Australian co-funded program allows refugees to compete with world’s best

26 April 2021
Program-participant Stany at the Jesuit Refugee Service Malawi, Arrupe Learning Centre. Image: Jesuit Mission/Supplied

 

The second phase of a visionary digital literacy program co-founded by an Australian Jesuit is set to launch in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, where refugees have continued to seek asylum in great numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Digital Inclusion Program (DIP), run by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malawi and supported by Sydney-based Jesuit Mission, was piloted in Dzaleka in July 2019 in an effort to provide camp-bound refugees with digital income-generating skills. The camp, located in central Malawi, houses nearly 47,000 refugees and asylum seekers from countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Ethiopia, the vast majority of whom live below the moderate to ultra-poverty line.

With few residents able to benefit from livelihood programs offered at Dzaleka, Australian Jesuit Fr David Holdcroft SJ, Professional and Post-Secondary Education Specialist at JRS International, launched the DIP in partnership with French non-profit technology start-up Konexio. One of the program’s primary goals is to enable participants to earn an income to supplement food rations, pay for health care, and support their families without simultaneously competing with the host community for scarce employment opportunities. With most of Dzaleka’s residents chronically unemployed, and with the global refugee resettlement rate drastically reduced in part due to the effects of COVID-19, such capacity-building is essential, says Fr Holdcroft.

“The average stay in a refugee state around the world is something like 26 years now, and that’s more than half a lifetime for many people,” he says.

“[But] while you have an isolated refugee camp, the internet enables us to remove that isolation…If you could imagine living in … a mud hut with a thatched roof, working online is a pretty radical thing, but what I tell the refugees there is that they’re competing with the best in the world. They’re no longer refugees when they’re doing that.”

Students from an initial cohort of 60 graduated in October 2020, and several of them are already participating in the global employment marketplace. Stany, a 30-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been able to generate a steady income from freelance jobs –which he bid for and won on websites like Upwork and Fivrr – in translation, writing, graphic design and administration support.

“I have learned that life is more than being a refugee, relying on food rations, and waiting for resettlement,” he says.

“The opportunity that the Digital Inclusion Program offered me allows me to earn my financial freedom by being self-employed online. My life is no longer the same.”

The program, which was unwittingly accelerated by COVID-19, trains refugees, asylum seekers and members of the host community in skills including data entry, translation, formatting, transcription and graphic design.

In obtaining European Computer license-level skills, the students are now “participating in the fourth industrial revolution,” says Fr Holdcroft.

“And refugees tend to be very good risk takers, so that they think nothing of starting something when they really can’t see the future. Our role is to try and help them plan it through a little bit, and help them be a little bit more systematic and also give them the skills to build on their capacities that they already have innately.”

The French-registered Konexio, whose mission is to empower and connect refugees through digital skills and workforce training, is providing ongoing training and supervision to participants of the pilot program. Meanwhile, the program is expanding into Kenya and Jordan, hoping to train a total of 560 refugees this year. The program, says Fr Holdcroft, has given participants a sense of meaning along with skills for a more secure future.

“[We’re] really helping people… find a way to contribute to society instead of being on the receiving end,” he says.

“This transformative program breaks down the barriers of Dzaleka camp and opens up the world for people like Stany. Please, join us today to help our sisters and brothers surviving in the margins to take this step into the global workforce,” said Helen Forde, CEO of Jesuit Mission.

For more information about Jesuit Mission’s support of the JRS Digital Inclusion Program in Dzaleka Refugee Camp contact Helen Forde, CEO of Jesuit Mission, at 02 8918 4122 or helen.forde@jesuitmission.org.au, or visit jesuitmission.org.au.

With thanks to Jesuit Mission.

 

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