Laurier’s ISOW program provides life-changing opportunities to students in countries affected by war

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Laurier’s International Students Overcoming War program saw four graduates walk the stage in 2019, marking the biggest class of students to have graduated from the program since its inception.

The program aims to help students not only get out of countries that may be detrimental to them, but to also give them an education and a chance to learn outside the classroom at Laurier.

“We are partnered with non-governmental organizations, and those organizations are who locate and support, also financially support our scholars, we’re currently partnered with  [the] Daughters for Life Foundation, Jusoor and the Iraqi and Syrian Student Project,” said Hillary Winger, an intern for ISOW.

“Laurier also provides funding, but our scholars have to apply through one of our partner organizations first. From there, they are selected as scholars and, of course, also have to be accepted to Laurier.”

Since the initiative began in 2014, with students officially enrolling at Laurier in 2015, the program has sponsored 16 students, including two Syrian scholars who graduated this past year: Hiba El Miari and Mary Saleh.

These two scholars are half of the graduating class from ISOW this year, with El Miari receiving a Bachelor of Science degree and Saleh completing a Master of Arts degree in English.

“The unique thing our scholars receive is a lot of support from ISOW, they have the opportunity to be a part of a community through ISOW which I don’t think a lot of other scholarship programs can offer and it’s a huge transition for our scholars to transition from a country that is torn by conflict to come and study here in Waterloo at Laurier,“ Winger said.

“I think through that support that they receive at ISOW through our volunteers and through our faculty advisors, that is what helps them reach graduation ultimately.”

Many of the students who graduate from the program do so with more than a degree, as students like El Miari was a student representative of the biology department, created the Laurier Arab Student Association and played on Laurier’s first women’s cricket team.

These students also represent ISOW to the Laurier community and on a national stage, as ISOW was represented by El Miari at the Canadian Student Leadership Association as well as when she organized a symposium about the realities of human conflict that affect the countries these students come from.

The unique thing our scholars receive is a lot of support from ISOW, they have the opportunity to be a part of a community through ISOW which I don’t think a lot of other scholarship programs can offer and it’s a huge transition for our scholars to transition from a country that is torn by conflict to come and study here in Waterloo at Laurier.

— Hillary Winger, ISOW intern

Their work is done not only for personal gain, but to better the Laurier community, as each student is given the opportunity to have an education in Canada in part to the Laurier Student Life Levy, as their partner organizations alone are not able to fully financially support them.

The program, however, is not exclusive to the international scholars any Laurier student who is interested in the program and what it does to support education for those who may not have it accessible are encouraged to join the team.

“We have a management team of 20+ undergraduate students and we have a number of portfolios Laurier undergrad students can be a part of; we recruit for these positions every year, so if other Laurier students want to get involved, we do class presentations each spring,” Winger said.

“Students are also welcome to come to our campus events each semester such as a Middle Eastern cultural event at Veritas, anyone is welcome to come, we also hosted ISOW day in the concourse in March and we encouraged everyone to come.”

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