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Undergrad Joselyne John looks out from a makeshift tent in Convocation Mall during an event she organized to educate students about refugee camp conditions in Africa. The Burundian refugee is raising $20,000 to sponsor the immigration of her family who are still in a camp in Malawi.

Refugee works to sponsor family

July 8, 2010

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When Burundian refugee Joselyne John arrived at SFU three years ago on a World University Services of Canada scholarship it was a major culture shock.

Burnaby Mountain was utterly and completely different from Dzaleka, the isolated refugee camp in Malawi in southeast Africa, where she and her 12-member family had lived for seven years.

Forbidden to work or to travel outside the camp, some 10,000 refugees there subsist on a monthly food ration from world aid organizations. "The food never lasts the month," says John. "Everyone there suffers from malnutrition."

But now that the young health sciences major has adjusted to Canadian life she’s taking steps to help her family who are still in the camp. Between studying and volunteering on and off campus, she’s recruiting volunteers and organizing events to both highlight refugee conditions and raise $20,000 to sponsor her family’s immigration to Canada.

In June, her team organized a Burnaby campus event to educate students about refugee camp life. They pitched small tents in Convocation Mall to represent the single tarps or tents each refugee family receives for shelter. When that wears out, she explains, refugees must fashion huts out of handmade mud bricks, with grass roofs that let in the rain and often blow off during sand storms.

The team also laid out buckets of water for students to carry, two at a time, across the mall to experience how difficult it is for camp children as young as eight who fetch water even longer distances each day.

"We’re always wanting to expand our team in order to create a more active and diverse group," she says. "We have great opportunities for committed and enthusiastic students who take pride in making a difference or have an interest in refugees."

John has also partnered with the non-profit Umoja Operation Compassion Society in Surrey, which assists low-income immigrants, to set up an account to receive donations and issue tax receipts. For more information, contact joselyne.john@gmail.com or visit www.dzaleka.org.

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