When Raymond Khaled John Al-Hajana, a 12-year-old refugee from Sudan, was ready to start school in Egypt in 2016, he did not have enough education to go to class with youth his own age.
Instead, he needed to learn skills and information that children are taught in early primary grades.
Like many Sudanese refugees who had lost years of schooling to war and conflict, he was just too old to start his education in Egyptian schools.
But in Egypt, St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education, with support from MCC, provides a rare opportunity for Al-Hajana and other Sudanese students to catch up.
Refuge Egypt photo/Monica Mehaffey
This is just one of the ways that MCC is reaching out to young people whose families have fled from home.
In Lebanon, MCC partners with a kindergarten that gives young Syrian refugees new chances to learn and grow. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, students in camps for displaced people can continue their schooling, and an additional program in Egypt supports early childhood enrichment for Sudanese refugees.
Refugees identify education for their children as a top priority says Lynn Longenecker, MCC education coordinator.
"It provides a safe place for children to begin healing from their trauma and develop skills to eventually earn a living and become contributors and leaders in their communities.
“If I imagine myself in a similar situation, this is what I’d want for my own children. So supporting these opportunities is for me a way of following Jesus’ call to love my neighbour as myself. Or more specifically … it’s a way to love my neighbour’s child as I’d love my own.”
Photo courtesy of House of Light and Hope
Raphael Center is in Nasr City, a district of Egypt’s capital city Cairo where many Sudanese refugees have settled. The school is run by Sudanese educators who are refugees themselves and understand the upheavals students have faced. Classes are in Sudanese Arabic, a dialect that is more familiar to the refugee children than Egyptian Arabic.
And because numerous older students, not just Al-Hajana, need primary education, teachers have figured out how to fast track learning for them.
Al-Hajana’s father, Khaled John Al-Hajana Tutu, enrolled his son and his two younger daughters at St. Raphael. Four years later, at 16, his son passed the test to enter secondary classes.
“St. Raphael’s School provides a good education for my children and enhances their self-confidence,” Al-Hajana Tutu says. “The teachers are also experienced in teaching, and the school has a good reputation in the region.”
He works long hours to support his family but manages to eke out enough money to pay tuition. And MCC, along with other supporting organizations, provides assistance to the school through Serve Egypt, a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.
St. Raphael is one of the largest Sudanese schools in the area, with about 230 students.
Students who finish their secondary education at St. Raphael can take the Sudanese Certificate Examination through the Sudanese embassy in Egypt. Those who pass are qualified to apply to Egyptian universities.
At the end of the 2020–2021 school year, 25 students from St. Raphael passed the Grade 8 exam, allowing them to continue studying in secondary school.
MCC supports education projects because they provide so much more than the learning of lessons, says Karen Friesen, MCC representative in Egypt with her husband, John Friesen. They are from Manitoba and North Carolina.
“Schools like St. Raphael provide sanctuary and care for the vulnerable, persecuted, marginalized and poor,” she says. “These education projects seek not only to educate but also to daily nurture dignity, resilience and hope for students, families, and communities who are strangers in the land.”
Nevertheless, not all Sudanese refugees want to take advantage of educational opportunities.
Some parents are just focused on how to figure out how to adapt to life in a new country and plan for the future. Others are waiting to enroll their children in school once they are relocated to a third country.
Sudanese youth — many of whom are struggling with trauma from the violence they experienced and dislocation from their homes — have been experiencing high rates of teenage pregnancy and drinking and drug use. Some find a place to belong in street gangs.
“While the street teaches you about crime, looting, theft, drug addiction and other illegal acts, the school changes your life for the better.”"
- Raymond Khaled John Al-Hajana, student
While students are at St. Raphael, the staff work hard to give youth like Al-Hajana a sense of belonging and safety. The school also has a partnership with St. Raphael Center, where priests offer counselling and other services to help students and their families.
“School keeps you away from many problems,” says Al-Hajana. “It also fills your free time and also directs you to the right path and to be a successful person in the future.
“While the street teaches you about crime, looting, theft, drug addiction and other illegal acts, the school changes your life for the better.”
Top photo caption: Vera Khaled John, left foreground, attends class at St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education. She is the younger sister of Al-Hajana. Read more about her in Hello, the children's page in Winter 2022 A Common Place.
Refuge Egypt photo/Monica Mehaffey