Refugee voices must drive refugee education

Aug 11, 2022
By Rita Audi, consultant and coordinator for the Refugee Education Council

You can find a French translation of this webpage here.

Historically, the voices of the people most impacted by global education policies and programs have been chronically under-represented at decision-making tables. In February 2021, World Vision Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian International Education Policy Working Group (CIEPWG), convened the inaugural Refugee Education Council. The first Council cohort was officially launched on February 8, 2021, alongside the Government of Canada’s Together for Learning Campaign launch.

The new 2022-2023 Refugee Education Council brings together 15 new and returning refugee youth and youth from host communities around the world with a diverse range of experiences and knowledge related to global refugee education. Together, they will inform Canada's Together for Learning campaign – an international campaign to address the growing global displacement crisis and ensure that all refugee and displaced children can access the education they need and deserve.

During their first term in 2022, the council:
  • participated in strategic dialogues and events on education in emergencies to share their experiences and promote their education recommendations, including the 2022 European Humanitarian Forum and the 2021 The Cost of Inclusive Refugee Education Word Bank Group Panel. 
  • collaborated closely with Global Affairs Canada in the implementation of the Together for Learning Campaign.
  • participated in various live virtual trainings on gender-sensitive approaches to improving leadership, communication, and advocacy skills. 
  • identified priority issues, developed key messages, and designed actionable solutions for the Government of Canada and diplomatic leaders 
  • created a zero draft of a youth manifesto that was built on by other refugee and displaced youth and presented to global leaders at Canada’s 2022 Together for Learning High Level Virtual Event 
  • presented action plans to the Minister of International Development in virtual thematic dialogues
  • published and disseminated communication materials on quality gender responsive education
  • published a comprehensive anthology report featuring stories and creative works on their lived experiences that illustrate the calls to action for each theme of the youth manifesto
This year, REC will build on the accomplishments of the previous cohort and continue to create a safe space for forcibly displaced peoples to shape the policies that affect them and their communities directly. 

Meet the new Global Refugee Education Council

Istarlin sits on a wicker chair and smiles at the camera.

Istarlin Abdi, South Sudan/Somalia

Istarlin is a single mother of 2 girls, advocate for human rights, storyteller and photographer. She has worked with FilmAid International and REFUNITE as a content creator and photographer. In 2017, Istarlin co-founded Dream Studio, a refugee-based media company focused on creating space for fellow refugees to share their own stories with the rest of the world. She has also worked with Windle International Kenya as a community worker for 5 years, working with vulnerable schoolgirls, parents and the community at large.

As a refugee from Somalia who has experienced displacement for over 20 years, Istarlin has long struggled with her sense of identity, self-worth and belonging. She fears that her daughters, caught in the same circumstances of displacement, are beginning to struggle with this too. Istarlin believes that education is a great equalizer. She has joined the council to help break the generational curse of displacement by making education a global priority.

Riyam has long brown hair and is wearing a black leather jacket, standing in front of a hedge.

Riyam Al-Zuhairi, Iraq/Jordan

Riyam is an Iraqi refugee and volunteer ESL teacher living in Jordan. As an educator, she believes that education is the most important basis for treating global poverty and achieving progress in society. She advocates for breaking the stereotypes associated with gender, specifically regarding education, women’s hygiene, human trafficking. Riyam holds a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate, which opened many doors for her to help others through education.
Riyam moved to Jordan at the age of 17 due to conflict in her home country, Iraq. This difficult journey impacted her education, which still poses as a barrier now. 

Hasan stands in front of the wall, wearing a blue button polo.

Hasan Al Matroud, Syria/Jordan

Hasan Matroud is a Syrian asylum seeker living in Jordan and a learning facilitator in the Amala High School Diploma program. He has many years of experience working with humanitarian organizations, especially with refugees, education and climate change. Hasan believes in education as a tool to change the world, and he is currently enrolled in a course related to refugees studies at the University of Oxford.
Previously, Hasan volunteered with Save the Children and Generation for Peace. Due to the civil war in his country, Hasan left his home 10 years ago to search for a safer place. Though his family arrived in Jordan, they faced many challenges in securing their essential needs and financial matters, which forced him to drop out of school in order to support them. He learned English, went back to school, and continues to work and volunteer today.

Laura is a young Colombian woman wearing a green turtleneck.

Laura Barbosa, Colombia/Canada 

Laura is an educator, community worker and human rights advocate. She was born in Colombia, a country whose people have limited access to education and where forced displacement by the military is a long-standing issue. When she was 12 years old, her mother was murdered by members of illegal armed groups. Her father disappeared soon after. At 18, she fled to China, looking and hoping to build a better future. Now, Laura works to encourage those who are afraid or disheartened by their circumstances to be brave and fight for their dreams. She has volunteered with refugee children from Myanmar who had been recently displaced to Malaysia. She has worked as a Spanish teacher, facilitating classes, mentoring students, reviewing lesson plans and using neuro-linguistic programming.

Currently, Laura works as the program coordinator at Students Offering Support, a student-led charity that strives to create positive learning environments to help youth reach their full potential. Laura is passionate about community development and wants to support safe and sustainable environments for youth facing forced displacements.

Khatira is a young Afghan woman wearing a bronze-coloured hijab and a red and gold blouse.

Khatira Amin, Afghanistan

Khatira is an Afghan refugee and teacher living in Karachi, Pakistan. With a master's degree in human resources management and an MBA, she started teaching refugee girls in her community due to cultural norms that denied girls from going to school and lack of proper funding to facilitate quality learning for many students. Khatira was homeschooled by her mother till class 4 and studied in refugee school till class 8. She transitioned to a host country school for higher education.

Khatira works as a volunteer refugee leader to help her community in getting admission in educational institutions. She also works to spread the DAFI scholarship awareness to the refugee community. Her goal is to raise the challenges and problems that refugee students face and help get access to higher education. Khatira believes education is the only means of a brighter future and the only way to stop making further refugees.

Nhial is a young Sudanese man with a wide smile, wearing a blue and red striped polo.

Nhial Deng, Kenya/Ethiopia 

Nhial Deng is a 23-year-old South Sudanese refugee, writer, youth advocate, and community activist. He spent 11 years in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and now attends Huron University in Canada.
As a youth leader and community activist in Kakuma, Nhial initiated a number of projects in the camp to help young people build better futures such as the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors and SheLeads Kakuma. He is passionate about the role of education, mentorship, and social entrepreneurship as powerful tools for young refugees to build better futures and communities and his work revolves around education, gender equality, and peacebuilding.
Today, while pursuing a Bachelor in Global Affairs and Digital Communications, Nhial is very active in the advocacy space for refugees, education, and meaningful youth engagement. He sits on a number of advisory boards and is involved in several global youth movements. 

Christian wears a white and blue speckled polo shirt, smiling with his arms folded in front of him.

Christian Baobab, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Christian is a Congolese refugee and advocate living in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As a passionate writer and  filmmaker, he uses the power of storytelling to showcase refugee experiences in education and their journeys towards self-reliance. Christian currently works with FilmAid Kenya as a multimedia assistant, and his role consists of mentoring and teaching youth on the basics of storytelling. He also volunteers to support SheLeads Kakuma Project, a mentorship program for girls to transition into tertiary education.
In 2020, Christian won a short film scriptwriting contest and received the funds to produce 16 JUNE, a short film that highlights the need of including out-of-school children in education.His pieces of creative writing and photographs have been published in the refugee magazine by FilmAid International, and he has created several short films and helped produce a number of documentaries. As a life-long learner, he has a bachelor degree in business and finance and is currently enrolled in the Refugee Higher Education Access Program.

Valery looks solemnly at the camera. He is a Black man wearing a black shirt.

Valery Bishala, Democratic Republic of the Congo/Uganda

Valery Bishala is a 24-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, living in Uganda.. He is the founder and chairperson of the LuQuLuQu Kampala and a youth and peace ambassador of the Men of Hope refugee association Uganda (MOHRAUG).
In forcible displacement, Valery encountered many hardships, particularly the killing of his family. Apart from fighting for his education, which is a dream that he was denied, Valery works to dismantle the stigma associated with sexual violence against men as a survivor himself.



Rehema stands outside and is wearing a Black dress and has long black hair.


Rehema Kasindi Esther, Kenya 

Rehema Kasindi is a teacher and a social sciences graduate pursuing political science and public administration. Within her expertise, she has a keen interest in human relations, especially on the issue of forced immigration. Her passion lies in creating educational policies in order to transform the lives of societies, especially displaced people. Rehema is a refugee from DR Congo, having left her home of origin to Kenya for over 15 years. She struggles with finding basic necessities but has managed to receive some education through different educational NGOs, such as Windle international Kenya. She previously worked as a secretary to with Dafi Students Organization to help students from Kenya pursue higher education. 

Christine is a young Kenyan woman, wearing a head scarf and makeup.

Christine Mwongera, Kenya  

Christine is a high school teacher employed by Windle International Kenya. She has over five years’ experience working with refugees and teaching in an emergency setup. She is passionate about providing quality education to all children in her community, especially girls, who are more vulnerable because of harmful cultural practices. She has helped bring girls who had been married off by their families back to school, has worked with girls and teenage mothers not in school, and has challenged the stigma faced by girls who get pregnant while still in school. She has worked closely with the local radio station on several occasions to sensitize people about the education of girls and about the dangers of harmful cultural practices. With the help of several organisations like WIK, UNHCR,AAR-Japan, IRC, DRC among others and some of her colleagues, She started a girls’ mentorship program, a life-skills club and a peer-counselling initiative at the secondary school where she works to provide psychosocial support for all learners. She has experience in teaching, program management and advocacy, as well as a deep understanding of girl’s education—which she hopes to use to make education more inclusive.

She has currently begun a welfare kitty, where contributions are made voluntarily by the teachers to help buy uniforms and stationary for needy and vulnerable students joining high school. She is currently the focal person for special needs learners and is closely working with Humanity and Inclusion as well as E-kitabu to make learning inclusive for special needs learners. She has recently begun an anti-bullying club to help fight the stigma faced by expectant girls and the rest of the students.

Nyabuol Biel Gang, South Sudan

Nyabuol Biel Gangam is a poet, filmmaker, and theatre director from Kakuma Refugee Camp who uses the art of film to tell refugee stories. Her film The Plight was screened in Nairobi by the Human Righs Watch in 2019, which was then featured in CNN Inside Africa. Through her creative work, she won Best Script at the the FAFF18 film festival and best-spoken word artist at the Migrant Film Festival in Malaysia. Her poems were also published by Rational Creature New York for both their 4th and 5th volume.
Nyabuol Ieft her country due to the Sudanese civil war in 2002, from which the majority of her family eventually fled to a nearby town before reaching Kenya. She previously volunteered as a director in a community theatre in Kakuma Refugee Camp before arriving in Canada in 2022.

Felix is smiling, posing with his arms folded and wearing a blue polo shirt.
Felix Sesay, Sierra Leone/Ghana

Felix Sesay is a refugee and education activist from Sierra Leone, currently living in Ghana. He holds a bachelor of science degree in nursing and has previously worked with the UNHCR on refugee education access and rights. In 2019, he served as a co-sponsor for education at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva. He also previously worked as a community volunteer to organize health screening and education sessions within deprived communities in Ghana. Because of his work, he was recognized as one of ten volunteers effecting positive change in their community by the UN Youth Envoy in 2020. In 2021, Felix became a beneficiary of the UNFPA Ghana Youth Leaders Fellowship programme, an initiative that provides training and mentorship opportunities for young people to champion the SDG. Currently, he is a programme assistant - ‘Population and Development' with the same organization.
Felix came to Ghana with his parents at the age of nine due to the civil war in Sierra Leone. As a refugee, he could not afford or pursue his secondary school education, without engaging in menial jobs, including the selling of coconuts and the burning of charcoal. After graduating from secondary school, he faced another barrier of not accessing tertiary education due to financial constraints and remained home for two years, after which he received a DAFI Scholarship to study nursing.

Anojitha is a young Sri Lankan woman wearing a green blouse and a side braid.

Anojitha Sivaskaran, Sri Lanka 

Anojitha is a youth and peace activist based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Growing up in the northern part of the country, Anojitha has directly experienced throughout her lifetime a number of challenges resulting from its long-running civil war, including displacement, insecurity, lack of safe space for engagements and inadequate shelter. Passionate about sustainable peace, Anojitha obtained a Bachelor of Peace and Conflict Resolution from the University of Kelaniya. Anojitha strongly believes that including young people is a critical component of effective, wide-reaching and sustainable efforts to overcome conflict and fragility.
Anojitha has many experiences in participating as a young advocate in activities both locally and internationally on issues of conflict, inter-community dialogue and peacebuilding. She is an influencer and public speaker and has been invited as a guest speaker to many public platforms and conferences. Recently, Anojitha has been honored with the 2021 Diana Award, the most prestigious prize for young people's social action or humanitarian work.  

Vivian is an Iraqi woman sitting in a chair, wearing a pink shirt.
Vivian Shaima, Iraq/Jordan

Vivian is an asylum seeker living in Amman, Jordan since 2018. She never had the opportunity to finish her education but successfully completed the Amala high school diploma for refugees and several courses in civic engagement, ethnography, and women and children rights. Currently, she pays it back by working as a Learning Facilitator in Amala, and she also finished a course on Refugees and Forced Migration Studies with Oxford University.
Vivian lived in Iraq with her family till 2014, when ISIS came to her town and forced them to leave everything behind. She then became an internally displaced person before finally moving to Jordan in search for a better life, education, opportunities, and future. Professionally, she has volunteered in The Heart of Amman in cooperation with UNDP Jordan, an urban revitalization initiative program that enhances the self-reliance and inclusion prospects for displaced communities.

Yves is a young man from Burundi, wearing a black shirt.
Yves Umohoza, Burundi

Yves Umuhoza is a Burundian Refugee with a passion for climate advocacy and refugee education. He currently resides in Zimbabwe, where he works as a renewable energy engineer at Assorted Energies International (AEI), a youth led organisation that he founded. He previously managed a project in Tongogara Refugee Camp that was funded by the Women Refugee Commission (WRC) through the Global Refugee Youth Network (GRYN), and he also volunteered with UNHCR Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
Yves fled Burundi due to the invasion of his village by rebels and has been living as a refugee in Zimbabwe since 1998. Currently he is enrolled in a masters program in Energy and Nuclear Engineering and is a DAFI Alumni.


What to expect from the new council

Throughout 2023, the Council will convene virtually on an ongoing basis to identify global refugee education priorities and develop recommendations that they will present to Canada’s Minister of International Development throughout the year. 

World Vision Canada is thrilled to be able to support this outstanding group of young leaders. The expertise and experience they bring through education, training and lived-experience is invaluable, and we can’t wait to see their influence grow. 

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