By Polly Akhurst
For the past five years, Amala has worked with young people who are displaced. During this time, we have learned how much displaced youth value opportunities to continue their education. At the same time, we have seen the complex challenges that refugee children and young people often face.
Here are some things to keep in mind when receiving and supporting students displaced by war.
Being displaced is traumatising. Often, it is only when a person is out of the traumatic situation that they are able to process what has happened to them. Entering into environments that are safe and supportive can often allow the trauma to emerge.
It is vitally important to consider what psychosocial support your school can provide, and whether this can be provided in the mother tongue of the student. Providing a scholarship may not be enough if it does not come with psychological support that will enable the student to heal in order to learn.
The home lives of students and their families who have been displaced by war can be very volatile. For students who have recently been displaced, housing and accommodation will likely be a huge concern. In addition to this, their parents may not be legally allowed to work, causing financial worries. This can result in complex home-life situations. If not addressed, financial concerns may mean that school-age children need to drop out of school to do low-wage jobs to support their parents.
It may be necessary to become more directly involved in finding ways to support the wider families of the students you are supporting by reaching out to your school community networks for accommodation and jobs.
Displacement, as we have seen in the Ukraine–Russia war, can happen very suddenly. Unlike most students, it’s important to keep in mind that displaced students will not have had time to consider the move to a new country.
It will take time for them to adapt to a new culture and situation, let alone a new language of learning which is often the case. First impressions count – here, it is important to consider how your school makes these new students feel welcome and cared for right from the beginning.
Things we may think of as ‘basic’ – for example, clothes, shoes, notepads, pens – are things students may not have. Does your school have a swap shop or collection where students can access these items?
Take a holistic view
Our overall advice is to try to look at the student’s reality holistically, considering carefully what they have experienced and the situation they will currently be living in. This will enable you to put in place the support a student will need to succeed.
Polly Akhurst is the Co-founder and Co-Executive Director of Amala, a not-for-profit organisation that uses the power of education to transform the lives of refugees and their communities. Connect with Polly on LinkedIn.