By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
The story of a refugee begins with “hope”, in search of a better life to find freedom, protection and welcome. The Living Water Community (LWC) strives to keep this hope alive and its ‘School of Hope’ is one initiative. It meets a need which has arisen with the influx of refugees—education; refugee children cannot access public education.
To facilitate outreach to children in different areas the LWC received a ten-seater Toyota HiAce van from the US Embassy. A ribbon cutting ceremony for the handing over of the vehicle and in honour of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, took place December 20 at the St Dominic’s Pastoral Centre, Diego Martin.
US Ambassador Joseph Mondello, LWC co-foundress Rhonda Maingot and Rochelle Nakhid, LWC’s co-ordinator, Ministry for Migrants and Refugees spoke at the event. Vicar for the Northern Vicariate Fr Christopher Lumsden offered prayers.
Maingot said for the past 30 years the LWC’s work with refugees involved a few persons. However, she recognised that “in the last three, four, five years, more and more people are coming including …many, many children”. Refugee children have not been able to get an education and this prompted the opening of the School of Hope.
While it has been doing a “wonderful job” it cannot keep up with the number of children coming weekly. She estimated there were more than 500 children. Maingot said the LWC ministry working with the Embassy, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hopes to visit parishes and communities to have “child-friendly spaces” for refugee children.
“To do this we need to have a vehicle…a little education unit going out into the various areas,” Maingot said.
Ambassador Mondello was delighted to support the important work being done by the LWC, especially in assisting refugee and asylum seekers. He recognised it was not easy and not any easier with the events in Venezuela.
Observing that the LWC had been “thrust into the forefront of this crisis” he noted the good work “helping refugees access medical care, delivering food assistance, finding new ways to address the need for education, and much more”.
In an interview with media, Nakhid said the ideal was for refugee children to integrate with the local population in public schools. The LWC is willing to assist the Education ministry and teachers. “We are willing to help the Ministry of Education, we can help teachers learn how to integrate speakers of a second language in the classroom.”
Refugee children do not meet the requirements under The Immigration Act to qualify for a student permit to enter the education system, although “there is a right to education and our Children Act does not discriminate by nationality”, Nakhid said.
She explained the child-friendly spaces in parishes will give integrated service: education, health, psychosocial activities. Refugee children range in age from babies to 18 years. Nakhid said there were even some who came as unaccompanied and separated children*. “That is a challenge as well, we are trying to open a home for them”, she commented.
*According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: “Unaccompanied children are defined as children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so (Article 22). Separated children are children who have been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives (Article 9).”