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Refugees receive Routledge books in Malawi

In Dzaleka refugee camp just outside Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, a makeshift library now houses 100 Routledge titles. The books, generously donated by Taylor & Francis, are already making a real difference to the camp’s pioneering Higher Education at the Margins programme run by the Jesuit Refugee Service. 

As part of this programme, a selected group of refugees who arrive at the 11,000-strong camp from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and as far away as Ethiopia, can enrol in distance-learning diploma courses accredited by American universities.  Visiting the camp last year, I discovered that more than a qualification, this opportunity to study offers real hope to the refugees; many of whom have traumatic pasts and uncertain futures.

Launched in 2010, and based in the only building on site that has its own solar-powered electricity, the higher education programme relies on donated computers, volunteer university teachers in the US and an often unreliable internet connection. Yet despite difficult conditions, the dedication of programme director, Clotilde Giner, and the enthusiasm of the students make the programme a success. Refugees completing the diploma report an increase in self esteem and a desire to use their education for the good of the community.

 I witnessed first-hand how eager students were to get the most out of their course when I led an impromptu workshop on academic study skills. Accustomed to having most of their study sessions on line with only occasional support from an on-site tutor, the refugees took full advantage of the chance for group work and generated a lively debate about what academic study meant to them in the context of the camp.

As well as providing an invaluable resource, the physical presence of the Routledge books helps to validate the refugees’ studies. As such, they form part of the effort to make life in camp a less isolating experience. Muriel, John and Theogene, 3 students of the diploma course, write:

... We would like to take this opportunity to express gratitude for the donation of many different books we received. We were in need of books and the donation is a great help for our education...We are refugees and we lost many things in our life. Our intellectual capacity is what we were left with. We received the books with great pleasure as being an act of caring for our education.

Having the books adds light to our futures ...These books are not only for us... but also for our brothers and sisters who will be taking part in Higher Education at the Margins in the future. Many of us have French education backgrounds. These books are a crucial means to embrace and move on with the English education by enhancing our writing, reading, and speaking skills. We are still in need of more books and hope there will be more kind assistance in the future from you and other people. 

(Email from Dzaleka Camp, January 2011)

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