Going Where the Need is Greatest

SU brings education to refugees in Malawi
2011-08-17
By Mike Thee
malawi

You could call it an old-school way of Skyping.   

There she was, Janet Quillian, director of the International Development Internship Program, sitting at her desk on SU’s campus, glancing periodically at a picture of students in a refugee camp in Malawi, while she typed away. Quillian was creating modules for a course on community health for the students in the picture. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away at the camp, those students in the photo were gathering to take the course while a picture of the SU professor hung on their classroom wall.  

 Going where the need is greatest  

The coursework Quillian wrote is part of Higher Education at the Margins, the central component of the Jesuit Commons. The initiative was launched last fall to connect the expertise of faculty from Jesuit schools in the U.S. with students in refugee camps who covet a college education.   

This past year, participating faculty began offering courses through distance-learning at two camps—Kakuma in Kenya, where 84,000 refugees are living, and Dzaleka, the Malawi camp of 14,000 refugees where Quillian’s course was taught. Plans are also underway to establish the program for urban refugees in Aleppo, Syria. The idea is to empower refugees so they might lead in their communities and succeed, whether they remain in the camps or eventually leave.  

Considering that commonly invoked Jesuit motto to “go where the need is greatest,” one would be hard-pressed to find a more marginalized, dispossessed people than those living in refugee camps. When Quillian speaks of Higher Education at the Margins, she says, “This is very Jesuit.” It also fits perfectly with SU’s ever-expanding and deepening international efforts, which are being spearheaded by Victoria Jones, associate provost for global engagement. 

 “I’ll do it.”   

Quillian’s involvement with the Higher Education at the Margins program began with a phone call from Mary McFarland, international director of the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins and professor at Gonzaga University. McFarland was looking for someone to create a course on community health for the Malawi camp. Being familiar with Quillian’s extensive work in refugee camps, McFarland asked Quillian if there was anyone at SU she’d recommend. “I’ll do it,” Quillian promptly answered.  

And with that, Quillian became the first SU faculty member and one of the first faculty members of all the Jesuit institutions in the country to get involved with Higher Education at the Margins. So far, 18 faculty members and eight schools have participated in the delivery of coursework for the program.