22 July 2021 | Interview | Shaz Elanie
Fugee Keeps Education Going for Refugee Students Amidst COVID-19
Many Malaysians know of Fugee but might not be familiar with the work it does. The Malaysian-based non-profit organisation empowers refugees to take control of their futures through high-quality education and integration into the job market in their host countries. Programmes director Abdulmajid knows first-hand how impactful such work can be.
The child of displaced Palestinian parents and born into a diaspora, Abdulmajid himself experienced difficulties in obtaining higher education in his youth but was fortunately the beneficiary of a stranger’s kindness. Fugee’s mission is one he not only relates to, but whose value he has experienced and can testify to in his own life.
If you can get involved with the community by donating something or volunteering your time, treat it as an investment. Education is truly the best investment of all, with returns that favour everyone.
“Refugees often struggle to be accepted by their host countries and with the limited infrastructure or support available for their communities,” he says. “This inevitably impacts the allocation of funds towards their cause. However, there is a greater push towards allowing refugees to contribute their skills and time through education and employment in the hopes that they adapt to local social norms and raise the public perception of their community for better acceptance and integration into society.”
What is Fugee doing about the situation?
Fugee strives to facilitate an ecosystem that supports this vision. It ensures that refugee children are able to receive an education through Fugee School, utilizes educational funds via the HiEd Scholarship, and aids in providing access to dignified employment opportunities through their social enterprise, Fugeelah.
However, some endeavours have been made more challenging by COVID-19, which has disproportionately impacted refugee lives in numerous ways. Access to healthcare, employment and education are common challenges they face that have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. “Limited technology and connectivity for online classes present a huge obstacle in our ability to ensure students at Fugee School can continue their education uninterrupted,” continues Abdulmajid.
“In general, Fugee has the capacity to provide education to 200 students. Pre-COVID, we had around 100 refugee children on our student waitlist but that number has grown significantly since the pandemic’s onset when some organisations that serve the same community grappled with the transition to digital, especially for aspects such as education. We too are now unable to cater to more children due to the high cost of securing the necessary tools and providing adequate teaching support.”
Shining the spotlight on 3 crucial programmes
Despite the disruptions caused by current circumstances, the work continues. Of the various Fugee programmes designed to aid and uplift the refugee community, three are especially critical for youngsters and youths.
The HiED scholarship fund supports UNHCR’s 15by30 Roadmap, which looks to increase refugee enrolment in higher education worldwide from 3% to 15% by 2030, a cause especially dear to Abdulmajid.
What is 15by30? In 2019, UNHCR and partners set the goal to increase enrolment in higher education of young refugee women and men to 15% by 2030. At present the current enrolment of refugees in higher education stands at 3% (~90k refugees), in stark contrast to the global average of 37%. Higher education is a critical link between learning and earning, allowing young people to thrive and transition to the pursuit of sustainable futures. Participation of refugees in higher education strengthens national education systems, to the benefit of both host and refugee communities.
Fugee School, meanwhile, secures basic education for all students in the hopes that similar schooling experiences between young refugees and Malaysians will shrink the divide between them.
Most relevant to the unusual times we live in is the Digital Divide programme. “This looks at ensuring all students can learn safely and effectively despite the hurdles thrown up by COVID-19,” says the programmes director. “This includes securing devices and stable Internet connection for them to participate in lessons and continue their studies.”
And if the general public wants to help?
Fundraising is naturally vital to stay afloat, but Fugee welcomes support in any form, from advocacy of causes relevant to the refugee community to the volunteering of time or donations in cash or kind, such as refurbished digital devices. However, help does not have to be physical or financial to count – even just an extension of compassion can make a difference. After all, though our circumstances differ, we have in common our humanity.
“People have more of an impact than they realise by doing the smallest things,” says Abdulmajid. “If you can get involved with the community by donating something or volunteering your time, treat it as an investment. Education is truly the best investment of all, with returns that favour everyone. As the saying goes, give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.”
Founded in Malaysia in 2009, Fugee is a non-profit that helps refugees gain access to education and employment through advocacy, academic and entrepreneurship programmes. Age does not discriminate in the plight of refugees, and those displaced from young can obtain early learning and support at Fugee School and continue on to the Fugee Youth Academy. Fugee empowers refugees as leaders of change, allowing them rise above their circumstances to ultimately lead dignified lives and contribute meaningfully to society.
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