Education plays a key role in a Sri Lankan refugee child’s life, for it is the basis for future independence and empowerment. OfERR firmly believes in building human capital and harnessing it to make the world a better place. OfERR’s advocacy with the state and central government which continues every academic year has ensured free education for 22,994 refugee students who are currently enrolled in educational institutions across Tamil Nadu. Higher education in professional courses remained a challenge. The Ecumenical Scholarship Program was launched in 1998 to nurture the goals of young refugee students by providing higher education scholarships for courses in medicine, engineering, arts and science courses and mentoring students on community development. The OfERR-ESP programs aims for “a literate and capable refugee youth community who can return and contribute to the rebuilding process of their homeland, Sri Lanka”.
Between 2013 and 2015, nearly 2,000 refugee students were given higher education scholarships with the assistance of the BSK Loan Program and the Chelvanayakam foundation, thereby considerably reducing the financial burden on parents who would have otherwise had to opt for exorbitant loans from moneylenders. These students can now choose from diverse employment prospects both in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka, and are protected from risks such as migrant smuggling. With a high success rate (over 85% of scholarship holders graduated without arrears, while only 15% have standing arrears), several graduates from the ESP scheme went on to find employment immediately after graduation. They continue to do us proud by not just excelling in their studies but also paying it forward by conducting coaching classes for junior students in the refugee camps. Scholarship awardees conduct evening coaching classes on a voluntary basis for 10th and 12th standard students in the camp. 3,290 students benefited from this coaching resulting in outstanding results that were on par with local students.
In light of this positive chain reaction and the heartening improvement in the prospects of refugee students, OfERR renews its commitment to the Ecumenical Scholarship Program despite the challenges in funding. With more and more students applying for the ESP scholarship following OfERR’s career guidance and counseling program, the dream of a high quality education for refugee students can only come true with your help.