Photo courtesy of PARD 

Rahaf Hajj Ibrahim (right), 10, is a Syrian refugee living with her family in Beirut, Lebanon. She is currently in Grade 3 and has her education supplemented by MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), which provides educational and psychosocial support for young refugee children.

It was a cold November morning in 1979. Ten-year-old Vinh Huynh sat in the principal’s office of Birtle Elementary School. It was his first day at the school in the small western Manitoba town. He didn’t speak English. But when he thinks back to what he felt that day, he fondly remembers the warmth that Principal Marshall showed him, trying to create a space for a young refugee to learn in a drastically new environment.

His family was sponsored for resettlement in Canada by a group based in the small town of Birtle, Man. They were part of the exodus of refugees fleeing Vietnam and Southeast Asia in the years following the end of the Vietnam War. The kindness of his principal that first day at school kindled Huynh’s existing love of learning and helped shape the course of his life.

Today, he sits on the other side of the principal’s desk as the head administrator for Winnipeg’s Gordon Bell High School.

Vinh Huynh, his wife Rebecca Braun-Huynh, and their children (l to r) Mai-Anh, 13, Tai, 11, and Lien, 15, at a wedding in 2019. Photo courtesy of Vinh Huynh.Photo courtesy of Vinh Huynh

Huynh’s story is one that millions of refugee children can relate to. Unless they receive help, millions of children will completely miss their chance at an education that could change their life. Nearly half of all school-age refugee children have no access to any education. And when people can be displaced for 20 years or more, there is little hope for many refugee children to receive education in their lifetime.

But someone like you can change that. By sponsoring a refugee family through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), you can help keep kids in school.

Huynh’s experience with international students isn’t only being a principal to newcomers—he’s also opened his home for MCC International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) participants for more than a decade. He knows firsthand the impact that a good education and support can make on young people, particularly newcomers. 

“These students already have skills and abilities, so how can we provide opportunities for them to acquire the academic language and understanding to demonstrate the talents they already have,” says Huynh.

While some newcomer students have been in school before, others are learning to navigate formal education for the first time. He says due to their experience as refugees, these students often require more time to meet Canadian education standards, but that they’re always capable of meeting those standards if given a little more time and support. 

And for millions of refugee children, resettlement sponsorship is the only chance they’ll have to get an education.

Brian Dyck is the national migration and resettlement program coordinator for MCC. He says he’s seen firsthand the power that education has on young newcomers.

“Education is really important, and it is always exciting to watch children who are refugees come to Canada and blossom when given this opportunity,” says Dyck, adding that sponsorship also benefits the communities where refugees resettle. “Sponsoring a family with young children can provide that opportunity, but our communities also benefit from the adults these students become.”

Hundreds of people, communities and church groups have sponsored refugees in Canada with the support of MCC. Sponsors provide financial support for housing, food and other basic needs for the family’s first year living in Canada and help in any number of other ways.

And while, formally, sponsorship is a one-year commitment, the relationships that are formed are often transforming and everlasting. You can help a child with a story like Huynh’s get the opportunity to receive the education they need to follow their dreams.

If you want to learn more about how you can support or sponsor refugee resettlement and ensure refugee children have access to the education they need, visit mcccanada.ca/refugees.