Katie Durvin is in her final semester of Global Studies & Economics at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. From May to August this past summer she had the opportunity to intern in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi with the World University Service of Canada as part of her Global Studies program. Katie received a Premier's International Scholarship in the spring of 2012 from the Foundation administered Irving K Barber BC Scholarship Society. Here's what Katie wrote about her experience:
This past summer I had the unbelievable opportunity to intern with one of Canada’s leading international development non-governmental organizations, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), as their Program Assistant for the Student Refugee Program (SRP) in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. This internship not only helped me fulfill the requirements for my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Global Studies at Vancouver Island University but also enabled me to gain practical development experience in the field in a very unique setting. I was working in a camp of 15,000 people who had fled the devastating violence and atrocities in their home countries of Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia and many had been living there for over ten years. Receiving the Premier’s Scholarship gave me the financial support I needed to be able to go on this internship, focus on my work and not worry about financial woes, and ultimately have one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.
From May to August, I worked with 26 refugee students sponsored through the Student Refugee Program for resettlement to Canada from the countries of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. I managed their pre-departure training and logistics and my duties included delivering the Canadian Life Course on Canadian culture and academics three times a week, coordinating their medical check ups, travel itineraries and pre-departure preparations with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), carrying out administrative tasks such as completing official paperwork and documents with the students and coordinating important meetings and information sessions, as well as acting as the main liaison person between the WUSC country office and the students in the camp.
In addition to my duties with the SRP I also helped with the management of another WUSC project-the Academic & Leadership Program. This initiative focuses on achieving gender equality in the camp by providing remedial classes and leadership classes for secondary school girls as well as utilizing community mobilizers to liaison with parents, teachers and church leaders to break down barriers preventing girls from accessing education and leadership positions. I worked with the community mobilizers doing focus groups on the effect of the program as well as collecting their reports and I also helped with the graduation ceremony for the remedial classes. I also worked with a group of students in the camp studying media and communications through the Jesuit Refugee Services Higher Education on the Margins Program to develop a 3-part video capturing the effect of the Academic and Leadership Program in the camp. This video will now be used to secure future donors for the program.
In addition I assisted WUSC’s partner, the Jesuit Refugee Services, by providing tutoring services for their students enrolled in a online diploma program with American universities, helped the JRS Umoja Women’s Cooperative diversify their product design of woven baskets and paper jewelry as well as researching potential export markets, and established a sports club for secondary school girls that will be run by female students in the online diploma program once a week.
Being awarded with a Premier’s International Scholarship allowed me to go an extremely rewarding and inspiring internship and arrive back in Canada without being in debt. It helped put my mind at ease so I could focus on my work in the refugee camp and not worry about having to do more fundraising when I got home. The experience has significantly impacted my educational and career goals as I am now more committed than ever to focus my graduate studies and future career path on refugee and forced migration issues. From witnessing the circumstances in the camp, I am also now very interested in reproductive health in humanitarian emergencies focusing on refugees or internally displaced peoples.
In the camp I was working with refugees from over five different nationalities as well as workers and volunteers from Malawi and around the world. These daily interactions whether in my class, on the bus ride to and from work, during celebrations and graduations, in the small brick houses and restaurants in the camp, and even on the street have contributed to my life long evolution into a true global citizen. I learned the basics of one of the Malawian languages, Chichewa, and brushed up on my French. I learned how to properly greet individuals from different cultures as well as how to discuss difficult issues and topics. I learned about the history of ethnic and civil conflict in the Great Lakes Region, the process one goes through to become an officially recognized refugee, the reality of resettlement for most refugees, and the desperate income generating activities many turn to in order to provide basic staple items for their family. Cross-cultural exchanges and communications were of an every day variety and were fundamental to significant work being done in the office or in the camp. My role as a teacher, coordinator, manager and liaison all facilitated the flow of knowledge and culture and enabled exchanges to be made between my students, co-workers and I in an incredible fashion. I felt quite often like I was a gigantic sponge, constantly soaking up culture from every person I met!
Having this intense on the ground experience has really changed my life, professionally and personally, and I am really so thankful to have been supported by the Irving K. Barber Scholarship Society and to have had this opportunity. It is clear to me now that the deep bonds and relationships I established with people in the camp is what will stick with me most, years into the future, when I look back and remember this experience. I will also remember how it inspired me to continue on with my studies and work in the field of refugee and forced migration issues and international development in general.
The perseverance, courage, and unwavering optimism of my students and the others I met and worked with in the camp have truly left a mark on my heart. They have taught me a life lesson I will remember forever and is best expressed through the words of J.K. Rowling:
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”
More information about this scholarship and others is available on the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society's website.