Referendu-what? Introduction to WUSC and the Student Refugee Program

From November 1 – 4, 2010 Ryerson students will be voting on a referendum that asks, “Do you agree to the creation of an annual fee of $4 to support the WUSC Student Refugee Program at Ryerson starting in September 2011 and indexed thereafter for inflation annually to the CPI for Toronto?” …But what exactly does that mean? This week on the Art of Life we’ll be providing you with all the information you need about WUSC and the Student Refugee Program so that you can make an informed decision when you vote next week. If you have any questions about the referendum, please e-mail facescom@arts.ryerson.ca so we can find the answers and blog about them.

Today we’re voting on who is going to run this city for the next four years but next at Ryerson week we’ll be voting on whether Ryerson students will adopt a $4 annual fee in support of the WUSC Student Refugee Program. But first, there are a few questions that all of us students need answered. What is WUSC? What is the Student Refugee Program? And, there’s a WUSC committee at Ryerson? What do they do?

WUSC: “Education Changes the World”
WUSC stands for the World University Service of Canada and is a registered charity aimed at fostering human development and understanding. Their numerous programs address issues related to gender, labour, health, access to education and access to media, among others. You can read about many of WUSC’s campaigns here. They currently have active projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Through collaboration with community-based organizations, governments and public as well as private sector partners WUSC seeks to promote education and health, foster sustainable livelihoods and improve governance through the power of education and training. However, their programs don’t just help those in need overseas, WUSC’s presence on Canadian campuses helps benefit students by promoting volunteerism, giving students access to secure volunteer placements overseas, empowering students to become involved in social change and fostering a sense of global citizenship.

Student Refugee Program
The word refugee refers to any individual who has been forced to leave his or her home country to avoid persecution and seek protection from harm. The day-to-day realities of life in a refugee camp can be harsh and include many of the following obstacles :

“• In most camps, refugees are confined to the camp
• Many have been living in the camps for 5+ years
• Limited food, water, shelter, healthcare
• Dependence on aid
• Limited or no opportunities for work
• 1/4 as many girls as boys attend secondary school
• Diseases like malaria, typhoid and cholera are common
• Sense of hopelessness and helplessness
• Often crowded and isolated
• Hardships include dust storms, high temperatures,
poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions, outbreaks of
malaria, cholera, floods, drought, etc.”
(From the WUSC Student Refugee Program Info Sheet)

As a result of inadequate resources there are very few, if any, opportunities to pursue post-secondary education in refugee camps. As a result, student refugees are often forced to give up or postpone their education, which contributes to their feelings of helplessness. The Student Refugee Program is WUSC’s most prominent campaign and was designed to give student refugees the opportunity to pursue their education in an environment that is free of violence and oppression. For approximately $20,000 a year local committees at Canadian universities sponsor student refugees to live and study in Canada. Student refugees are sponsored for a minimum of twelve months and their sponsorship covers the student’s living and education-related costs for that period. WUSC local committees on campuses across Canada sponsor 60 new student refugees each year and the program has enabled more than 1000 student refugees to settle and become permanent residents in Canada since the program’s creation in 1978.

WUSC Ryerson
WUSC has local committees at more than 70 campuses across Canada. In 2008 a group of Ryerson students founded a WUSC local committee on campus, with a specific focus on the Student Refugee Program. In their 2 years of existence WUSC Ryerson has already sponsored two student refugees who are now huge supporters of the program because they see the positive impact it is having in refugee camps, where people are now more encouraged to continue their post-secondary education.

We will be talking more about the experiences of student refugees on Wednesday when we will be talking to Gerard, an Undeclared Arts student who is sponsored by WUSC Ryerson. Don’t forget to e-mail any questions you have about WUSC, the Student Refugee Program or the Ryerson referendum to facescom@arts.ryerson.ca.

Cheers,
Sarah (once again your Faculty of Arts Student Life blogger)

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