3.D Students helping students through unique settlement programs
Name of Sponsoring Group: World University Services Canada (WUSC)
Type of Sponsoring Group: Sponsorship Agreement Holder
Number of Sponsors in Group: Approximately 80 campuses sponsor, with a minimum of 5 volunteers per sponsoring group.
Sponsoring Since: 1978. WUSC has been sponsoring student refugees through other immigration mechanisms since the 1950s.
Sponsoring Group Description: Primarily composed of college or university student volunteers, with staff or faculty support.
Interviewee: Michelle Manks
What is WUSC?
World University Services Canada (WUSC) is a non-profit international development organization that works to improve education, employment, and empowerment opportunities for youth around the world. Through the Student Refugee Program (SRP), WUSC delivers a unique youth-to-youth refugee settlement program that combines sponsorship with post-secondary education, and puts Canadian institutions and students at the heart of the funding and support structure. WUSC has sponsored over 1,700 students to date.
How does the WUSC program work?
WUSC posts a call for applications for the SRP in specific countries of asylum where we have strong partnerships (currently Kenya, Malawi, Jordan, and Lebanon). We accept applications through partners on the ground, who screen the applications and administer language assessments (as proficiency in English or French is required for studies in Canada). Interviews are conducted by WUSC staff and members of UNHCR and/or NGO partners who deliver education programming in the host country. Once students are selected, they follow a pre-departure curriculum (including English or French classes) offered by WUSC and partners to prepare them for studies and resettlement to Canada.
How has WUSC supported refugees historically?
Since its origins, WUSC has used a unique campus-based funding model which combines tuition waivers granted by the institutions with a student tax that supports the living expenses of each refugee student. It is an interesting opportunity for Canadian youth to meet and interact with young people from around the world, and deepen their understanding of global issues while also helping them develop their cross-cultural competencies and communication skills.
How has the program evolved to what it is today?
Over the past four decades, the program has grown from having one sponsoring campus to nearly 80 participating institutions annually, and from one student per year to 150. In recent years, campuses have increased the number of students they each sponsor, and a growing number of college and polytechnic institutions have joined the program.
How is WUSC’s sponsorship program structured?
WUSC is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) and WUSC student groups known as “Local Committees” act as the organization’s Constituent Groups. Each group must have a minimum of five committed volunteers to be approved for sponsorship.
How are students involved in sponsoring refugees?
Student groups act as the official sponsors in our model of refugee sponsorship, and are responsible for all aspects of the sponsorship, from securing the necessary funding (via Memoranda of Understanding with the administration which commit to waiver agreements, and student levies that are collected following WUSC-led referendums), to providing the social and integration support to the incoming refugee student each year.
What is unique about your program?
There are several aspects that are unique:
· It is the only program in the world that combines resettlement with post-secondary education;
· It is the only youth-to-youth, peer-support resettlement program, and engages post-secondary institutions and alumni of the program in refugee sponsorship;
· We offer a minimum of 12 months of pre-departure training to the refugee youth who have been selected for the program, including advanced language classes (and the TOEFL/IELTS test), in depth cultural orientations and introductions to the Canadian academic system;
· In Canada, youth-led sponsoring groups are heavily involved in public engagement campaigns that aim to foster greater understanding and generate public support for refugee sponsorship; and
· Pre-established part-time employment opportunities are offered on campus as part of the sponsorship.
What is the experience of arrival and the refugees’ first weeks like?
Refugee students arrive as a cohort (all together by country of asylum) in late August and are welcomed by their sponsoring groups at the airport. If they arrive before their room in the university or college residence is ready, they typically stay with a student volunteer and/or their family for the first few weeks. Before school starts, the sponsoring group provides the new student with an orientation to their campus and community, and helps them open a bank account and complete all of the paperwork required of new residents of Canada: applications for provincial health care, for a social insurance number, for their permanent I.D., etc. In early September, students begin their classes (often a reduced course load in the first semester), and meet with their sponsoring group at least once per week on campus.
How do you find accessing settlement services in your community?
As our sponsorships are linked to post-secondary institutions, most services that are usually offered by settlement service organizations are typically accessed on campus through the office that supports international students or other offices that support students: cultural and city orientations, employment services, mentorship programs, housing support, healthcare, counselling, health insurance, bus passes, etc. WUSC students seldom use the settlement services in the community.
What is the best part of your sponsorship experience?
The personal connections and friendships, the learning opportunities provided, working with youth (both those in Canada and the refugee youth) and within a network of individuals who are passionate about creating equal opportunities and welcoming communities, the incredible and inspiring individuals sponsored through the program.