Promoting quality education for all.

In my dreams I am a journalist, but today I am a refugee

by Giulia McPherson, 

By, Giulia McPherson, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA


Sylvia is 19 years old and was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her parents were killed as a result of conflict in her home country and she fled with her sisters to Uganda, seeking refuge.

Sylvia, Jesuit Refugee Service“Becoming a refugee changed my life for the worse - I can’t study anymore and I’m raising my sisters alone without an income. It’s very hard to find food and pay the rent. Sometimes, I fear I may have to sell my body to make ends meet. I can’t work here and don’t have parents to rely on. Luckily, I have a house to live in but I don’t know how to find money for my survival.”

Today, Sylvia studies English at the Jesuit Refugee Service Center in Kampala, Uganda. She had hopes of becoming a journalist, but for now is proud of being able to rise above her traumatic past and begin a new life by improving her English.

“I know if I study, I can achieve more. I hope peace returns to my country so I can go back or that I can go overseas to make my dream come true: to become a journalist.”

Sylvia is one of more than 65 million people around the world who have been displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution or disaster. Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that one in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.

And, like Sylvia, many of the displaced are from countries that have experienced instability or conflict for a number of years, if not decades. Places like the Democratic Republic of Congo that receive little or no public attention and are often forgotten.

The impact conflict and displacement has on access to a quality education is significant. In UNHCR’s recent Global Strategy Implementation Report for education, it is noted that there has been a decrease in school enrollment rates for the displaced over the past three years. This is due, in part, to improved data quality and collection so that we are able to better track access to education for the displaced. Another key factor is the sheer demand – in spite of progress in some areas, rising numbers of displaced persons makes it increasingly challenging to offer access to a quality education.

In fact, globally, UNCHR confirms that only one in two refugee children have access to primary education and one in four refugee adolescents have access to secondary education. Overall, refugee children are five times less likely to go to school than their non-refugee peers.

We are certainly at a crossroads, yet are seeing unprecedented levels of political will to address these tremendous challenges. At the World Humanitarian Summit this past May, a new Education Cannot Wait fund was launched and aims to transform the global education sector for children affected by crisis by focusing specifically on meeting their educational needs. This effort will both mobilize and coordinate support for these critical programs, which currently only receive two percent of humanitarian funding.

The momentum surrounding the launch of Education Cannot Wait will be sustained over the next several weeks as we look towards the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants taking place during the UN General Assembly, and the Obama Administration’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, which aims to increase the number of refugee children enrolled in school by one million.

As we look towards these upcoming opportunities, we must not forget young people like Sylvia who are counting on us to remember them and do what we must to ensure they have the opportunity to fulfill their own dreams. We must continue to have at the forefront of our minds those individuals, families and communities we are seeking to serve by creating greater opportunity for a quality education.

Giulia McPherson is the Assistant Director for Policy at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. She leads the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts as they relate to global education and is the author of Providing Hope, Investing in the Future: Education in Emergencies & Protracted Crises. Giulia can be reached at or @giuliamcpherson.

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