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Future hopes - part one

In this series we talk to some of our students who have been given hope to start again with the Master’s Scholarship for Refugees and Displaced People from University of London.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Joel Odera Katang studying in Uganda
'I am passionate about humanitarian and development work and want to develop my skills and knowledge in this field'

Life for refugees or displaced people often seems to come to a standstill and the world they once knew can disappear overnight, having to leave their home, family, work and much more behind.

The scholarship, covering 100 percent of fees, was awarded to five postgraduate students to study the MA Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies, Global MBA and the LLM.

This year’s cohort started their studies at different stages, most students are still in their first year. Odera Joel Katang is at the beginning of his studies, he shares his experiences and hopes for the future.

Tell me a bit about where you are from and your education up to starting the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies with the University of London?

‘My family and I left South Sudan for Uganda in 2013 when the war broke out in the world’s youngest nation between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Government and those in opposition (commonly referred to as SPLA - IO).’

‘There after we got registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and settled in Kiryandongo Refugees Settlement Camp before starting the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies with the University of London. Kiryandongo refugee camp happens to be the refugee camp where I reside to-date.’

‘I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from Cavendish University Uganda (CUU) and have been yearning to develop my career in humanitarianism and development related courses. I even went as far visiting Makerere University and Uganda Martyrs University asking about similar courses. I found a course but had no money to finance the studies. Hence, I am very optimistic that my dream will become true with my MA programme at University of London.’

What was your reaction on being selected for this scholarship, and did you share the news with family or anyone else?

‘Yes of course! It was the happiest moment of my life. I first ran to my immediate supervisor and shared the good news with him. When I retired from work in the evening, I shared the sweet news with my wife, brother and dear mother. And lastly with our director at Refugee Law Project (RLP) Dr Chris Dolan because he circulated the information on the RLP staff email and encouraged us to try our luck with the scholarship.’

What motivated you to study this programme, and why did you choose the University of London?

‘I am passionate about humanitarian and development work and want to develop my skills and knowledge in this field to become a professional in the near future.

I grew up in the refugee camps. I had basic education and have survived on humanitarian aid till now without any stable source of income. I choose this kind of course to enable me to develop the necessary skills to help my fellow refugees in the future.

Apart from the scholarship, I picked the University of London because of the uniqueness of the programmes it offers, the flexibility to study, the quality of its academic staff and the mode of delivery for distance learning study. Meaning the university allows anyone to combine his or her studies with work or other commitments.’

Do you work while you study, and if you do, how do you fit your studies around your daily life?

‘When I had first joined the course, I was working for Refugee Law Project (RLP). When my contract with RLP came to an end, the organisation email address I used for my studies was blocked. I had to defer both the core modules for the year. Then with the help of tutor Nick Maple, he advised me to begin afresh this year when the issue of my email address was resolved. With my personal study time table, I’ve planned to set aside at least three hours per day for my studies.’

Do you use the forums on the Student Portal, do you join in, and is the platform helpful?

‘Yes, I do use the discussion forum on the Student Portal and join in the online discussions with my fellow students. The platform is useful because we are guided by a tutor and our tutor also encourages us to post our comments, arguments and critiques on it and comment on our fellow students’ works too. The module guides on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) are useful because they help me to schedule my study time well.’

Odera planting trees with a group of learners
Odera plants trees with the English for Adults Learners group to mitigate climate change.

Do you have any experiences of working with refugees from other countries?

‘Yes, I worked with and came into contact with refugees from other countries like Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi when I was working for Refugee Law Project as a Community English for Adults Facilitator (CEFAF). My major role was to facilitate the English language class to the adult refugees from these countries.’

‘Besides facilitating language, I shared experiences of what it is like to be a displaced person. Some of the topics were the language barrier. Most of the refugees who settled in the Kiryandongo camp come from Arabic, Kiswahili and French speaking countries and knew little English. In Uganda, English is widely spoken. Consequently, life is difficult for the refugees from these countries.’

‘For the above reason, the RLP came up with the Community English for Adults programme to help refugees from non-English speaking countries learn the language and to integrate into the host community better.'

What do you think the challenges are, if any, for studying are?

‘There are massive challenges such as the financial hardship because in other countries like Uganda, refugees are not given good jobs even if they are qualified and competent enough. Hence, acquiring some essential materials to aid my studies like computer, internet and other equipment is always a challenge.’

‘Transport from my home at the camp to the library is also a huge challenge because of the distance. Lack of well stocked libraries in the camps and lack of good network coverage as many refugee camps are situated in remote areas. These are vital to students to access their Student Portal and learning material uploaded on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).’

'Access to an examination centre is also difficult. For my case, Nick Maple and the team are planning to open a special case examination centre here in Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement Camp for my examinations through the Windle Trust International Uganda programme. Alternatively there is the British Council in Kampala with help from the University of London.’

What are your future plans or career aspirations when you finish the course?

'If all goes well I aim to finish my programme by October 2021 and to become a consultant in refugee protection and forced migration. One of my future plans is to help the states across the globe to improve on migration policy and reduce suffering of forced migrants.

And to manage work with the refugees in the camps, and the chance to get good jobs with the international humanitarian agencies working with the refugees and forced migrants like UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC) among others.'

More information

The MA Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies is designed for anyone who wishes to pursue careers in a range of professional contexts in the refugee, human rights or humanitarian fields.

Windle International Kenya – a non-governmental organization with focus on education for conflict affected communities.

Nicholas Maple teaches the core module An Introduction to Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (biography is on the page).