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Seattle University

All Things Jesuit

Educating the poorest of the poor

September 10, 2010

In August 2010 a number of SU faculty and staff met with Peter Balleis, S.J., who is leading the new Jesuit Commons program with Chris Lowney. (Some faculty and staff will recognize as author of the book Heroic Leadership.) The full name of the initiative, for the record, is Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JCHEM). A big part of the program’s mission is to bring Jesuit higher education to refugees in the poorest parts of the world through online courses provided by faculty at Jesuit institutions.

 
Right to left, Peter Balleis, S.J. of the Jesuit Commons speaks with SU's Jen Tilghman-Havens, associate director of Jesuit Mission and Identity and Sue Jackels, director of the Office of Research Services and Sponsored Projects.

While on campus, Father Balleis and other Jesuit Commons staff, including Mary McFarland (international program director), shared an update on the project. The Jesuit Commons, as attendees learned, is launching its first two higher education programs this month (September 2010) in Kenya (Kakuma Camp) and Malawi (Dzaleka Camp). Plans are also underway to serve urban refugees in Syria in the not-too-distant future.

The basic philosophy of the program, Fr. Balleis said, is “to bring the university to where the refugees are” and to create educational opportunities “that keep the mind busy” and provide hope to the students. He spoke movingly of the thirst for education in camps, relating a story of how books were thrown over the fence to refugees seeking to learn.

“As I listened to Fr. Balleis and Mary McFarland,” says Peter Ely, S.J., “I was reminded of the key Jesuit belief in the transforming power of education. The refugees in these camps believe in that power and long for the transformation.”

Visit Jesuit Commons for more information about this exciting initiative in which some SU faculty are already engaged and many more likely will be in the years ahead.