University of Delaware
UD's Patricia Sloane-White (right) with members of the Fulbright Alumni Team at their first planning meeting in July 2012.

Helping refugees in Malaysia

Fulbright alumni project involves UD's director of Islamic Studies


11:37 a.m., Oct. 12, 2012--A group of former Fulbrighters to Malaysia that includes Patricia Sloane-White, director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, has received a $25,000 grant from the U.S. State Department’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) to supportĀ teacher training and intervention programsĀ for Burmese refugees in Malaysia.

“Before this group of former Fulbrighters got together, I had never heard of the AEIF program,” says Sloane-White, an associate professor of anthropology who received a Fulbright award in 2008. The Fulbright program is the flagship international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.

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The AEIF, totaling $1 million, supports team-based projects that can serve the country that sponsored the Fulbrighters and requires significant participation from local scholars in that country. The 2012 AEIF projects include work in every corner of the world, from Gaza to Ghana.

In Malaysia, the AEIF project involving Sloane-White and her fellow former Fulbrighters, “Resilient Children and Competent Teachers: A Refugee Community Partnership,” is directed at helping refugee teachers and their students.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Malaysia has some 100,000 refugees, of whom 40,000 are children without access to government schools. More than 80,000 of those refugees are from Myanmar, or Burma, while others are refugees and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our project is really seeking to engage those who are literally invisible in Malaysia,” notes Sloane-White, who this past summer was doing her own research in Malaysia on the Islamic economy. “We are working to help teachers to improve their teaching skills and empowering them to keep their students in school. They need support to strengthen the emotional and academic welfare of the children they work with.”

Using Skype and the Internet, Sloane-White and her 12 fellow team members, some in Malaysia and some not, are working to help create a structure and a system to educate those who will be educators themselves. The team represents specialists in Malaysia from a broad range of disciplines, from psychologists to political scientists. As an anthropologist, Sloane-White says her job is to make sure that the material is culturally relevant to Muslim children.

“We are trying to do something in a collaborative way across borders,” Sloane-White notes. “Our collaboration is what Fulbright is all about — making connections and building networks, identifying problems and building bridges to create solutions.”

According to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the AEIF aims to “harness the leadership capacity of exchange program alumni worldwide.” Currently, there are more than one million alumni of U.S. government-funded exchange programs.

Article by Fariba Amini

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