Beyond basic needs: How SNHU GEM students challenge narratives about refugee futures

Group of graduates from SNHU GEM program in Lebanon

SNHU GEM students and alumni discuss what refugees need to pursue education, livelihoods, and community engagement.

When Alnarjes Harba, a Syrian refugee and graduate of Southern New Hampshire University’s Global Education Movement (SNHU GEM) in Lebanon, thinks about common misconceptions about refugees, she finds that people recognize arriving refugees require vital support for basic needs like food, water, safety, and shelter, but often don’t look beyond those essential services to the bigger picture of what refugees need to thrive and be engaged, contributing members and leaders in their host communities.

“People think refugees only need shelter, camps to live in, humanitarian aid. They don’t think about our future beyond that,” explains Alnarjes. Organizations focused on these basic services are providing a critical service, but she urges people to ask themselves important questions: “How can we create opportunities for refugees to get an education, learn a new language, and engage in our community?”

While talent abounds in refugee communities, opportunity does not. Many refugees face significant hurdles pursuing education, employment, even the ability to move outside of refugee camps. Globally, just 5% of refugees have access to higher education. 

Since 2017, SNHU GEM has provided refugees opportunities to obtain high-quality U.S.-accredited bachelor’s degrees and develop practical, competitive, professional skills that open pathways to meaningful employment and self-determination. Working with local on-the-ground partners, we operate 12 sites across five countries in Africa and the Middle East to deliver educational experiences and wraparound support to refugee learners. Our students are creative, determined, and committed to pursuing their dreams and raising up the community around them. 70% of our bachelor’s students graduate in four years, and more than 85% report having meaningful employment within six months of graduation.

Education has been pivotal in Alnarjes’ life. When her refugee status prevented her from attending university in Lebanon, she found a path forward with SNHU GEM and our in-country partner organization, the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASEeR). “SNHU GEM has supported me as I plan to complete my life dream,” says Alnarjes. She is now living in London studying global health in conflict.

Together, the community of refugee-serving and refugee-led organizations can ensure refugees have access to crucial, basic services and long-term opportunities to thrive. We encourage more organizations to join us and our partners to ensure that refugees also have access to services – like higher education – that help them fulfill their potential and benefit their host country. 

We have seen firsthand how SNHU GEM graduates transform not only their own lives but entire communities. They start businesses, help other refugees pursue education, become leaders and advocates, and more. We are proud to be a part of their story.