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Student levy program supports refugee students

STUDENT LEVY: Pennies deducted from each student through a levy at U of T Scarborough help students such as Luciano Moro, (left), to come to Canada. He is pictured with Stacey Platt of International Programs and Services. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

by Aurora Herrera

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. In this case, that village is U of T Scarborough and that child is the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) student refugee program.

Founded more than 60 years ago, WUSC is a worldwide charitable organization with five chapters at the University of Toronto. At the Scarborough campus, the local committee’s main focus is the program, which supports students fleeing war or persecution in developing countries and enables them to study in Canada.

Student Luciano Moro arrived at U of T Scarborough from Sudan in 2002 as a WUSC participant. “The best thing about the program is that it gives hope to the sponsored student,” he said. “In the refugee camp, one is only able to reach secondary school. There is no opportunity there for university education, and you don’t think you have any future. This program gives us hope that we never had before.”

All students at U of T Scarborough support the refugee program -- whether they realize it or not -- through a levy deducted from fees by the Scarborough Campus Students' Union (SCSU). Each full-time student is levied 75 cents, and each part-time student is levied 25 cents, to fund and maintain the program.

Rarely does such a small amount of money make such a big impact, officials say, and it changes people’s lives. Collectively, those funds from the U of T Scarborough “village” support newcomers to the WUSC program.

Loneliness was something Moro said he felt when he first came to Canada. “It was a very big adjustment, but I was lucky to be invited by one of the students on the local committee to come home for Christmas dinner with their family. I was really interested to go and see how Canadians celebrate Christmas.”

The International Development Studies (IDS) student soon met many others on campus and became more involved. “I decided to make the most of my time here, so I got involved and connected with my professors and the school administration. My very first job was in the admissions office, and from that, I got to know many more people and opportunities started coming.”

Almas Mwanga (not her real name) is the most recent WUSC arrival to the Scarborough campus. Originally from Sudan, she relocated to a Kenyan refugee camp where she was chosen for the WUSC program.

“The WUSC program is known very well within the camp,” said Mwanga. “I knew that this was my one chance to get out. Like other applicants, I went through a process. When I found out I was accepted, I was shocked -- happy, but shocked.”

Mwanga said that when she first came to Canada, she was impressed by its organization. “I was processed very quickly into the system and that made my settling here relatively easy,” she said. “I was also touched by the fact that there were people in this country and on the campus who were passionate about issues far removed from their own situations.”

The student refugee program at WUSC was launched in 1980. Over the next two decades, the organization continued to coordinate development projects and programs in countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Benin, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Sudan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Peru.

The refugee initiative is now WUSC’s flagship program, and the local committee implements the organization’s mandate. The program operates on more than 60 college and university campuses in North America and its student-run local committees make up the largest network of student groups in Canada.

The local committee at the Scarborough campus is comprised of a loose membership of several students. Luciano Moro is now a member.

“The local committee has been very supportive in every way,” Mwanga said. “We have had a couple of group social events, including dinners and outings. That really helps strengthen the bond that we have.”

The local WUSC chapter supplements first-year funding for one student per year. Moro says that the chapter would like to extend the opportunity to more than one person and to cover a larger portion of the students’ expenses, but it currently lacks the financial capacity to do so.

In the early 1980s, the Students’ Administrative Council of the University of Toronto (SAC) successfully lobbied for a referendum to levy this small amount from each student’s tuition. Each year the committee advocates for a tuition waiver for the participating student.

The students who arrive with the program become permanent residents as soon as they arrive in Canada, so they are charged fees as domestic rather than international students.

The local committee also hosts fundraisers throughout the year to supplement their resources and create awareness. Earlier this year, the committee held a concert titled Band Aid. Moro said that turnout was excellent and many people expressed support for the cause, “but I believe that we can all do more,” he said.

Stacey Platt, Coordinator, International Programs and Services, serves as the administrative liaison for the WUSC program. “It is an amazing program,” Platt said. “However, we do need to support these new students more. Although they need our monetary help, it is important that we not identify them as student refugees. From the time they step off the plane and onto our soil, they are permanent residents of Canada.”

Mwanga would like to return to her camp to share her experience with others. “I am happy to have this opportunity,” Mwanga said. “I know that I am fortunate. I wish that there were more people just as fortunate.” She said in the future she would like to establish a foundation to sponsor young Sudanese females living in Kenya who can’t afford high school education. “If there are ways that I can aid those who want to go to university, that would be even better.”

The local committee needs more members. Students on the Scarborough campus who are interested in joining can contact Stacey Platt at or call (416) 287-7455. For more on the WUSC program, visit

Aurora Herrera is a fourth-year student in the journalism program offered by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College. She is currently working as an intern in the office of marketing and communications.

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