By Kim Stock
Last weekend a workshop aimed to educate students about refugee issues and the Refugee Student Sponsorship Program was held at the University of Calgary.
The workshop was organized by World University Service of Canada members Tina Antle and Robin Hansen.
"We needed to have a workshop because the Refugee Student Sponsorship Program at the university has been going on for about 15 years, but it doesn’t have a very high awareness level," said Hansen. "A lot of people don’t even know that 50 cents of their SU fees go toward it."
Affiliated with WUSC, the program is designed to give refugee students the opportunity to continue their post-secondary education at universities and colleges across Canada. WUSC also aims to help socially, emotionally and financially integrate the refugee student into his/her new environment.
U of C students sponsor one student every year.
Although the focus of the workshop was to raise awareness, it was aimed at WUSC members to understand refugee issues.
"[It was] a chance to share ideas, brainstorm how to improve the [WUSC] program on campus, and to share our passion for refugee issues," said Antle.
Several speakers donated their time, including Charlene Libert-Scott from the Immigration and Refugee Board, Penny Clipperton from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Antoinette Godbout of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.
Discussion covered what qualifies a person as a refugee and the legal and moral responsibilities of sponsorship.
The workshop took place under the pretense of preparing to sponsor a refugee student for this year.
"For circumstances beyond our control, we are not sponsoring a student this year," said Antle. "We found out last week that the student wouldn’t be coming. We’re really disappointed."
One refugee student, Morris Batali from Sudan, participated in the program. Now a member of WUSC and in his last year of International Relations at the U of C, Batali speaks favourably of the program.
"I think I have gained something from this program," he said. "To come and be at the university and get my degree."
Batali believes more people should get involved with the program, though, through workshops, such as the one held on the weekend.
Not only do WUSC members wish to raise the level of consciousness for the program, but they hope to expand and strengthen it as well.
"The U of C likes to market itself as a very internationally-minded institution, which is great on a number of levels, however I think the Refugee Sponsorship Program is one side of it’s internationalism that should and could be expanded," said Hansen.
Hansen also suggested increasing the levy to one or two dollars each year.
For more information on WUSC or the Refugee Student Sponsorship Program, contact Tina Antle at 283-9127, e-mail WUSC@ucalgary.ca or check out the WUSC website at www.WUSC.ca.