Creating scholarships for Afghan refugees

By Ademar Bechtold and Quentin Wodon, Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration

Quentin Wodon

The number of refugees globally has been steadily rising. The ongoing war in Ukraine has created an even larger humanitarian crisis with millions of displaced people. There is much that Rotary clubs are doing, and can be doing, to help the resettlement of refugees.

About a month ago, Ademar and I joined a combined board meeting of our Rotary Action Group and the Rotary Fellowship for Global Development, discussing what could be done to help the resettlement of Afghan refugees in the United States. Ademar, a professor of economics at Notre Dame of Maryland University, suggested his university might be able to provide one or two scholarships for Afghan youth. We all thought this would be a brilliant idea.

As many as 100,000 Afghans may eventually resettle in the U.S. The government-funded Afghan Parolee Assistance program provides support to Afghan refugees for a minimum of 90 days, including for housing and food, enrolling children in school, and finding employment. But the program does not include support for Afghan youth to further their education. There is a need for colleges and universities to support the resettlement effort by providing scholarships and other types of assistance to qualified young Afghan women and men.

A week later, Ademar and I met with Dr. Marylou Yam, president of the university, to share the idea. Dr. Yam was enthusiastic about educating refugees because it resonated with the mission of the university. Founded in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland was the first Catholic college for women in the United States to award the baccalaureate degree. It has been leading the way in women’s education ever since.

Helping Afghan refugees is a great fit for the university’s mission “to educate leaders to transform the world.” The university challenges its students to build inclusive communities, engage in service to others, and promote social responsibility. While the university’s traditional undergraduate Women’s College serves those interested in a single-sex education, it also meets the needs of adult women and men through career-focused undergraduate and graduate programs designed around their real-life schedules.

The University generously committed to provide two full tuition scholarships for young Afghan women. As Rotarians, we will make sure that Afghan youth in the Baltimore area and elsewhere are aware of this new opportunity by sharing information and contacting specific groups working with the refugees.

Both Ademar and I benefited from Rotary in our youth. We both joined Rotaract (Ademar in Brazil, me in Belgium). Ademar received an Ambassadorial scholarship from Rotary to study in the US, and I visited British Columbia for a summer through a Rotary exchange program. We are both very happy that in a small way, our engagement with Rotary has helped make these scholarships available.

If you know Afghan refugees who may be interested in studying at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore, please contact us through the website of the Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration. If you know of other universities who might want to help in the resettlement effort and would like our help contacting refugees, please reach out as well.

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