This week I want to write about community involvement and partnerships with the community that support refugees and refugee education. I think the first place my mind went when I thought about this project and refugee education was thinking about refugee students in our mainstream school classes, but just as important can be community engagement and involvement. There are benefits that less formal organizations have over schools. These benefits include advocacy, public image, acculturation, and shared responsibility, among others.
As one might imagine, starting all over in a new country is difficult, and one could say it “takes a village” for a refugee family to feel at home and know their way around. Canada is different from Syria in many ways, and these families come here without the cultural capital and knowledge necessary to seamlessly navigate their way through Canadian society. Community organizations can help empower and provide the parents with the information they need to guide their children through the Alberta school system. An example of this working is detailed in Erden 2016, where a group of Turkish women worked with Syrian refugee women to support them in their transition to Turkey. The women from both backgrounds worked together to enroll the refugee children in school and ensure their success. Another important aspect of that organization was advocacy. Working closely with refugee women meant the Turkish women were well able to advocate for the refugee population.
Advocacy is an important part of the necessity for community organizations and partnerships. By having more people make relationships with Syrian refugees, they begin to see the population not as a stereotype or threat, but rather as individuals. Negative stereotypes and economic and terrorist threats can often overshadow the reality that the refugees who seek refuge in our communities are, at the end of the day, just people. No one person embodies the entire stereotype of their group, nor is a stereotype ever created out of merely one person. By working closely with refugees, community members are better able to act as advocates for the population and dispel fear and negative stereotypes. In addition, community organizations give refugee families the opportunity to make connections and friends.
Based on the literature I have read about various informal educational organizations in a variety of countries, here are the suggestions I have for making a positive impact with a community partnership or organization:
- Be weary of the saviour complex. There should be a give and take within the organization. Canadians are not saving the refugees and the refugees are much more than victims. There are lessons to be learned on both sides and no one group is better than the other.
- Families should be included as a whole whenever possible. While we are used to educating and helping children, it does not end up being the most beneficial if programs only ever include children. By including the whole family the parents are able to learn skills that will help them to help themselves in the future. Additionally, it is common for children to be put in an awkward position in the family hierarchy because their language skills progress so much fast than their parents’. Including the parents means that they learn language and culture along with their children and this keeps their children out of the position of constantly being cultural brokers.
- Make programs with Syrian refugees, not just for them. Make efforts to include refugees and Syrians in the inner workings of programs. Not only does this provide an empowering role for them, but it means the likelihood of fewer cultural clashes and issues and may help to attract a larger audience to the program than if Canadians alone organize it.
It takes a lot to support refugees in their transition to Canada, and the role of informal programs should not be understated. A whole variety of supports are needed. I hope this provided some food for thought, feel free to email me if you have more comments or suggestions about the topic.
Examples of programs:
Cairo, A., Sumney, D., Blackman, J., & Joyner, K. (2013). Supporting Refugee and Migrant Children with F.A.C.E. Time. The Education Digest, 79(2), 61–65. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1440071234?accountid=8555%5Cnhttp://vp9py7xf3h.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info:ofi/enc:UTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/ProQ%3Aeducation&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.jtit
Erden, O. (2016). Building bridges for refugee empowerment. Journal of International Migration and Integration, (18), 1–17. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-016-0476-y
Ferfolja, T., & Vickers, M. (2010). Supporting refugee students in school education in Greater Western Sydney. Critical Studies in Education, 51(2), 149–162. http://doi.org/10.1080/17508481003731034
Global alliance institute; Global alliance institute unveils its girls truth seekers education project for Syrian refugee girls. (2016). Politics & Government Business, 29. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.
Hos, R. (2016). Education in Emergencies: Case of a Community School for Syrian Refugees. European Journal of Educational Research, 5(2), 53–60. http://doi.org/10.12973/eu-jer.5.2.53
Lai, C. (2017). Strands of support. Education Canada, 10–15. Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/strands-support
Tran, D., & Hodgson, B. R. (2015). Meeting the needs of refugee and immigrant students and families in a culturally responsive way. Voices in Urban Education, (41), 7–15.
UNICEF. (2017). No Lost Generation Initiative: January to December 2016. Retrieved from http://www.wvi.org/syria-crisis/publication/2016-no-lost-generation-report
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