Towards Active and Democratic Student Engagement within CLCCKakuma, Dadaab, Kuala Lumpur, Kigali, and Kiziba
Purdue UniversityAuthor: Dhinesh Radhakrishnan
On 25th January 2019, at the CLCC meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, a formal discussion was initiated on the need for student engagement within CLCC, which resulted in the formation of a task force. The task force led by Purdue University was formed to identify student leaders from the member organizations and engage them throughout the year to develop the systems and structure for student engagement based on the needs identified by the students themselves. The student engagement task force was formed for one year to coordinate the discussions and tasks necessary to establish a student committee within CLCC. The aims of SETF are the identification of student leaders across the membership, seeking the consultation of similar student bodies, facilitating discussion, and advise on the student committee creation process. Currently, ten student members from four CLCC member organizations (BHER, InZone, Kepler, OUR) and five sites (Kakuma, Dadaab, Kuala Lumpur, Kigali, and Kiziba) have collaborated to fulfill the tasks of the SETF.
According to the Global Refugee Youth Consultations, “Refugee youth are often neglected in the dedicated programmatic responses of the UN, NGOs, and other organizations working in humanitarian situations. Youth have skills, abilities, and needs that are rarely fully recognized. There is a need, therefore, to reach out and hear from them about the challenges they face, their aspirations, and what support they need to shape positive futures.” (pp.2). CLCC is the only higher education in the emergencies consortium that must address this gap by integrating students into its goals and operations. Refugee students who are elected democratically represent their communities’ perspectives and voices, providing a realistic picture of the field operations and thereby enhance the knowledge gathered and actions taken by organizations implementing higher education programs in crisis contexts. By having students engage in CLCC allows students to gather the bigger picture of the operations, and the decision-making done by organizations.
During this year, democratically elected SETF members met virtually four times, and continue to discuss via WhatsApp to meet the deliverables planned. Also, the students virtually led a session during the CLCC meeting in Copenhagen. The students emphasized on equitable representation and opportunity for students within CLCC and noted that the SETF is a well-thought first step in the right direction. The students were able to provide feedback to members organizations such as addressing the unique needs of refugee students, the need for learning materials to be co-designed with students, and ensuring diversity in the nascent CLCC student body.
As the first-ever student-led activity within CLCC, there is a consistent on-the-task learning experience for the SETF. Students within the SETF continue to grapple with the conflicting ideas of feedback vs. action, and the power held by SETF to share thoughts vs. act. Democratically elected students are pressured by representing their communities to their fullest while also acting to fulfill CLCC’s mission. At SETF, we have learned that both the goals could align well and be satisfied if students are engaged as equal partners and provided opportunities to represent themselves.
Organizations without a student body or representatives’ part of the SETF are recommended to consider holding a democratic election process and elect student representatives. By having a student leadership, a better working relationship between the organization and students is developed, and further students can be empowered to play a significant role in aligning organizational efforts to meet individual needs. Gentille Dusenge, an elected leader from Kepler, Kiziba, currently part of SETF said: “SETF is an opportunity to empower us as refugees to solve our own problems for better living conditions through education specifically.”