M.A. students raise funds to support education for refugees

While the Syrian conflict has been ongoing for several years, it came into particularly sharp focus over the summer, with images of refugees on rafts and lined up at border crossings splashed across Western media outlets on a daily basis.

The situation sparked many conversations at the Jackson Institute, where a group of students organized the “Yale for Refugees” group to brainstorm ways to leverage Yale resources to help.

Stephanie Leutert and Nitsan Shakked, both second-year students in Jackson’s MA in Global Affairs program, were among the organizers.

Both Leutert, who worked with internally displaced people in Uganda before coming to Yale, and Shakked, a hydrogeologist who has researched the seaward migration of refugees from North Africa to Europe, felt a personal connection to the crisis and wanted to take immediate action. “This will have global consequences for generations,” Leutert said.

They created an independent study, supervised by Jackson Institute Senior Fellow Emma Sky, to explore ways to address some of the needs of Syrian refugees.

The pair quickly realized that in order to make the most impact, they needed feedback from those on the ground. They connected with contacts at Relief International (RI), an NGO working with Syrian refugees in Jordan and elsewhere. The organization came up with a list of needs and cost estimates.

Shakked and Leutert felt a particular connection with one of the ideas put forth. While many aid organizations target younger children with educational outreach, often the older youth (ages 18-24) are left out. Many Syrian youth in the refugee camps have aspirations of attending Jordanian university—which requires passage of a stringent entrance exam—but lack an adequate place to study and prepare.

“We wanted to help them feel more human in such an absurd situation,” explained Shakked.

RI requested assistance with purchasing three mobile education trailers and basic furniture for the Azraq Camp in Jordan. Home to about 20,000 Syrians, the camp is often overlooked by donors due to its relatively small size.

Leutert and Shakked connected with a Jackson classmate, Tom Berry, who was working on a fundraising campaign with School of Management students for their “Strategic Management of Non-Profits” class. The students decided to collaborate and direct the funds toward the trailer purchase. Thanks to the generosity of 55 donors in a crowd-funding campaign, plus a matching grant, they raised over $17,000.

While this funding may only help a small group of refugees, the Jackson students underscore the importance of taking an immediate step – and they are exploring ways to expand the partnership with RI in the future. 

“We were truly touched by the compassion of these students, and impressed by their determination,” said Nancy E. Wilson, president and CEO of Relief International.

Education trailer in Jordan

“When our colleague Danijel Cuturic told them about the crowded classrooms and children sitting three to a bench, Stephanie and Nitsan immediately understood how they could be helpful. And they blew us away with their fundraising success,” said Wilson.

Over winter break, Shakked and Leutert traveled to Jordan to visit the Azraq Camp and meet with RI staff. 

Both say they are thankful for the “enormous support from the Jackson community and Yale.”

“You realize how many people in this community want to help people around the world,” Leutert said. “Everyone wanted to help. It’s an amazing place.”

Read more about Jackson's M.A. students 


Published December 22, 2015
Updated January 14, 2016