Graduands of the Faculty of Education at York University were reminded that education frees the mind, when honorary degree recipient Marangu Njogu addressed those attending the 11th ceremony of spring convocation.
Marangu, a humanitarian and global education activist, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws and recognized for his work in the refugee camps of Dadaab, Kenya, and transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of African people. The degree was conferred on June 20, World Refugee Day.
As executive director of Windle International Kenya for the past 10 years, Njogu has been responsible for educational programs in the world’s largest refugee settlement, in the region of Dadaab. He is the visionary behind the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) program, which provides teacher education programs in Dadaab camps delivered by York University.
Marangu recounted the journey toward establishing the BHER learning centre, which, since it was established in 2011, has graduated more than 300 students at certificate, diploma and undergraduate levels.
“One of the most remarkable achievements is the seven students pursuing a York University master’s degree at the BHER learning centre,” said Marangu. “The BHER initiative has not only become the landmark of refugee education worldwide, but also a centre for human resource development.”
The program, he said, has given an opportunity for students who had lived in the camps for more than two decades to not only graduate with a university certificate, but also to graduate out of the refugee camps.
“There is greater desire of the BHER graduates to get back home to participate in development of their country than remain in refugee camps,” he said.
He recognized the significance of World Refugee Day, and reflected on this year’s theme of “Take a Step with Refugees” as an invitation to explore what individuals can commit to in helping refugees.
“For us seated here and particularly my fellow young graduands, we should choose and commit to help refugees to acquire education,” he said.
He shared with graduands some sobering statistics about the world’s refugees, including that more than 50 per cent are under the age of 18, with little chance of fulfilling their dreams and aspirations due to limited resources and funding toward education initiatives. He noted that approximately one per cent of this population ever had access to post-secondary education and only nine per cent ever receive secondary education.
However, education in refugee camps is viewed as incredibly valuable. Those living in the camps have little to no possessions, and education is viewed as one of the few things a parent can bequeath to their child.
Education in refugee camps frees the mind, while the body remains in “open prison,” said Marangu.
“In most countries, like in Kenya, refugees are placed in camps, with restricted movement outside the camps. In Kenya, the refugees have lived in the restricted camps since 1990. Generations have been born and buried in the camps. Now the refugees consider camps as ‘open prison.’ ”
He delivered a message direct from one of the refugee youth, who said they seek out education not for employment, but as a tool to build their mental health and unlock their human potential.
Marangu also touched on the label of refugee, and how that creates vulnerability and often robs people of their dignity.
“I urge you, my fellow graduands, to educate the world to always recognize people as human beings rather than personifying their circumstances as being them,” he said. “You have a responsibility to make the world a better than you found it.”
By doing so, he said, every young person across the globe could be able to live their dreams, and contribute towards making the world a better and peaceful place for everyone.