related to the protection and development of young people. She worked with other global youth leaders to amplify issues important to their communities. Foni hopes to use her experience and expertise to offer insight into how refugee education can be improved.

Christine Mwongera: Kenya

Christine is a high school teacher employed by Windle International Kenya. She has 4 years’ experience working with refugees and teaching in an emergency setup. She is passionate about providing quality education to all children in her community, especially girls, who are more vulnerable because of harmful cultural practices. She has helped bring girls who had been married off by their families back to school, has worked with girls and teenage mothers not in school, and has challenged the stigma faced by girls who get pregnant while still in school. She has worked closely with the local radio station on several occasions to sensitize people about the education of girls and about the dangers of harmful cultural practices. She started a girls’ mentorship program, a life-skills club and a peer-counselling initiative at the secondary school where she works to provide psychosocial support for all learners. She has experience in teaching, program management and advocacy, as well as a deep understanding of girl’s education—which she hopes to use to make education more inclusive.

Rashel: Myanmar

Rashel is a teenage student who was born in Myanmar. In 2017, the military torched Rashel’s home and his family hid out in a nearby jungle until things calmed down. Without any of their belongings, he and his family fled to Bangladesh by foot which took two days. Now, Rashel and his two sisters live with their parents in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Despite his hardships, Rashel has not given up hope. He loves learning and enjoys reading books and having intellectual discussions with her teachers in the camp. Rashel dreams of becoming a journalist and wants the world to see the joy, culture and traditions of refugees instead of just their sorrows. He is excited to join a global platform where he can represent his community, support others in accessing quality education and be an example of the positive impact of education.

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