As part of the H&M Foundation’s continued commitment to education, they partnered with Kiron Open Higher Education, to enable refugees to access digital learning opportunities. One of the main tenets of Kiron’s learning approach is the provision of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), which means students can study at their own pace online. A key obstacle to this approach, however, is providing the students with a sense of community with each other, and therefore there is a need to find even more new, innovative ways to bring the community together and generate academic and cultural discussions. As part of a collaboration, the H&M Foundation and Kiron developed a targeted project, “Building a Learning Environment for Study Success (BLESS)”. The BLESS project has a multi-pronged approach: creating study groups, making design changes, and organising seminal events that students could really engage in, such as Women’s Week.

Rania’s Story

One of our students who took part in these “offline” events in Germany was Rania, a journalist and activist from Egypt. Rania grew up in in the bustling city of Cairo, in a close-knit family with her sister and mother. Originally, she trained as a teacher and worked in a school for three years before switching to journalism, which she describes as happening “by accident”. “My sister was a journalist who was given a very difficult assignment by the newspaper she worked for. She came to me extremely worried and said she was too scared to do it, so I went in her place, got all the interviews I needed and came back in one piece.” That experience ignited a sense of activism in Rania and she left her education career to work as a journalist, and with local NGOs as a human rights activist.

In 2015, after she wrote in opposition to a political leader after the military coup, it became impossible for her to stay in Egypt. As a consequence, Rania came to Germany at that point as a political refugee.

The Future

She says that being involved in education has been instrumental to her life here. Currently, she is enrolled in full-time German and English courses, as well as studying political science with Kiron, and taking additional preparatory courses at Bard College in Berlin. Her goal is to become an academic researcher in the field of political science. At the moment she is awaiting the results of her German test and to see whether she will get accepted to an MA in Social Science at Humboldt University in Berlin. “The most difficult thing about studying in Germany is trying to move into another field of study, after my bachelor’s degree in education,” she says. “Studying with Kiron has allowed me to be able to prove my interest in the field of social sciences, which I hope will help my application for the master’s program.” Eventually, she would like to continue then to enroll in a Ph.D. program related to political activism.

The BLESS Project

Especially thanks to the offline approach of the BLESS project, Rania says that she has had the chance to connect to other students who are dealing with many of the same challenges she is. She credits meeting other Kiron students with helping her keep her resolve to continue with her studies. “I am really impressed with so many Kiron students I meet. Sometimes you just need support and inspiration from other students when you are trying to change the course of your studies, especially in two new languages. I can relate to many of the other Kiron students because many of the obstacles we face are the same, since we are all coming from different educational and cultural backgrounds.” Dealing with stereotypes, generalisations, and discrimination are part of the every-day experience. “On a personal level, it is difficult to start everything from scratch, to build a network, and to stay positive while trying to overcome trauma. Being a refugee is a heavy load as you always have to prove that you are good enough to learn and to integrate into the new society. The Kiron students I have met are so highly motivated, and I feel like if they can do it, I can too. I’m not a superhero, I also just need support to keep going.

– in cooperation with the H&M foundation.