GEM has partnered with Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) in Dzaleka refugee camp since 2018, serving refugee and Malawian learners alike. The camp is situated within the hills of the Dowa District of Malawi, where a majority of residents – over 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers from the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries – live on less than $1 a day.

Many learners in GEM’s program have both families and “incentive-based” employment that compete with their time for study. As a result, GEM’s graduates in Malawi are experts in both perseverance and time management. The competency-based degree program enables these learners to succeed by giving them a way to study and learn at their own pace.


The GEM and JWL partnership aims to address the challenges faced by refugee students, which include:

Transport/distance from learning center

Gender equity (for women)

Access to healthcare

Lack of right to work for refugees

Internet connectivity

Access to childcare

Natural disasters


Average 4-year graduation rate for GEM students in Malawi

Average 4-year graduation rate for US public universities

Average 4-year graduation rate for US private universities

Average global MOOC completion rate


2020 total students enrolled


Female to male gender ratio


Average age


Languages spoken
(other than English)

With children
Working while studying
1st generation student

GEM’s average cost per student per year


US public in-state average cost per student per year


US public out-of-state average cost per student per year


US private average cost per student per year


COVID-19 makes school life even harder

Van Christopher, GEM Student from JWL Dzaleka

The year of 2019 went well, until we heard of COVID-19. At first, it came as a rumor that it’s spreading in China, but soon it was found all over the world. It was terrifying. It felt like it was the end of the world seeing that there was no cure, while thousands are getting infected each and every day.

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    Something we heard as a story came into reality when the whole country went into lockdown – cities and state borders were blocked, and schools were closed. It felt like we were floating at sea, but none of us knew how to swim. We had nowhere to run and we had no choice but to face the challenge head on.

    As students in Malawi studying at SNHU – I’m pursuing my BA in business with a concentration in Public Administration – we were told that things have changed, but we have to continue studying. Learning from home is a very difficult thing to do for many students, not because we can’t do it but because the environment is not suitable for studying.

    I remember a certain time I had an interview with my professor. There was a lot happening in the background – kids crying, the sound of music and movies from neighbors, cars passing by – these all created a very poor environment to be in when working on my academics. As a result, I wasn’t able to communicate clearly with my professor. Not only that, but to focus on academics is really hard, because there are a lot of distractions around and most often I can only work well at night when it seems a little quieter for me to focus.

    Furthermore, I found myself in an unknown situation. I lost my part-time job, my only source of income, businesses stopped, and the prices of things went higher than expected. Many people lost their jobs and their hopes at the same time. Everybody wondered where to go, in the most stressful time many believers couldn’t even go to church or to the mosque, because all gathering places were shut down. Everybody was living as a prisoner in their own home, because even moving around was a crime.

    As a student, I had to think of how I can utilize the time and materials to focus on my studies. Sometimes, because of all the academic work, the internet bundles provided weren’t enough for all work submissions and research for the whole month. Also, when you encounter an urgent problem that you need help with, it’s really hard to meet your supervisor directly, thus some urgent problems can’t be solved quickly.

    To find solutions for some of these problems wasn’t easy, but we had to adjust. During the day, I had to go to a nearby mountain with some green trees and a refreshing breeze for me to stay focused without any distractions. In case of urgent matters, we created different online groups where we could discuss any issues that came up. There was no guarantee that you would get a response right away, but still, it was better than nothing. I would also wake up early in the morning when it’s quiet, probably around 2am, and work on my academics.

    What motivated me most and made me succeed academically, regardless of all challenges, was faith over fear.

    Academically I was progressing, but now I was financially humiliated because I could hardly pay my rent, due to the lockdown. I searched for online jobs, but to no avail. That’s when I started a small business of editing other students’ papers and essays. I also became what I called “911”: I could explain the course content to students where they are finding it difficult to understand and assist with other urgent issues. It wasn’t enough, but at least I was getting something. We’re all still hoping for the best.

SNHU’s Dzaleka students transcend limitations with creative employment pathways

Emmanuel, GEM Student from JWL Dzaleka

In a refugee camp, the only way to describe life is “tough”. Living as a refugee isn’t easy and survival requires more effort than life elsewhere normally would. But the greatest challenge is to maintain hope that your situation will improve – and that you can continue to overcome the obstacles life in the camp brings. In Malawi’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp, we take every day as it comes.

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    Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do before heading to school is read a quote from a motivational speaker. I have found inspiration in a quote from Ambrose Redmoon who says:

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that what we want is far more important than that fear.”

    I want more than my refugee status tells me I deserve. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees stipulates that refugees should have at least the basic rights of access to public education and wage-earning employment. However, many refugee host countries have not granted these rights and have instead limited refugees to the opportunities within the boundaries of the camps. Here in Malawi, refugees do not have the right to freely work or attend public school.

    Dzaleka refugee camp is very small, congested, and surrounded by local villages. This means that refugees also lack access to agricultural land as well as the urban economy. As a result, most refugees rely entirely on food aid and other external assistance. In the camp, some individuals were qualified doctors, engineers, and architects in their home countries. But here in Dzaleka, they sit idle.

    Watching them, the thought of leading an unfulfilled life because of my status and not being able to support my family terrifies me. As the oldest child in my family, I have a responsibility to pave the way for my younger siblings. For me, the path I want to clear for them is one that leads to education and meaningful employment.

    My colleagues and I here in Dzaleka are committed to transcending the limitations of our refugee status and finding creative ways to access the rights we deserve. For me, the possibility lies online. It is through the internet that I was able to attend university, and now it is through remote work that I can earn a living.

    I am currently enrolled in a scholarship program at Southern New Hampshire University’s Global Education Movement (GEM), pursuing an undergraduate Bachelor’s Degree program studying Management with a concentration in Logistics and Operations. 

    Since I joined this program in mid-July 2019, I have seen myself transition from someone who would make uninformed decisions to an individual with innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to all challenges life throws at me. The digital and remote-based networks I have established and the skills I have learned through the program have catapulted me beyond the dependent life my refugee status had determined for me.

    By providing us with tools for self-reliance, SNHU’s higher education program for refugees and others affected by displacement has made it possible for disadvantaged students to navigate the most challenging aspects of refugee life. The program also emphasizes gaining work experience through internships. I first completed a three-month remote internship as a GEM Employment Intern. In this role, I found success in learning by doing and was soon promoted to a full-time role. My career achievements highlight the efficacy of GEM’s competency and project-based learning.

    In my current work, I actively pursue socioeconomic support networks for refugees and members of host communities with international employers such as Shipra Kayan, Conversations Unbound, IDInsight and many more. Through these networks that I am helping to establish, other refugees like me as well as my Malawian peers in the SNHU program, have been able to put their degrees to use and contribute to causes that are important to them and their communities.

    Despite the barriers, we are showing how refugees can still engage and have a positive impact on the local economy by being the link between international employers and the local economy. My peers and I are pursuing remote work to become self-reliant and thus contribute to the Malawian market. I hope that one day when Malawi lightens restrictions on the rights of refugees to work in the local economy, I will be able to take the skills I have learned online and invest in businesses and organizations here in Malawi.

    Access to this remote work has uplifted many refugees in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. I believe that this innovative employment pathway is a solution to the limited access to sustainable livelihoods and the lack of needed professional skills in my community. I am honored to be a trailblazer in this mission.

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