Jesuit education at the margins: it works!

Sep 20 , 2019 Stories

Do an exercise in “composition of place”. An idea of Saint Ignatius who proposes to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, in a place very different from your usual environment, to feel deeply the challenges, the sorrows and the joys that move the human soul.

You are 22 years old. You had to leave your country in a context of violence and insecurity. You have had to abandon your studies and you find yourself in a camp, waiting - a long wait - for a country of adoption. What should you do with these years so that they are not lost? You then hear about JWL, Jesuit Worldwide Learning, a project of the Society of Jesus that provides distance university education using the methods of today’s technological world. You don’t hesitate for a moment: you register!

You could also have heard about this Jesuit project with an international dimension because you live in a remote area of Afghanistan. The project allows you to have occasional access to Internet: you download your school material, your assignments. At the same time, you contribute to building a community of students in your village and thus create a solidarity that will serve to advance the cause of peace for your people.

It may also be that your access to university studies is blocked because your knowledge of English, an essential key, is too weak. You then enroll, like 3,000 other young people living in marginal contexts, in the Global English Language programme, offered on six levels. And doors are then opened, either for professional careers such as IT, or Learning Facilitator, or for university studies in liberal arts, administration, environmental protection. Sensitive to the needs expressed by the communities where JWL operates, very creative paths have been designed: Peace Leader and Youth Sport Facilitator. The programmes are supported or recognized by various universities, many of them Jesuit universities. For them, it is a way of serving these “peripheries”, so dear to Pope Francis.

The Jesuit Worldwide Learning project is based in Geneva and is led by Fr. Peter Balleis, a German Jesuit. Geneva is a city with an international vocation: there are several UN offices among others. JWL collaborates with them, particularly with the UN Refugee Agency and UNESCO. As a Jesuit organization, it works in conjunction with the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. During his visit to Geneva on 19 and 20 September, Fr. Arturo Sosa, Superior General, witnessed the importance of Jesuit involvement in the field of international organizations in Geneva. In particular, he noted how JWL was at the forefront of the creative and adapted projects that the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus seek to foster.

To conclude, a testimony from Peter Balleis:

“In JWL we are inspired and motived by the desire and commitment to studies for the youth living at the margins: as refugees in Kenya, Malawi, Jordan and Iraq, or in war affected or isolated areas in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Graduates of the JWL Diploma in Liberal Studies have opened new Community Learning Centers in Afghanistan and Iraq supported by the mobile learning program. Our technical solution and blended learning model is working in online and offline environments, enabling poor youth to study on their smartphones. And Jesuit Universities supporting JWL can now reach a global student body anywhere in the world.”