While access to tertiary education sits at the core of the GEM offering, it can’t be ignored that many refugees and displaced persons also face many obstacles in securing employment. This challenge is further complicated by the effects of the global pandemic. To address this, GEM creates and supports initiatives that help prepare graduates for the workplace, or which create new employment opportunities.
As companies across the globe closed their offices, many students transitioned into virtual internship positions. During these internships, students honed their skills related to digital work tools, such as Zoom, Slack and a variety of modern software and hardware tools. Virtual internships vary according to organization and sector, with students interning as Research Assistant Interns to University of Barcelona professors, to Graphic Design and Videography Interns at the Carey Institute’s Center for Learning in Practice, and more.
Student virtual internship highlights
Fidele – Kiziba Camp, Rwanda
Research and Communications Coordinator
Kennia – Kigali, Rwanda
Data Management Assistant
Al Narjes – Tripoli, Lebanon
Monitoring and Evaluation Intern
Dimitri – Kigali, Rwanda
Content Specialist Intern
“The internship was a very exciting, informative and humbling experience. I learnt about the creation of content and putting users at the center of the thought process. Moreover, attention to detail and task management are among a few of the skills that I improved upon during the internship. Overall, it was a very interesting journey with the LRNG team!” – Dimitri
“Working with GEM has been a seamless process from beginning to end. The outcomes of having a GEM Intern working with the Learning Design & Assessment team resulted in wonderful collaborations, design thinking, and fresh perspectives that helped move our work forward.” – Alisa Tafoya, Dimitri’s Supervisor
With the closure of so many companies due to the impact of the global pandemic, many students had to forego their internships. In response, GEM initiated three internal internship programs that simulate the virtual work experience and provide students with the skills they need to succeed in the world of digital work.
1. Higher Education and Real-World Training Program
The first program GEM initiated is the “Higher Education and Real-World Training Program” in which the selected students spend two months working in teams on an assigned real-world challenge.
Every three months, GEM recruits about 50 students from different GEM sites in Rwanda, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya and Lebanon to work as interns on the project. During the internship, the students work as consultants for a real healthcare company facing a real problem.
Past challenges have included issues related to:
Healthcare communication strategies
Client data tracking systems
During the internship, students conduct research, collect and analyze data, and suggest the best solutions to address the assigned challenge. In addition to working on the assigned challenge, the interns also participate in weekly virtual professional development workshops that help strengthen the professional skills needed to complete their internship successfully.
2. COVID-19 Community Initiative Challenge (CIC)
The second program is the “COVID-19 Community Initiative Challenge”. While it is the aim of GEM to provide students with the necessary opportunities to develop the skills needed for the workplace to support employment, it also strives to have a positive impact on the larger community in which these students live and work. This program addresses both these aspects.
The global pandemic has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest threats to refugee communities this past year. The CIC guides students in identifying a COVID-19-related healthcare or business challenge in their community, then tackling that challenge by proposing and pitching a community project or initiative.
Some of these challenges include:
Weak water and sanitation systems
Insufficient access to quality healthcare
Unemployment and lack of opportunities to support families
In its pilot, the CIC worked with five groups to develop projects ranging from mass-masking initiatives for a secondary school in Rwanda’s Gihembe camp, to a mental health improvement initiative in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
Both these initiatives offered great opportunities for students to:
Apply the skills learned from their courses
Connect with their colleagues from other countries
Learn additional soft and professional skills needed for work
Challenge their thinking through solving community challenges
3. Participatory Action Research (PAR) Internship
The final internal internship program that the GEM team is running at the moment is the “Participatory Action Research (PAR)” internship.
This 4-month PAR internship provides students with background and instruction on how to conduct qualitative and quantitative research, then supervises and guides students as they conduct research within their local communities.
The aim of this initiative is to prepare students for the plethora of research-related work often available in refugee settings. With this experience and skills development, these students are ideally positioned to meet the demands of such opportunities, improving their chances of employment.
In its first iteration, 20 students completed the PAR internship. The internship is scheduled to run again in January 2021, this time with more than 40 student interns participating in the program.
In addition to supporting access to internship programs, GEM also encourages entrepreneurship as an avenue to employment for graduates as well as projects that promote the health, wellbeing and development of the community.
Dzaleka Entrepreneurship Center
SNHU President Paul LeBlanc and SNHU Board Members Arthur Sullivan, Peter Worrell and Rob Sullivan awarded Malawi-based SNHU GEM student Remy Gakwaya a gift of $96,000 in 2019. This was for the construction of an entrepreneurship center in Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp.
In 2020, Remy and his team purchased a piece of land and started construction on a learning center that will equip over 1,000 Malawians and refugees each year with technology, entrepreneurship and computer programming skills to help improve their livelihoods. In addition, they aim to create opportunities by funding creative businesses within the camp.
Kakuma Soap Factory
In 2019, a group of anonymous donors from the 2018/19 cohort of the Aspen Institute’s Ascend Fellows program donated $6,000 to Kenya-based SNHU GEM student Innocent Havyarimana. This was done to help him transform his small-scale soap business into a full-scale soap production factory.
Given the events of the past year related to the coronavirus pandemic, and the importance of hygiene in disease prevention, soap has been a health-related necessity. With the purchase of a new soap cutting machine from Nairobi, Innocent has been able to meet the demand for thousands of soap orders in the wake of the pandemic.
Globally, millions of people are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This challenge is even more pronounced for refugees and displaced persons, considering that an estimated 80% of them live in areas with poor health, water and sanitation systems.
In Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, the 200,000 refugees that live there are serviced by only five qualified doctors and no ventilators or intensive care beds. Furthermore, the pandemic has devastated the livelihoods of these people. For this community, preventive action is their most powerful weapon against the spread of the virus.
To help support his community and their health, Joseph Rugenyuza has pledged to make 100 masks a day for refugees in Kakuma and Kalobeyei to help stop the spread of COVID-19. He offers these masks for free, while also informing people about the importance of protecting themselves and each other – as well as to stay home to stay safe – via his Instagram account.
Arwa, Social Media Intern
Crochet Community Collective (CCC)
project at MAPs, Lebanon
Marah, Business Management Intern
Crochet Community Collective (CCC)
project at MAPs, Lebanon