York University receives $6.2 million from CIDA for major international research projects

TORONTO, February 4, 2013 – The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has awarded almost $6.2 million to York University to lead two major research projects that will bring post-secondary education to the Dadaab refugee camps and surrounding area in north-eastern Kenya and promote employment of people with disabilities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

York University Anthropology Professor Wenona Giles and Education Professor Don Dippo, associated with the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, will lead an international project that engages multiple Canadian and Kenya-based institutions to improve equity in higher education, prepare local uncertified refugee teachers, improve teaching practices for better student achievement at elementary and secondary levels and provide a number of university degree programs in and around the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. Simultaneously engaging these teachers as students in online/on-site university degree programs will build portable teaching capacity, indirectly impacting the learning opportunities of over 18,000 pupils in elementary and secondary education and directly impacting up to 1,000 students in higher education. The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project, which will receive more than $4.5 million in CIDA funding over five years and more than $1.5 million in matching funding from Canadian partnership organizations, could serve as a model in other marginalized communities throughout the world that seek to achieve access to higher education. Project partners include: York University, the University of British Columbia and World University Service of Canada (who all contributed to matching the funds provided by CIDA), the African Virtual University, Kenyatta University, Moi University, and Windle Trust (Kenya).

York University Health Professor Marcia Rioux will lead a major international project on the key labour market causes of chronic unemployment and poverty of persons with disabilities in primarily urban areas in three countries: Bangladesh (Dhaka), India (Hyderabad) and Nepal (Katmandu). Her project will receive more than $1.6 million in CIDA funding over five years and more than $1.3 million in matching funding from Canadian partnership organizations. The project will impact the decision-making of small and medium size enterprises in the hiring and promotion of people with disabilities. It will also provide labour market skills to persons with disabilities to maximize their capacity to make an economic contribution. Using gender-sensitive labour market inclusion strategies, local capacity will be built to engage in sustainable actions that will increase the economic well-being of persons with disabilities. Overseas partner organizations on the project include: Subhi Association for Women with Disabilities, Council for Social Development, Disabled Peoples International Asia-Pacific, Bangladesh Protibandhi Kallyan Somity, Swadhikhaar Centre for Disabilities Information, Research and Resource Development, National Federation of the Disabled-Nepal, as well as employer associations and individual employers. Grounded in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty to which Canada is a signatory, this project expands an on-going project, Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI), housed at York University.

“York University is proud of our research leaders in this area,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York University President and Vice-Chancellor. “This funding allows our researchers to grow and strengthen their innovative research programs and international collaborations aimed at developing solutions to complex challenges in regions of the Global South.”

“Researchers at York are taking an active leadership role in working together with partners ranging from community groups, educational institutions and international organizations around the world to inform public policy, create new knowledge and provide insights into complex social and economic challenges facing the international community,” said Robert Haché, York’s vice-president research & innovation.

“Through these partnership with York University, Canadians can take pride in knowing that teachers in Kenya will receive better training to help elementary and secondary school students in refugee camps.” said MP Lois Brown, who as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino, announced the funding at York University on Monday. “Students at York University will also have the opportunity to participate in an initiative that will increase the employability and livelihoods of persons with disabilities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.”

“CIDA is working with Canadian universities to deliver tangible results for those most in need around the world,” said Brown. “By tapping into the expertise of York University, Canada will help provide vulnerable children, women and men with the essentials for sustainable livelihoods over the long term.

For more information about the York-led projects and a video, see below.

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Media Contact:
Janice Walls, Media Relations, York University, 416 736 2100 x22101 / wallsj@yorku.ca

ABOUT THE PROJECTS:

Borderless Higher Education for Refugees

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Young men and women, many of whom have spent their whole lives in the world’s largest refugee camps, Dadaab, will have the opportunity to earn teaching credentials and university degrees in situ through a new project led by York University.

The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project, which is on track to start taking students in Summer 2013, will help uncertified teachers in the Dadaab refugee camps and locals in Dadaab town in Kenya to improve their teaching skills and earn certificates, diplomas and one of a variety of degrees. They will take online and onsite courses while they continue to teach elementary and secondary students in the Dadaab camps and the surrounding area.

The goal of the BHER project is to enhance the life chances of vulnerable youth who are refugees − mainly from Somalia, but also from Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries − by training their teachers first. By building educational and teaching capacity in Dadaab, and improving all levels of education for both male and female children and youths, the project will prepare youths to be contributing members of society and to promote education and social inclusion in their home country if repatriation becomes possible.

“We think that young people in volatile situations such as refugee camps need as much access to knowledge as other young people, not less. Bringing higher education to this massive long-term camp will open doors that our Canadian and Kenyan students can already access, and it is a right that many people in the camps and the surrounding area have repeatedly asked for, ” said Anthropology Professor Wenona Giles, of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies.

“Higher education for refugees in the Dadaab camps should have an immense impact. We are talking about young people who want to be educated to assist in the rebuilding of Somalia, who are faced daily with camp violence, urgent medical and housing needs, human rights violations,” said Giles. “Their parents see education as one of the best gifts they can give their children. We also think that the professors, teaching assistants and students from all the BHER consortium universities will learn a great deal from engaging in the courses that are shared with the Dadaab student community.”

York University has provided leadership to the overall development of the project, including agreement to cost recovery only, rather than tuition fees. All other participating universities have now followed suit. The project would have been prohibitively expensive without the commitments of these universities and would not likely have proceeded, says Faculty of Education Professor Don Dippo, of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies.

“The BHER project is about creating new knowledge and insight into the experiences of forced migration from within the experience – this is one of the things that higher education enables and one of the hopes that we have for the project,” said Dippo.

Over five years, 1,000 refugee and local youth in Dadaab will be given higher education knowledge and skills to contribute productively to society, whether in Dadaab, when they can return to Somalia, or elsewhere in the world. Engaging about 400 teachers as students in online and onsite university degree programs will improve learning opportunities for the more than 18,000 elementary and secondary school pupils in Dadaab.

Implementing a Multi-Sector Employment Strategy for Women and Men with Disabilities

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This project, led by Professor Marcia Rioux, a Professor in the School of Health Policy & Management at York University and Director of the York Institute for Health Research, builds on the work of the ongoing Disability Rights Promotion International (DPRI) project, which is in its eleventh year. Funded by a number of public and private funders including the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Disability Rights Fund (DRF), the Canadian government and others, the DRPI project has been instrumental in developing a monitoring system to address disability discrimination globally. It continues to lead knowledge mobilization and knowledge transfer initiatives to protect and monitor the rights of persons with disabilities worldwide.

In Bangladesh, India and Nepal, there are 208 million persons with disabilities, using World Health Organization projections (2011), the majority of whom live in conditions of poverty and isolation. Almost 10 per cent of GDP is lost in low-income nations by excluding persons with disabilities from the workforce.

DPRI has surveyed the key barriers to inclusion faced by persons with disabilities in India, interviewing people with disabilities and auditing disability-related laws, policies and programs.

The new CIDA-funded project will target three sectors in these countries – the food processing industry, the hospitality industry, and entrepreneurship and self-employment − because these are sectors that proportionally employ a more significant number of persons with disabilities. Past experience has shown that programs and services must be highly targeted to be successful and to meet employers’ needs.

Focused on increasing the productivity of women and men with disabilities and encouraging employers to make workplaces more accessible, the project has strong support from grassroots organizations in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. There will also be formal partnerships with local groups such as employers and employers’ associations, to help facilitate the project and provide work placements for persons with disabilities.

Women and men with disabilities will take part in employment workshops, build skills in identifying employment and entrepreneurial opportunities both within and outside their communities, apply for jobs in the private sector, and participate in job interviews.

“We want to develop knowledge and awareness of disability rights generally, and reduce stigma in these countries and in communities,” said Rioux. “The success of this program will be evaluated partly by following those who maintain jobs after work placements, to track employment tenure and changes in incomes. We want this project to become a model for addressing poverty through economic integration of people with disabilities in other countries and regions as well.”

By focusing on employment of persons with disabilities, this project will help to achieve some of the goals of the UN’s 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by more than 100 countries including Canada, which calls on countries to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in job-related matters, promote self-employment, employ persons with disabilities in the public sector, and promote their employment in the private sector.