How Do We Help Refugee Students Reclaim Their Right to Education?

Episode 6 of The Backdrop Podcast Looks at ‘Article 26 Backpack’ Online Academic Documentation

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Keith David Watenpaugh shares his Backpack with Hoda al-Rifai, director of the Ruwad al-Tanmeya Center in Tripoli, Lebanon
In a past visit, Keith David Watenpaugh shares his Backpack with Hoda al-Rifai, director of the Ruwad al-Tanmeya Center in Tripoli, Lebanon. When al-Rifai first read about the Backpack, she said, “I just started to dream.” (Joe Proudman / UC Davis)

According to one estimate, the global refugee population has more than doubled over the past decade to 26 million. Professor Keith Watenpaugh, director of the Human Rights Studies program at UC Davis, leads an innovative project to help refugee students start or continue their university education — even as they are displaced and on the move.

In this month’s episode of The Backdrop, a UC Davis podcast, Watenpaugh discussed the Article 26 Backpack project, the UC Davis’ Human Rights Studies program and his rethinking of the history of humanitarianism.

“People don’t just need blankets and food, they need to have their rights protected. Their rights to education, their rights to political citizenship, and balancing the provision of assistance with providing this critical rights-based assistance is one of the things that humanitarianism has utterly failed in and continues to fail in today” said Watenpaugh.

“The Article 26 Backpack is a way for refugees and other displaced people to effectively curate, store, and share across international boundaries or locally their critical academic documentation. This is really important because most refugees don’t have good access to higher education and we know that higher education is one of the most effective means for people to make the transition to new societies, but also to ready themselves to go home to societies and help rebuild them. One of the most critical problems with refugees is that they’re often missing important educational documents.”

A refugee camp sits among agriculture fields in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
In a past visit, a refugee camp sits among agriculture fields in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. While most Syrian refugees live in apartments and in urban settings, some live in temporary camps, working in the agriculture fields. (Joe Proudman / UC Davis)

Watenpaugh also mentioned the current success of the backpack. “What we do see is young people using backpack in seeking scholarships; they’re downloading documents and attaching them to their applications. The other measures of success are how many organizations are reaching out to us to invite us to use it for the people they’re working with.”

The Backdrop podcast is a monthly interview program featuring conversations with UC Davis scholars and researchers working in the social sciences, humanities, arts and culture. It is available free, on demand at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, Amazon Music, YouTube and Spotify. The Backdrop is hosted by public radio veteran Soterios Johnson.

Listen to the podcast episode here. Visit the Article 26 Backpack website here

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