Home > Feature > Walking with Refugees on World Refugee Day

We are witnessing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded.

In a world where nearly 1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution, we all need to be mindful of the global situation. With the advent of new technology and social media, the world has become smaller and more accessible and we cannot ignore the plight of the millions of refugees in our world. We need to walk with refugees and take a step in their shoes to show our solidarity.

“There are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. 25.9 million of these are refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. That’s over five times the population of Ireland. Today, World Refugee Day, let each one of us think of the five refugees that correspond to us,” said Misean Cara CEO Heydi Foster, “children whose education has been interrupted, adults whose livelihoods have been shattered. Let us hope for better lives for all of them.”

“Today, I’d like to celebrate the wonderful Three2Six Education Project in South Africa, run by the Marist Brothers, with support from Misean Cara. The Brothers help children from central and southern Africa to rebuild shattered lives, bringing back a sense of hope, a sense of a future.”

57% of UNHCR refugees come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. While contrary to popular belief and xenophobic rhetoric the top five refugee-hosting countries are: (1) Germany, (2) Sudan, (3) Uganda, (4) Pakistan and (5) Turkey.

While the South African government has made strong commitments to uphold the rights of refugee children in three key documents, the Constitution, the Children’s Act and as a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In South Africa, refugee and migrant children under 18 are entitled to protection under these commitments. The stark reality is that many refugee children are refused access to local schools due to difficulty registering for school without identity documents, language barriers, extreme poverty and xenophobia. 

This results in thousands of unschooled refugee children in Johannesburg not registered at schools and sitting at home, because they cannot access state schools. Furthermore, there are many qualified teachers from other African countries in South Africa, however, many are unemployed or unable to find reasonable employment as teachers and are often underpaid. 

Founded in 2008, the Three2Six project has had a high success rate improving their student’s English and Mathematics skills and at helping them to register at state schools. In 10 years, more than 2,000 children have studied with the Three2Six project. Of these 527 children have graduated from the Three2Six Project and transitioned into mainstream schools. The Three2Six Project has managed to provide its services to a diverse range of cultural and linguistic communities. In 2018 students originated from the following countries – Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Student stories

Divine is a bright, articulate and energetic young woman, who attends the Vaal University of Technology along with thousands of others. However, her journey to tertiary education wasn’t straightforward.

Seven year old Divine arrived in South Africa with her family in 2007. They had fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and travelled down to South Africa seeking safety and refuge. When they arrived, Divine was not accepted into any local schools because she arrived mid-year and she could not speak English. Her family was informed about the new Three2Six Refugee Children’s Education Project and when the project opened its doors Divine was one of the first learners enrolled.

Divine remembers coping well with Maths but finding learning in the new language, English, very challenging. However, she persevered and by the time she completed Grade 6 in the project, she was thriving. Divine went on to do very well at her new school, Yeoville Community School and then obtained excellent marks at Athlone Girls High School, enabling her to be accepted into University.

“The 4 years I passed in the project have made me the person I am today,” said Divine, “it has been the greatest step I have made in my life and the foundation of my education process. The Three2Six Project has done so much for me that my own words are not enough to express. I am grateful to them.”

Randry, from Burundi, was one of the first Three2Six Project students and remained with the project for four years. He has now finished his Grade 12 at the Sacred Heart College. 

“[My experience at Three2Six] was very remarkable, I began my first grade in the Three2Six Project and they welcomed me,” said Randry, “they were very welcoming, they had remarkable things to teach us…and they treated us very well.”

“And they gave us lunch in the afternoon…and they took care of us, they gave us uniforms, they made sure that we learned what we had to learn. They gave us remarkable education as refugees because we refugees, we are not accepted by government schools, we are not recognised. Three2Six took us in and they recognised us as children that were in need of education. Three2Six has opened doors for me.”

Paul, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was a Three2Six learner for two years. He is currently on scholarship at the Sacred Heart College.

“I learnt a lot [during my two years at Three2Six] because I met people from more countries so I experienced different cultures and also we were taught different languages,” said Paul, “[the most remarkable experience for me is that] I was taught mostly perseverance, it is always persevere, go for what you want for in life, no matter the situation, just work hard and focus on your goal.”

Photo caption: The Three2Six Education Project provides a bridging education programme to over 200 refugee, asylum seeker and migrant children in Johannesburg, South Africa, and gives them back a childhood. Photo: Three2Six.