Finding Hope in Higher Education

Finding Hope in Higher Education

VIU Students Khalid Dahir, Emily Dreger and Innocente Iradukunda

October 24, 2019 - 2:45pm

VIU Student Refugee Program gives young people life-changing opportunities to continue their education in Canada and build a better future for themselves.

Khalid Dahir has spent his entire life in a refugee camp with more than 211,000 other people, hoping and dreaming of a better life.

That chance came this year when Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) World University Service of Canada (WUSC) local committee chose to support his application to study here. The 20-year-old proudly wears a new suit and a watch and smiles broadly when you greet him. 

“I have always dreamed of getting a higher education that will change my life and one day the lives of people in the community I come from,” says Dahir.

Dahir has only ever experienced life in a refugee camp. He was born in Ifo, one of three camps in Dadaab, Kenya, where his parents ended up after leaving Somalia.

Innocente Iradukunda shares a similar story. The 22-year-old spent 12 years of her life living in exile in a refugee camp in Malawi, in southeast Africa.

Fearing for the safety of her mother, Iradukunda and her family fled Rwanda in 2007. 

“My father was imprisoned from 1996 to 2005 for political reasons,” explains Iradukunda.

During the Rwandan genocide, an estimated 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days and millions of people were displaced from their homes and thousands of people were arrested and thrown in prison.

“My mother was also being hunted down by the government,” adds Iradukunda. “So my father, my mother, two sisters, a brother and two nephews fled the country.”

Iradukunda and Dahir arrived in Nanaimo in late August and are getting settled with the help of the VIU-WUSC student committee.

WUSC is a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to improving education and employment opportunities for youth around the world. WUSC matches refugees with partnering universities that help them resettle in Canada and pursue post-secondary education. Since 2008, VIU has sponsored more than 20 students. The unique sponsorship program is funded through a student levy contributed by the VIU Students’ Union (VIUSU) and financial support from VIU’s Faculty of International Education and the International Refugee Scholarship Fund.

Iradukunda had begun studying public health in Malawi and hopes to work in the health and social services sector here in Canada.

“I feel like I’m in the right place now,” she says. “This is a life-changing opportunity, which I can never take for granted, considering that there are a lot of people who wish they were here.”

Darrell Harvey, VIU’s Coordinator of International Projects and Internationalization, says the program now offers increased support. “Previously, the student-led refugee program covered tuition and living expenses for one year. Last year a referendum was passed to enhance the program to provide tuition assistance for up to three additional years.”

VIU Global Studies student Emily Dreger, Co-Chair of VIU WUSC, joined the committee last year.

“I’ve never been involved in a program where you’re making a tangible difference in someone else’s life,” says Dreger. “I just knew this was something that I had to be a part of.”

Dahir wants to make a difference in the lives of the people where he came from. 

“I want to get a major in Computer Science and specialize in web development so I can help solve some of the technology problems my people have back home because it is a developing country,” says Dahir. “With a minor in economics, I can teach my people how to use available resources to help change the living standards in the region.”

Harvey adds the student refugee program is also part of a broader global engagement strategy at VIU.

“The Student Refugee Program brings added diversity to our campus, and all the benefits that come with learning from people who come from different backgrounds and have different experiences,” he says. “Khalid and Innocente are learning to adjust and adapt to Canadian culture, and we are learning so much from them.”



Annette Lucas, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

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Tags: Global Citizenship | Global Studies | Teaching and Learning

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