Support SFU’s WUSC Student Refugee Program

March 13, 2020

By Lauren Borean

Forced to leave her country, Burundi, at two years old, Esther Uwimano grew up in the harsh conditions of a refugee camp. But in 2013, the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program (SRP) changed Uwimano’s life. She was one of 50 refugees worldwide selected to enter the program, winning a place at SFU to pursue a bachelor degree in Health Sciences with support from SFU’s WUSC local committee.

“SFU took me in, gave me the support and resources I needed, and in return I am able to help others,” says Uwimano, who graduated in 2018 and now spends much of her time helping in her local community. “I can support because I was supported.”

But the award-winning SFU WUSC SRP program, which combines resettlement and education, cannot be maintained with the current resources and funding. It is funded primarily by a small student levy through student activity fees each term ($2.5 for full-time undergraduate student and $1.00 for full-time graduate student), and has not been increased since 2012. The WUSC SFU local committee is holding a referendum on March 17, 2020 along with the SFSS election in hopes of increasing the levy and maintaining this valuable program.

For bright, young refugee students like Uwimano, dreams that many of us take for granted are often unattainable. The opportunity to pursue an education is life-changing not only for them, but for their families and communities. Achieving an education helps re-ignite their families’ hopes for the future.

WUSC, a non-profit, international development organization, runs the Student Refugee Program in partnership with 95 universities and colleagues across Canada. WUSC is dedicated to improving education, employment and empowerment opportunities for youth, women and refugees in more than 25 asylum countries. In 2019, WUSC awarded the SFU SRP program an Outstanding Contribution award out of 95 participating universities and colleges across Canada.

“This award speaks volumes to the tremendous support that the local committee provides to the WUSC SRP students and to the strong commitment of both the University and SFU students to the program,” says Carolyn Hanna, senior director of SFU’s International Services for Students.

Since 1981, the SFU WUSC local committee has sponsored 71 students, one-third of them female. In 2016, SFU and the WUSC local committee committed to bringing six students to SFU each year in response to the global crises of exponentially increasing numbers of refugees. To continue providing life-changing opportunities to refugee students in need, the SFU WUSC local committee asks that full-time undergraduate students vote to increase the student levy to $5 per term from $2.50, and that part-time students pay $2.50 per term. The higher levy will help to address inflation and soaring housing and living costs in Metro Vancouver.

Esther Uwimano encourages students to vote, saying, “this small amount of money makes a huge impact – it goes beyond just what we can see here at SFU, it makes a world of a difference for refugee communities across the globe.”