Away from home, but still learning

In Egypt and elsewhere, MCC is helping refugee children get an education

Raymond Khaled John Al-Hajana, center, a Sudanese refugee, is studying at St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education in Egypt. — Monica Mehaffey/Refuge Egypt Raymond Khaled John Al-Hajana, center, a Sudanese refugee, is studying at St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education in Egypt. — Monica Mehaffey/Refuge Egypt

When Raymond Khaled John Al-Hajana, a 12-year-old refugee from Sudan, was ready to start school in Egypt in 2016, he did not have enough education to go to class with youth his own age.

Instead, he needed to learn skills and information that children are taught in early primary grades.

Like many Sudanese refugees who had lost years of schooling to war and conflict, he was just too old to start his education in Egyptian schools.

But in Egypt, St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education, with support from MCC, provides a rare opportunity for Al-Hajana and other Sudanese students to catch up.

This is one of the ways MCC is reaching out to young people whose families have fled from home.

In Lebanon, MCC is partnering with a kindergarten that gives young Syrian refugees new chances to learn and grow. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, students in camps for displaced people can continue their schooling. An additional program in Egypt supports early childhood enrichment for Sudanese refugees.

According to the World Refugee and Migration Council, refugees identify education for their children as a priority.

“It provides a safe place for children to begin healing from their trauma and develop skills to eventually earn a living and become contributors and leaders in their communities,” said Lynn Longenecker, MCC education coordinator.

“If I imagine myself in a similar situation, this is what I’d want for my own children. Supporting these opportunities is a way to love my neighbor’s child as I’d love my own.”

Raphael center is in Nasr City, a district of Cairo where many Sudanese refugees have settled. The school is run by Sudanese educators who are refugees themselves and understand the upheavals students have faced. Classes are in Sudanese Arabic, a dialect more familiar to the refugee children than Egyptian Arabic.

Because numerous older students like Al-Hajana need primary education, teachers have figured out how to fast-track learning for them.

Al-Hajana’s father, Khaled John Al-Hajana Tutu, enrolled his son and his two younger daughters at St. Raphael. Four years later, his son passed the test to enter secondary classes.

“St. Raphael’s School provides a good education for my children and enhances their self confidence,” he said.

He works long hours to support his family but manages to pay tuition. And MCC, along with other supporting organizations, provides assistance to the school through Serve Egypt, a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.

St. Raphael is one of the largest Sudanese schools in the area, with about 230 students, says principal Emmanuel Issa Zaid, a Sudanese refugee with a university degree.

MCC supports education projects because they provide much more than the learning of lessons, said Karen Friesen, MCC representative in Egypt with her spouse, John Friesen. They are from Manitoba and North Carolina.

“Schools like St. Raphael provide sanctuary and care for the vulnerable, persecuted, marginalized and poor,” she said.

Sudanese youth — many of whom are struggling with trauma from the violence they experienced and dislocation from their homes — have high rates of teenage pregnancy, drinking and drug use. Some find a place to belong in street gangs.

“School keeps you away from many problems,” Al-Hajana said. “It directs you to the right path to be a successful person.”

Linda Espenshade

Linda Espenshade is Mennonite Central Committee U.S. news coordinator.

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