Lauren Konrad: RRC Sponsorship for Refugee Students

Heritage Group meeting of January 18, 2018.

Photo of Leslie Walsh, Tariq Ajam, and Lauren Konrad
Leslie Walsh, Tariq Ajam, and Lauren Konrad

Lauren Konrad has worked with the College for seven years as an advisor and program coordinator for Immigrant and International Students. Now a Student Integration Coordinator, Lauren oversees the management of the Student Refugee Program (SRP), a partnership with World University Services of Canada (WUSC) to help transform the lives of refugee youth living in war affected areas. By providing permanent-residence in Canada, SRP students have access to education at Canadian post-secondary campuses across the country. Globally speaking, this program is one-of a-kind, and currently only offered in Canada.

Joining Lauren was Red River College Applied Accounting student, Tariq Ajam. Tariq is this year’s SRP sponsored student and one of the WUSC local committee members currently living on campus. In fact, Lauren and Tariq were heading off to Ottawa later in the afternoon to attend the 2018 WUSC and CECI International Forum.

Highlights from Lauren’s presentation (more info on the Powerpoint)

More than 60 universities and colleges across Canada participate in WUSC. Staff and students of the program learn from each other; it is a 2-way learning process that has an impact on the lives of all.

Red River’s Story

Photo of Citizens of Nowhere book cover

RRC ‘s program is the only program of its kind to engage youth in a peer to peer integration model. Lauren suggested reading a book called Citizens of Nowhere which describes SRP students.

No Canadian college had been involved with WUSC prior to 2015, the year RRC was accepted as an institutional member.  RRC only qualified to be part of WUSC once it had a student residence, and now offers a 12 month sponsorship to a single student each May. The accepted student really “hits the ground running”, arriving in Winnipeg three days before the start of classes in August. So far, RRC has sponsored three students.


WUSC currently accepts applications only from refugees in the following countries of asylum: Kenya, Malawi, Jordan and Lebanon, using the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) definition of refugee.  With over 65.6 million refugees in camps, students come from a diversity of experience and backgrounds. Recruiters based in the camps prep SRP students for selection.  Students can apply in 2 ways:  in-land claims and overseas selection.  Local university and college committees comprised of 19 students each then help the selected student, with other faculty and staff assisting in student resettlement.

The Process

RRC’s selection committee gets together each May to consider five to six WUSC dossiers of student profiles, academic achievements, and credentials.  It can be very hard to decide on a single student, and the committee works very closely with Admissions to try to find the one most likely to be successful.  The winning candidate is then met at the airport by a welcoming group consisting of the local committee and the President of RRC. Supported for a total of twelve months, the student’s first eight will be spent studying in the Applied Accounting program, followed by four months employment in places like Loblaws and Scotia Bank. Some have come back to study business administration.

Local Committee

The College’s SRP Local Committee is made up of students, staff and faculty from a number of student services and program areas. The Committee receives additional advisory support from donors who help with the selection of the student. New students are constantly welcomed to replace those who are leaving, and Committee members are given a certificate of participation that can be used for volunteer hours in some courses.


Photo of three students of the Student Refugee Program
At the airport with students of the Student Refugee Program

Expected to be debt-free at the end of the program, the student is provided with financial, academic and social support for a minimum of 12 months. Approximately $35,000 covers living accommodations, tuition, books, meals, a monthly allowance, settlement costs and transportation.  Whereas most WUSC partner institutions, including the U of M, build a levy into their Student Association fees to help with the costs, RRC has relied on fundraising. Elena Grinshteyn runs the donor aspect of the program, which has raised the profile of RRC. For example, Albert Al Tassi of Peerless Garments provides an annual donation of a winter coat, and the Scotia Bank gives $25,000 annually.

Highlights from Tariq’s presentation

Photo of Tariq Ajam
Tariq Ajam

Originally from Syria, Tariq studied in university there to be an electrical engineer.  His brother who works in Saudi Arabia sent the family a visa, and Tariq then went to Jordan and finished his engineering degree.

Tariq had on a T-shirt emblazoned with, “Education Changes the World”, a phrase used many times during his presentation.

There are 2 types of refugees: those inside camps and those outside camps.  He said the most difficult thing about being a refugee in a camp is that, as Syrian, he couldn’t have a driver’s licence or a job, and could not return if he left.  When he was accepted for WUSC he had just started his Master’s degree in Jordan.

He spoke about the application process that included an English test and then an interview.  Acceptance by the WUSC was followed by another interview with the Canadian Embassy, during which he was asked if he would ever want to go back to Syria after Canada.  He had said “yes”, but his good memories of Canada now mean he would not say “No” or “Yes” to that question.

Students of the program become permanent residents as soon as they land, and can then apply for citizenship. Tariq indicated that once he gets his citizenship, he can go anywhere except to his country of origin (Syria).

Tariq is the last person in RRC’s pilot project.  He will be able to go into another program that better matches qualifications, but will have to pay for that on his own. He would like to finish his master’s degree and do a Phd.

Tariq stated that this was a good experience for him in accounting.  He has learned how business is run, how to calculate salary and wages, rights and regulations and how to get a job.

The presentations ended with a question and answer period.  Ron noticed that the powerpoint had he/his and no she/her in it and that it should be gender equal.  Lauren indicated that was because so far only males had been accepted.  Two of the criteria for selection are:  18 – 35 years old,  single with no dependents.  Most females who were of the required criteria usually had their own families.  This is something that will be looked at.

The presentation was very well received.  Members were impressed by what Lauren, Elena and RRC are doing.

ps.  In speaking with Tariq, I found out his GPA was 4.3!

Categories: All, Guest Speakers

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