The pandemic of Covid-19 has seriously changed the landscape of the world and put a lot of humanitarian activities around the world on hold. But, in the midst of this pandemic, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) continued to care for the most vulnerable. In a recent letter, Fr. Thomas H. Smolich SJ, JRS International Director addressed a word of gratitude to all especially to the benefactors who accepted generously to journey with “our refugee sisters and brothers in this difficult time.”
The children overjoyed
According to Fr Thomas Smolich SJ, the dynamism of the staff and the large generosity of the donors is so valuable for JRS to continue its education mission in conflict-affected countries with large numbers of refugees.
Indeed, in several centres in various countries, schools have reopened. “Being in school offers our students protection, socialization, nutrition, and the opportunity to learn in a more stable environment. While we have been able to maintain radio and online education during covid-19 lockdowns in many countries, it’s just not the same”, said the JRS International Director. For instance, in various places in Africa like in GADO’s camp in the Eastern part of Cameroon, the staff described the children as overjoyed, fou de Joie, literally, “crazy with joy”. Kenya and Uganda, have reopened classes for grades taking government exams at the end of the year, with full reopening planned to follow.
Working in partnership with others
In Chad, UNICEF will sponsor a menstrual hygiene management programme in Lake Chad and the southern regions of the country, coordinated by JRS with two partners. This program is an extension of a JRS pilot programme in the Darfur refugee camps in Eastern Chad.
JRS has begun also to invest in the education of refugee teachers. “If they could obtain a licence at the Ecole Normale d’Abéché, they would become certified teachers in the Chadian system”, hopes the Jesuit priest. In fact, there are good news and signs of hope, and the efforts of the services are bearing fruits. “The 34 (19 women, 15 men) who took the final exam all passed! Also, 12 teachers, one from each camp, were invited to be correctors of the national baccalaureate exam for high school graduates, the first-time refugee teachers have been included. As they told a UNHCR press officer, we were neither Sudanese nor refugees, but teachers in charge of correcting candidates’ papers for one of the most important national exams”, added the Jesuit priest.
Continuing to respond to the evolving needs in the midst of COVID
Despite the pandemic, JRS is trying to do all it can to assist populations in need. “The service now provides emergency assistance to 391 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who recently landed in Aceh, Indonesia, after months at sea.”
However, noted Fr Smolich in his letter, in other parts of the world, some students are still distance mode. In Lebanon for instance, “the students were divided into groups of five to apply physical distance and reduce crowding while meeting their tutors and school principal. On October 9, the team began the new virtual school year with these students.”