June 20th marks World Refugee Day, a day where we acknowledge the strength, determination, and human rights of global refugees. This year, the focus of WRD is the right for everyone to seek safety. Safety in this context means the right to live, have a family, and access education in a safe environment. Education can be seen as one of the most important pillars to improving economic situations and empowering individuals when overcoming inequality and exclusion.
SAMRU is pleased to share with the student membership, that in partnership with MRU, we were able to bring a student to study on campus from the Democratic Republic of the Congo through the World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) Student Refugee Program (SRP). Many years of dedication and advocacy work have gone into bringing the WUSC SRP to campus and we want to highlight the many Representation Executive Council (REC) members who have put in the work.
Let’s jump in!
WUSC is a Canadian global development organization working in over a dozen countries worldwide to support education and economic opportunities, as well as empowerment for youth. Their Student Refugee Program (SRP) is a Canada-wide initiative that helps post-secondary institutions sponsor a refugee student to come to Canada as a permanent resident and learn at their institution. The SRP is unique in that the program is often student-run, providing the sponsored student with mentorship and support from their peers.
In May 2017, SAMRU REC VP External, Aria Burrell, and REC President, Shifrah Gadamsetti, saw a presentation about the WUSC initiative at the Canadian Alliance of Students’ Associations (CASA) conference in Ottawa. The REC members discovered that MRU was the only major Alberta university that didn’t participate in the SRP.
In the year following, from 2017 to 2018, SAMRU staff and REC members gathered information and prepared briefs about bringing the program to MRU. The research determined that partnering with MRU to launch the program successfully on campus was vital.
2018-2019 academic year
From 2018 to 2019, SAMRU REC VP External, Amanda LeBlanc, made it one of her goals to bring the WUSC SRP to MRU. Amanda’s work laid the foundation for future success, which included:
- Attending a WUSC conference to learn more about bringing the program to MRU;
- Creating student interest in starting a committee to help run the program and support any future SRP students;
- Advocating that MRU provide funding and enrolment support for the program; and
- Successfully adding a plebiscite question to the 2018 REC election ballot. The results of that vote showed that 81% of students who voted were in favour of using SAMRU resources to support the SRP program. Following the election, SAMRU’s Student Governing Board (SGB) approved funding to bring a student refugee to MRU to study.
2019-2020 academic year
From 2019 to 2020, SAMRU REC VP of Student Affairs, Kainat Javed, took the advocacy work of the WUSC SRP under their portfolio. Work on the SRP continued through:
- Attending the WUSC conference to learn more about bringing the program to MRU;
- Formally establishing a Local Committee of students interested in helping facilitate the SRP; and
- Continuing advocacy towards gaining a partnership, including financial support from MRU. Gaining financial support from MRU was difficult at this time because they felt they did not have the resources to support the project.
2020-2021 academic year
During the 2020 to 2021 academic year, SAMRU REC VP of Student Affairs, Camille Tabacla, continued to drive the support and advocacy for the WUSC SRP at Mount Royal.
In January 2021, the stars aligned, and MRU and SAMRU formally agreed to sponsor a student refugee collaboratively for the following September.
2021-2022 academic year
When SAMRU REC VP of Student Affairs (VPSA), Joseph Nguyen, entered the role in the 2021-2022 academic year, much of the advocacy work on the WUSC SRP was complete. The program was officially on its way to MRU!
Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, the SRP student successfully came to Canada in the summer of 2021! VPSA Nguyen, joined by a committed group of student volunteers, welcomed the SRP student at the Calgary International Airport in August of 2021. This event symbolized the power of student representation and illustrated the years of hard work and advocacy that went into making this moment happen.
Throughout the 2021 to 2022 academic year, VPSA Nguyen, internal SAMRU staff, and dedicated and passionate SAMRU student volunteers who were part of the Local Committee have helped the SRP student succeed, both academically and with navigating experiences in a new place.
What’s next: 2022-2023 academic year
For now, SAMRU is focusing on supporting the current SRP student through their academic journey and will not be sponsoring a second student just yet. SAMRU and MRU continue to evaluate the successes and challenges of the WUSC SRP and want to guarantee the program’s financial stability before sponsoring another student.
Meaningful change and advocacy take time, but enormous strides are happening to support students in their learning journeys. We hope that students feel a sense of pride that, as a Students’ Association, we brought the WUSC SRP to MRU to ensure all students have an opportunity to undertake their academic journeys despite the barriers some of us face. We hope you are as proud as we are that we can offer this opportunity as a community.
If you want to get involved with advocating on critical issues with the REC team, they are always looking for dedicated, passionate students to work with. You can contact members of the REC team by visiting samru.ca/rec and stay up to date on upcoming volunteer opportunities with SAMRU representatives by signing up here.