FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Northern Lights College Foundation and Northern Lights College (NLC) are working together to transform the lives of young refugees living overseas with education and a new place in Canada— and they are looking for community members who want to be a part of supporting this goal.

The foundation held luncheons at the Northern Lights College campuses in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek this week to share the story of John Ayume, a young man who arrived in Fort St. John last fall supported by the Student Refugee Program.

Now studying in the Water and Resource Management program at NLC, Ayume was born in South Sudan. 

Before war broke out in his home country, Ayume said, most people farmed to feed their families. “But you can’t dig when there’s war, it’s impossible.”

The war started in 2013. Soon afterwards, everyone he knew who could leave was doing so. He soon followed.

“For the sake of my life, I had to leave my country,” he said. 

In a refugee camp in Uganda for several years, he eventually found his way into the Student Refugee Program and came to Canada. 

“It was my dream to continue studying,” he said. Through this program, he could do that. Now, he looks forward to being able to use his skills, built up through his training at NLCC, to serve the community he found here who welcomed him last year. “This is already my home,” he said.

The Student Refugee program began three years ago, according to Scott Clerk, the Acting Vice-President of Student Services & Comm Relations. So far, two students have been supported through the program from countries in Africa. Two more incoming students are funded for next September: one from Afghanistan, and one from Syria.

Northern Lights College partners with World University Services Centre (WUSC) to deliver the program and aid students from around the world.

WUSC, according to Clerk, has been working with Canadian universities and colleges for 40 years to co-sponsor people escaping conflict and beginning their studies and new lives settled in Canada.

The sponsorship functions like other group-based sponsorship programs in Canada, where “you commit to taking care of that person and all of their needs for their first year in Canada,” Clerk explained. 

 “The commitment from the college typically looks like not only supporting them in their tuition and finding a place to live— they live in our student housing—but also their upkeep,” he continued. All necessities (including bus passes and cell phone plans, among other things) are taken care of. Winter clothes, in particular, are important.

The people who are part of the program—and the college in general—have been incredibly supportive of the students who arrive as part of the program.

“I have seen staff at this college meet a student who arrived from overseas who was dressed poorly [for the weather]. And they go home at their lunch hour to get a coat that they have extra at home,” he said at the luncheon in Fort St. John held for potential donors. “So I know that people are very loving and caring here. I believe we can grow this program out.”

It takes $18,000 to $26,000 to support a student refugee, according to the executive director of the NLC Foundation, Lindsey Borek. The foundation’s goal for their first giving campaign is $30,000. WUSC matches the support from the college as part of the program. 

Funding was also set aside this year to support student refugees from Ukraine. 

The program’s growth requires support from community members who want to be a part of making this change in the lives of young people escaping conflict in their home countries. 

To donate, visit ttps://www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/m/71237/donation.

For more information, see contact details for the NLC Foundation here: https://www.nlc.bc.ca/Contact-Foundation.

Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a news reporter for EnergeticCity.ca who recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a bachelor of arts in Media + Communications. She was born and raised just outside of Fort St. John. She began reporting for her university’s student newspaper and interned with Ottawa Life Magazine where she developed a passion for asking questions, telling stories, and the written word. In her free time, you can find her drinking coffee, snowboarding, or reading novels.