“These are my thoughts and prayers”Jules says with a smile as she points to a wall of hand-scrawled notes and quotes in her cozy studio just off Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence. “I write whatever inspires me, it helps me focus. »
When Jules, then a Congolese refugee living in Ethiopia, learned he had been accepted to a master’s degree in natural resource management at the University of Florence, he Googled information about the city. Now, more than a year later, he can confirm that his first impression of the beautiful and welcoming city was correct. “My faculty is really very inclusive. Many other foreign students from all over the world study with me, I learned as much from them as from the courses themselves.”he confides.
“My teachers are wonderful people who have supported me beyond my expectations; they became like family. »
Just months after his birth in the Democratic Republic of Congo, both Jules’ parents were killed in ethnic conflict and he was taken in by his aunt’s family in Goma, North Kivu. Clashes in the area continued to escalate and the family lived under the constant threat of violence. “You get used to this life, but there comes a day when you say, ‘I’m not going to wait here to die,’ so we left.he says.
After a complicated journey, he and his family reached Ethiopia, where they were registered as refugees and accommodated in the Sherkole refugee camp. “In the camp they measured the salt in a small glass; there was no sugar, nothing, we learned to make meals using our imaginations, but I was happier than if I had a big meal in the Congo. At least I could sleep peacefully – there was peace and I was safe”he mentions.
Only after some time in the camp could Jules begin to think about his future. He was afraid that he would never be able to continue his education as a refugee. “I often saw recent graduates [de l’université] go back to camp, maybe two or three people a year. They were respected members of the community, everyone looked up to them and looked to them for advice. I knew that was what I wanted too.”continues.
Thanks to her determination and a scholarship from the DAFI program, Jules was able to enroll at the University of Gambella in Ethiopia a few years later. There, he became interested in agriculture, especially small-scale farming and fishing operated by the local community. He watched as they struggled through periods of drought that grew longer and worse over the years. “Waiting for the rains to return seemed like the only thing to do, but I thought that with new knowledge and better technology, these communities could approach the drought differently to be self-sufficient during the season.” »
When he heard about the University Corridors for Refugees (UNICORE) program from one of his friends, he applied without believing it. “The chances of you being selected for one of the scholarships offered were so slim”he mentions. “When I received the email from the University of Florence… I was speechless, overwhelmed with happiness. »
UNICORE aims to increase opportunities for refugees living in Ethiopia to pursue higher education in Italy through a partnership between Italian universities and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. This project is part of UNHCR’s wider goal of creating safe routes so that refugees can pursue their dreams of a better future without having to risk their lives on dangerous roads.
“Refugees need such opportunities. »
Only 5% of refugees manage to enroll in higher education compared to an average of 39% in the general population. Together with its partners, UNHCR aims to ensure that 15% of refugees have access to higher education by 2030.
After launching a pilot phase in 2019, the UNICORE project has since grown to offer a total of 70 scholarships at 28 universities across the country. In 2021, 45 refugees received a scholarship for a course in Italy.
Jules is expected to graduate this summer. He plans to return to his family and use his new skills to help refugees and local people support themselves without outside help, even as the weather becomes drier and more unpredictable. “Refugees need such opportunities”talks about his scholarship.
“The more skills refugees have, the more they can support themselves. They need knowledge to be heard, to be independent and also to dream again. »
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