Who Do You Want To Be? A Global School Experience inviting young people to discover a path toward the fullness of life.Participate here
By Karina Zapata-Roche
Jun 20th, 2017

NAde Castellano JRS

Nadezhna Castellano – The International Education Specialist for JRS.

Today is World Refugee Day and we would like to celebrate it by sharing a World Refugee expert’s point of view of the challenges that Jesuit Schools face regarding this worldwide crisis.

Meet Nadezhna Castellano, originally from Spain. Nadezhna works as the International Education Specialist for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).  This institution provides education to more than 136,000 displaced people worldwide. For JRS, education has been considered a life-saving intervention and a long-term durable solution to conflicts, especially because most of the conflicted areas are also places which provide a basic level of education.

JRS believes that its educational projects have a positive impact in the regions they serve by helping to transform these communities.  “Our Global Education Initiatives are leading us in three strategic areas and priorities: Educating those most in need, teacher training as a key element of our work and reinforcing the secondary and postsecondary education to provide long term solutions for refugees.  Education in emergencies is a complex situation but we are trying to tackle it with these areas.”, comments Nade.

1. What is the refugee situation in our regions?

The situation differs in each region, but is important to mention that at this moment we are all experiencing a situation with no precedent, where we have 65.3 Million displaced people around the world, 21.3 million of whom are refugees. This is a complex situation worldwide that will have particularities depending on the region, e.g. some of the refugees are hosted by foreign countries but others remain in their country of conflict.

We are now looking at the crisis in Syria and how it is affecting western European countries. This is without doubt one of the major conflicts nowadays. But we have other crises going on that are currently not mentioned in social media (South Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Angola) or long-term crises that are almost forgotten (for example we have refugee camps in Kenya and Malawi which have been opened for more than 25 years).

Refugees are, by definition, the most in need and their access to quality education is a huge challenge. Only 50 % of displaced children attend primary school, only 25 % attend secondary school, and only 1% of refugees reach post-secondary education.

2. How are Jesuit schools offering help to the current worldwide refugee crisis?

The Jesuit schools have different challenges and responses depending on the region they are in.

Through JRS schools, we are providing Early Childhood Education, Primary, Secondary and Post-Secondary education to displaced students in 23 countries. We also offer psychosocial support and non-formal education services, languages courses and vocational skills.

In some cases, we collaborate with other Jesuit schools. For example, in Chad, we have collaborated with Fe y Alegría regarding teacher formation and empowering the local communities to take responsibilities for their schools, where there is no dedicated support from the government to respond to the needs of the refugees.

There are other Jesuit schools working on promoting Hospitality values, accepting and understanding the inclusion of refugees in their daily activities, among educators, students and the society. For example, in Latin America many schools are participating in a Hospitality campaign which includes specific pedagogical materials and actions for schools to promote Hospitality values.

A lot of effort has been put into welcoming refugees but I still see a challenge in transforming structures. As global citizens, we cannot avoid our responsibility for the root causes of displacement. We cannot keep living in fear, building walls and thinking that refugees are coming to our countries to take our jobs or to invade our societies. These people are not leaving their countries for no reason. They were in real danger of losing their lives and they are forced to start over. We have not only a moral, but also a legal, obligation to respond to their needs.

We still need to do more globally, especially to educate leaders for tomorrow who can transform structures of oppression.

3. How can Jesuit Schools help refugees to find stability in a foreign country?

I think Jesuit schools need to have open doors for those students that are coming, but also, they have a role in advocating for refugees’ rights. We need to work together to promote the understanding of refugee communities. While it is true that the arrival of migrants in more developed countries can present real and significant challenges, it can also be an opportunity for openness and change. Pope Francis poses this question to us: “How can we experience these changes not as obstacles to genuine development, but rather as opportunities for genuine human, social and spiritual growth?”

4. What would you say are the challenges that Jesuit schools face today and will face in the future regarding the refugee crisis?

The big challenge is diversity. Specifically, to embrace and allow diversity to change the narrative in our schools, in our communities for better response to specific needs.

Depending on the country receiving the displaced people, other challenges can be language barriers, access to technology and/or filling the gap of refugees who have been without education for months or even longer. Helping the students to deal with trauma and promote reconciliation is also a big issue in displaced populations which, in many cases, have been facing death and violence. How to support them in this transition is a big task that requires time, dedication and specialized resources.

Another challenge that Jesuit Schools face today and will face in the future of the refugee crisis is the inter-religious issues and keeping the balance between local culture and refugees’ heritage. When we welcome refugees in our schools they are receiving education from a different country, with a different history or traditions. I remember in Chad, in 2014, there was a change in the curriculum in the refugee camp schools (we passed from the Sudanese Education System to Chadian Education System). Refugees were not happy at the beginning of the process; they disagreed with changing their curriculum because they felt that the only thing that remained of their home was to study their history and culture. It is important to be aware that when displaced people are forced to leave their country they are losing their roots; the only thing they can bring with them is their culture. Therefore, I believe that the simple act of allowing them to spread their cultural heritage becomes a need.

5. What message would you like to give to the educators of Jesuit Schools on World Refugee Day?

I think we have a responsibility to respond to this situation, to understand it better, and to be informed. We should know what the reasons are behind a displaced person. Not only to understand their needs better but specifically to reflect on our responsibility for the reasons of displacement: what role do we play in poverty, injustice, climate change, consumerism, etc.

Also, as Fr. Kolvenbach invited us, we need to help our students to be more conscious about these situations. We need students that are competent to transform societies, more compassionate about the suffering of others, more committed to transforming the reality we are living in.

We should see the refugee landscape in a wider aspect than what the media is showing us now, because we are seeing a lot about Syria in the news but there are also many other countries where crises have been going on with the same brutality and violence as Syria. The difference is that refugees are not arriving at our doors and this is why we are not looking, for example, the crises in South Sudan, Nigeria, Central Africa Republic.

Human lives and safety are issues that should not be distinguished by countries, region or religions.

Furthermore, we need to encourage all Jesuit institutions to take this opportunity to recognize and emphasize the significant contributions that refugees and migrants, in general, can make and are making to the communities that are receiving them.Secondary school Congo

6. What are the events that JRS has put together in order to Celebrate World Refugee Day?

Each country will celebrate locally with the refugee communities.

We will have celebrations, demonstrations and gatherings in different parts of the world, where we are working.

At an international level, we have signed a joint ecumenical statement with nineteen other Christian organizations. This statement and some videos of the day are available on www.jrs.net.

JRS is also running an education campaign with Entreculturas, which has been launched on June 14th. More information is available in www.jrs.net and in http://www.entreculturas.org/educationopenstheworld/ (only in Spanish).