Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
World University Services of Canada (WUSC) puts Mead’s words into action. Founded in the 1920s as a development agency, WUSC consists of students, professionals, and volunteers who believe that knowledge and education have the power to change the world. And Concordia’s new WUSC chapter, founded in March by three students, wants to effect change by sponsoring a refugee to study at the university.
“There’s an interconnectedness between every single one of us,” says James D’Arruda, a WUSC Concordia leader and co-founder of the group. “If you see someone in a really weird situation - an uncomfortable situation - it is not human to just let it go and to not think about it. So if you have the opportunity to provide an opportunity for someone else, it is your obligation to just even try.”
The group now boasts eight members, some of whom were involved with WUSC chapters at other schools. Passionate about human rights and helping people in need, they are working toward raising awareness and funds for the Student Refugee Program (SRP), which would provide a refugee in Kenya, Afghanistan or Thailand with resettlement in Canada and a scholarship to study at Concordia.
“In the refugee camps, the highest they can go is high school,” says D’Arruda. “Once they finish Grade 10 or 11, there’s no more opportunities for them.”
To participate in the SRP, refugees must apply for a scholarship and pass a lengthy selection process involving essays, tests, and interviews. Once in Canada, the student would become a resident, allowing him or her to have access to healthcare and other benefits accorded to Canadian citizens. The sponsored student would also be charged Quebec tuition rates.
WUSC Concordia leaders have received training to help the refugees through the various phases of their transition, including planning a budget, finding housing, and becoming comfortable with their new surroundings. “You shouldn’t be throwing the student into anything and just expect that they’ll be integrated and understand what it is,” explains D’Arruda. “If you bring them to a new apartment, you have to let them know that for lights, you switch ‘on’ and you switch ‘off’. You have to explain the microwave, the stove and even little things like taking the metro.”
WUSC Concordia must raise a minimum of $20,000 by March, 2013 to apply to sponsor a student refugee for the following September. The group will be financially responsible for the student during his or her first year at the university. In subsequent years, the student is responsible for financing his or her education.
Because WUSC is non-profit, the money for the program must come from fundraising events and donations. “What we’re trying to push is for the university administration to support us, through either tuition waivers or accommodation waivers for these individuals for one year,” says D’Arruda. “We’d also be asking the campus for a referendum for a student levy fee of around 50 cents per student.”
WUSC Concordia publishes a newsletter to raise awareness about the program and will team up with several groups, including Journalists for Human Rights and Concordia’s Political Science Students’ Association to host fundraising events, including a comedy night and guest speakers.
The group believes that an investment in the program is an opportunity to effect tangible change. “The ultimate goal is for us to provide them (refugee students) with the means to actually go back home and contribute to their economy and to their society,” says WUSC Concordia leader Marcel Rochon. “And, of course if they decide to stay in Canada, that’s fine too. It’s about putting choice back in their hands.”
To learn more about upcoming WUSC Concordia events, to make a donation or to get involved with the group, visit the WUSC Facebook page or email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• WUSC Concordia Facebook page
• WUSC Concordia Committee on the Rise video
• “How the SRP changed my life” (video)