Ornella Banam, a 30-year-old Central African refugee, resumed her nutrition studies last year in Côte d’Ivoire on a DAFI scholarship. © UNHCR/Ali Sawadogo

After surviving a brutal rebel assault on the church where she prayed, Ornella Banam escaped the civil war in the Central African Republic in 2014, fleeing to Burkina Faso. She managed to continue her studies there, hoping to become a nutritionist but, when her father died two years later, she could no longer afford the fees and had to drop out of university.

Last year, Banam was selected for the DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) scholarship program, allowing her to return to higher education. “This scholarship gave me back the hope I had lost five years earlier,” says the 30-year-old. “I saw my dream shattered, but thanks to this opportunity, I am optimistic again.”

The latest figures show that refugee enrollment in higher education globally rose to 6% in the 2020-21 academic year. This represents a welcome increase from 1% just a few years ago, but remains well below the target of 15% higher education enrollment by 2030 set by UNHCR, the Agency United Nations Refugee Agency, as part of its “15by30” campaign. The figures reflect widespread inequality in which refugees suffer from enrollment rates that are – at all levels of education: primary, secondary and tertiary – lower than those of even the poorest sections of society.

The DAFI Postgraduate Scholarship Program – funded primarily by the German government with support from Denmark, the Czech Republic, UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency and private donors – is essential to achieving the 15by30 lens. It has enabled 21,500 refugees to enroll in higher education worldwide since 1992, including 6,200 in West Africa since 2010. This year, 934 young refugees have obtained DAFI scholarships in 15 countries of West Africa.

“This scholarship gave me back the hope I had lost…”

Like many others in the DAFI programme, Banam’s dream stems from his own experience growing up in a country where poverty is rampant and food is often in short supply. “Malnutrition is the leading cause of child mortality in the world, particularly in my country,” she said, adding that she wanted to “take care of malnourished children around the world.” Thanks to the DAFI scholarship covering his tuition, rent and living expenses, Banam can once again focus on his studies.

Florine Lutumba was only eight years old when the civil war forced her family from her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo and for the past 15 years she has lived in Côte d’Ivoire where she obtained her high school baccalaureate paving the way for the possibility of a university education. But when his father’s ill health forced Lutumba to drop out of school in order to help make ends meet.

“I was in a lot of pain because I saw my friends going to [university], continue their studies and get ahead of me,” says Lutumba. “After a while, I decided not to complain anymore because it only made me feel miserable.”

Having decided to do so, she started working with her younger sister, cooking and distributing pastries in her neighborhood of the capital, Abidjan, eventually earning enough money to pay for evening courses in business administration at a private university. .

Since 2021, DAFI has supported Lutumba’s university tuition, allowing him to focus more closely on his studies. “Schooling is no longer a concern for me. Thanks to this scholarship, which covers my… tuition, commuting and medical expenses, I have a better life and feel fulfilled.”

“My school results are always very good,” she adds. “I always aim for excellence.”

A hard and dedicated worker, Lutumba, now 23, believes the difficult times that refugees often have to overcome “should be a motivation and not a source of discouragement”. Aiming to graduate with flying colors, Lutumba has high hopes: “My ambition is to manage or lead a large company in the future.

The impacts of a DAFI scholarship can last a lifetime, Mbabazi Mugemana, 45, has been a refugee since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Support from DAFI enabled this talented high school student to graduate successfully, and over the next two decades he earned a master’s degree, forged a career as a teacher, educational consultant and community leader, and studying for a doctorate.

“It’s not just the scholarship,” says Mugemana, “we received training and coaching on how to be in life, in a company, to look for jobs, everything.” Today, he remains involved in the program that paved the way for his own success, acting as an observer on DAFI selection panels in Cameroon, where he lives.

The new scholars Mugemana sees joining the program give him hope for the future of higher education among refugees: “I have seen that the importance of the DAFI scholarship for young refugees in Cameroon is is that they are well equipped to face their studies and professional careers. lives, without exception, wherever they go.

Reporting by Moussa Bougma in Burkina Faso, Lath Divia Kibangou in Ivory Coast and Helen Ngoh Ada in Cameroon

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