Global Scholars Program

At Harvard, SIT Global Scholars Share Stories of Challenge and Hope

IC flagsSIT Graduate Institute launched the Global Scholars Program in October 2016 in response to the growing global refugee crisis and the rising tide of xenophobia and isolationism in the United States and around the world. Under this program, scholars spend their first year on the SIT campus in Brattleboro, Vt., bringing theory and practice together in their social justice, advocacy, and human rights work. They also work with civil society institutions, government agencies, and international organizations around the world to further develop their practical skills.

For information about applying to the Global Scholars Program, please contact Mary Kay Sigda at

SignThe School for International Training (SIT) has been honored to work with refugees in the United States and abroad throughout its history. Providing assistance to the victims of violence and discrimination, helping individuals to reach their full potential, and ensuring social justice for all have been at the heart of SIT’s global mission.

One of our proudest periods was when we joined with Save the Children and World Education in 1979 to assist refugees from Southeast Asia in one of the largest refugee training programs in history. Over the next 15 years, this Consortium trained 250,000 refugees who were fleeing conflict and abuse in the region. The training program operated in Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and at its peak, it engaged 7,000 staff and volunteers.

The Consortium’s orientation program focused on cultural training, work skills, and English language instruction. SIT prepared more than 50 books and manuals that provided a consistent curriculum and level of competency for all refugees coming to the United States, no matter their country of origin, ethnicity, political beliefs, religion, or prior level of education. The Consortium received support from a U.S. assistance program, contributions from private citizens, and financing from the Ford Foundation. It also provided the U.S. State Department and Congress with expert support for refugee resettlement policy and assisted refugee education projects in the Philippines, Europe, and Sudan.

Charlie MacCormack was CEO of World Learning, SIT’s parent institution, for much of this time. He recalls: “It was a whole-of-society effort that really showed the impact that governments and citizens can have if they have a plan, make a political commitment, and provide serious funding to prepare refugees for their new lives.”

In early 2016, faculty, students, and administrators at SIT Graduate Institute were deeply concerned about the growing refugee crisis and the threat of a rising tide of xenophobia and isolationism in the United States and around the world. Several faculty members raised the idea of creating a Global Scholars Program through which SIT Graduate Institute would provide the opportunity for individuals forced to flee their home countries due to political unrest and violence to study for a master’s degree, with all expenses paid, on the SIT campus in Vermont.

2017 global scholarsThe program was launched in October 2016, and the first five Global Scholars began their degree programs in January 2017. The scholars spend their first year on campus bringing theory and practice together in their social justice, advocacy, and human rights work. They also work with civil society institutions, government agencies, and international organizations around the world to further develop their practical skills.

As expected, the Global Scholars are make immense contributions to the education of their fellow students and faculty members. Their courage, hope, and inspiration enhance the experiential learning of our community.

As SIT President Sophia Howlett says, “SIT Graduate Institute is grounded in the values of international education and dialogue across cultures, races, and religions. Through their ability to articulate the lessons of their lives, the Global Scholars not only expand our horizons, but also give us a sense of urgency to take what we have learned and apply it to help other marginalized people.”

Tamam Abulteaf

Taman Tamam is part of the minority Druze community in Syria. He is fluent in three languages: Arabic, Japanese, and English. He describes his childhood as safe and stable, with parents who emphasized education for him and his five siblings.

Tamam learned English when he was only 6 through western television and music, and felt a connection with other English speakers in Syria. He was studying and tutoring Japanese in Damascus when conflict broke out there in 2011.

The civil war changed everything. At first, Tamam volunteered to assist the victims of conflict through the Red Crescent Society, educational programs, and food distribution centers. “Although my efforts to help people in Syria seemed insignificant given the magnitude of the challenges we were facing, I gained a vision of what we could do to empower others,” he says.

Soon after, he fled the violence and became a refugee in Turkey. He had few financial resources, couldn’t speak the local language, and was in constant fear of being sent back to Syria. Desperate to continue his education, Tamam went through the lengthy and arduous process of seeking to enter the United States, and was accepted into a language program at Middlebury College in Vermont.

At SIT Graduate Institute, Tamam is studying international education. He has been impressed by the quality and style of instruction, which he finds “uncensored, interactive, and inclusive of many different learning styles.”

Convinced that education is key to preparing future generations in Syria for peace, democracy, and justice, Tamam hopes to return to his homeland to establish grassroots programs administered by students.

Abdou Edris

AbdouAbdou has dedicated his life to educating himself and inspiring other refugees to do the same. Born in the western Kordofan region of Sudan near Darfur, he graduated from the University of Omdurman with a degree in rural development. He returned home to become a strong community advocate for the rights of vulnerable students and war victims, including those from southern Sudan. Abdou was arrested several times by the regime in Khartoum and, in 2002, he was tortured and detained for two months in prison.

Two years later, faced with continuing persecution and repeated arrests, Abdou fled to Egypt, where he spent a decade facing discrimination and struggling to find work. Undeterred, he eventually gained entrance to the Institute of Arab Research to study political science, and later received certificates from the American University in Cairo in community-based psychological work. Abdou worked with the Psycho-Social Services and Training Institute in Cairo to provide support and counseling to refugees, victims of trafficking, and people living with trauma. He was promoted to be a team leader, overseeing a dozen psychosocial workers.

In 2015, Abdou resettled in Buffalo, NY, where he worked as a care manager to provide Medicaid recipients with counseling, housing advocacy, and links to service providers. When he heard about the Global Scholars Program, he applied immediately because, as he puts it, “the first step to empowering other people is to empower yourself.”

After getting his degree in sustainable development at SIT, Abdou would like to help young victims of conflict see themselves as leaders, and use grassroots strategies to promote peace in their countries. He believes that with education they can be the ones to end conflict.

Bahati Kanyamanza

BahatiBahati was born in a small farming town in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His parents prized their children’s education, and sold their surplus crops to pay for schooling. As the eldest child, Bahati would walk miles to school each day and then come home to help his mother take care of his siblings.

In 1996, violence came to his community, in part in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide. Bahati and his family fled to Uganda. Bahati lived in Ugandan refugee camps for 18 years. He saw young refugees engage in prostitution, drug abuse, and early marriage. Many contracted HIV/AIDS and felt a sense of hopelessness. Bahati believed that the lack of schools was a major factor leading to that hopelessness.

At age 22, he and two friends established the COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA). This organization provides primary and secondary schooling in refugee camps, and connects students with organizations to support their university education. CIYOTA also runs a peacebuilding and entrepreneurial leadership program for refugee children and youth, focusing on community-based initiatives. Bahati refers to this education as “a way to create a generation of young people who can use their faith in the future to overcome conflict, solve longstanding problems, and build strong social structures.” Bahati has made CIYOTA sustainable by transferring ownership to the communities themselves.

Bahati moved to the United States with his wife and daughter in 2016, where, with the generosity of many Americans, has enjoyed a sense of peace and security. While still involved in CIYOTA, he is continuing his sustainable development education at SIT. Surprised by the amount of poverty in the United States, Bahati has gotten involved with local nonprofits that address hunger, violence, and inequality. He also continues to be a strong advocate for refugee education, explaining that “refugees are an important part of the history of this country.

“Today’s refugees have overcome so much to get here, have demonstrated their resiliency, and have shown their ability to adapt to the toughest circumstances. They are not victims; they are survivors who can be key to solving the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Kenneth Mukonyezi

KennethKenneth grew up in a rural community in Uganda. Although his parents were quite poor, they scraped together school fees and uniform costs so that he could attend primary and secondary school. There was no money for transportation, however, so he had walk eight miles to school each day.

After he completed high school, Kenneth’s family did not have enough resources to support a university education, and he joined the Ugandan People’s Defense Force. After basic training, Kenneth was assigned to the prestigious Presidential Guard Brigade, a force that protects the president and other senior government officials. He soon witnessed human rights abuses and a lack of respect for the constitution and rule of law, and began to question his position.

Kenneth also had contact with opposition political figures who viewed a functioning democracy as a means of advancing positive change. “I realized that the hardships I faced as a child were the same challenges my parents faced,” he says. “And those were the same challenges my child was likely to face unless we broke the pattern.”

In 2014, the government began cracking down on military personnel who had contact with the opposition. Kenneth was detained and tortured; his family was targeted, arrested, and intimidated. He lost all sense of hope for his future in Uganda and, fearing for his life, fled to the United States. He arrived in Massachusetts hopeless and traumatized, but was inspired and re-energized by the freedom and normalcy of everyday life.

Kenneth credits the experiential learning model at SIT for helping him regain his voice and provide living testimony about the abuses and brutalities he faced. He enjoys learning from the experiences of his professors and fellow students, and has become a strong advocate for refugees as change agents who are trying to expose injustices and who struggle to thrive. After he graduates with a degree in conflict transformation, Kenneth hopes to eventually return to Uganda to help marginalized communities and vulnerable populations be “the leaders of change, rather than the victims of stagnation.”

Fadia Thabet

fadiaFadia grew up in Yemen in a middle-class family that admired and encouraged education. She taught herself English by watching movies and listening to American music. When she did not understand a word, she would write it down, look it up in the dictionary, and memorize the definition. In 2010, Fadia received her undergraduate degree in computer science, but soon realized that she preferred “real interaction with real people,” and changed her career path to help address the legacies of decades of civil conflict in her country.

Fadia attended trainings with United Nations agencies involved with refugees and humanitarian assistance, where she realized the extent of population displacement in Yemen. She began working with UN agencies to address the challenges of child soldiers in conflict, which brought her into contact with children from ethnic communities and political movements out of favor with the ruling regime. She left Yemen and became a Hubert Humphrey fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School, and later applied to the SIT Global Scholars Program to pursue a master’s degree in peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

Fadia sees herself in the vanguard of women in the Middle East who are stepping forward to play a role in peace processes, national reconciliation, and post-conflict governance. She would like to work on advocacy for children’s and women’s rights. As a result of her willingness to risk her own safety in support of children, Fadia received the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in March 2017.