Global: Refugee women join in storytelling for annual Voices of Faith event
05 March 2018

A group of young students in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi. (JRS)

Rome, 5 March 2018 – High profile speakers and panellists with various extraordinary backgrounds will gather in Rome on International Women’s Day (Thursday, 8 March) at the annual Voices of Faith storytelling event to share their compelling stories and discuss this year’s theme ‘why women matter’.

Voices of Faith aims at amplifying the voices of powerful women of faith. Among these women, Elisa Orbananos Hernando, JRS Regional Programs Officer in Great Lakes, and Joana Gomes, JRS Project Director in Chad, will share their experiences of working in the field.

Elisa has worked to improve the access of displaced children to education, supported women targeted by gender-based violence, managed pastoral care projects and led complex projects in some of the most difficult crises globally. Joana is working to improve educational opportunities for girls, help communities see women differently, and is herself challenging the socio-cultural traditions and gender roles of a context where opportunities for girls are limited.

For the first time, Voices of Faith will be also livestreamed directly from Rome to the Arrupe Learning Centre in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi in collaboration with the Jesuit Refugee Service.

At last year’s event, Dr Mireille Twayigira told her story of defying all odds from having to flee the genocide in Rwanda and the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to graduating from medical school at Shenyang University in China. As a former refugee student at a JRS founded school in Dzaleka refugee camp, Mireille stood as an example of the impact education has on the lives of displaced people and made a strong plea for access to education for refugees.

This year, we will hear the voices of strong female role models directly from the camp. Young women in Dzaleka refugee camp are indeed resilient, passionate and committed to making a difference in their new communities, as well as in the global arena. They are advocates for increasing refugee girls’ access to education and their voices need to be heard.

We will hear the stories of young women in the camp, including Perfect Bazahica, a refugee who fled her native Burundi when her parents were killed in the conflict. She is now a student in Dzaleka who believes that access to higher education is crucial for refugees to rebuild their lives. 

“Dzaleka is a place where the most educated and talented people with skills can lose hope. Life after secondary school is always hard for young women like me. If women don’t have the chance or means to go to university, then you find girls becoming prostitutes, and getting pregnant or married at an early age.”

At JRS, we know that education helps empower women to assert their rights and strengthen their protection. It promotes equality and full participation in all decisions regarding their lives and improves their social and economic situation, as well as that of the whole community. Education is an increasingly important humanitarian response as refugees are currently displaced for an average of 17 to 21 years. 

Despite the reality of displacement, refugee women like Mireille and Perfect are now becoming powerful agents of change thanks to education. Tomorrow they could be leaders of change in the world.

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Martina Bezzini