The Virgin Atlantic Foundation: one year of supporting refugee students in Delhi 


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UNHCR DAFI Scholar Mohammad, 18, photographed in Jordan. © UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari

Sa Nei Tha is a young Chin asylum-seeker from Myanmar who lives in Delhi, India, and dreams of becoming a software engineer. Sa Nei Tha is currently enrolled in a course to learn basic computer skills thanks to the support of our partners The Virgin Atlantic Foundation (VAF) and Passport to Change.

Sa Nei Tha, a Chin asylum-seeker, learning basic computer skills through UNHCR implementation partner BOSCO’s community centre in Delhi’ ©UNHCR/ May Barani

Launched in September 2021 with a £2.5 million pledge, Passport to Change is a programme that provides access to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) learning for young people through school engagement, grants and scholarships. UK for UNHCR is the dedicated international partner for the programme, working to improve access to education for refugee youth living in Delhi, India – a popular destination for Virgin Atlantic.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, VAF will support 2,000 young refugees in Delhi, including displaced Afghans, with an accelerated learning programme before expanding the partnership to support university STEM scholarships for refugees around the world.

One year into the programme, VAF is supporting those young refugees with accelerated learning programmes and basic computing and language (Hindi and English) courses. The Foundation is also working to increase admissions to secondary schools, providing electronic devices for online education and virtual classes, and establishing a digital library and learning hubs in three community centres.

Emma Cherniavsky, Chief Executive of UK for UNHCR, said: “We’re incredibly proud to be one of the Virgin Atlantic Foundation’s Passport to Change charity partners. For the past year, we’ve been working with VAF to support young people in Delhi to engage in STEM education and build career skills for the future.
“Globally, the proportion of refugees in higher education is increasing year on year thanks to the investment from our committed partners like VAF. Programmes like Passport to Change will have a lasting impact on refugees’ futures.”

The Foundation has also supported thousands of refugee students from Myanmar, Afghanistan and elsewhere with books, school uniforms, and other school essentials such as geometry kits, notebooks, pens, and hand sanitisers. Enrolment in tertiary level education has doubled to 6 per cent in 2020/21 compared with 3 per cent in 2018/19 according to UNHCR’s latest Education Report. However, UNHCR’s goal is that 15 per cent of young women and men refugees are enrolled in higher education by the year 2030.

Young refugees at a government school in New Delhi © UNHCR/ Urmila Jagannathan

Estelle Hollingsworth, Virgin Atlantic Foundation trustee and Chief People Officer, said: “Through our Passport to Change partnership with UK for UNHCR, we’ve provided educational support including supplementary recreational kits, equipment and uniforms to over 4000 young refugees in Delhi, one of our most popular destinations.

“Following the disruption caused by the pandemic, the need for access to education has never been more important. We’re so proud that through our partnership, these young refugees have been supported in accessing the future they deserve. At Virgin Atlantic, we use our business as a force for good. Through Passport to Change, we’re bridging the gender gap in STEM education and providing opportunities for social mobility.

“Thank you to all of the teams on the ground in Delhi as well as the UK team for delivering such incredible support.”

Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to displaced people goes beyond Passport to Change. Earlier this year the Foundation donated £125,000 to UNHCR’s Ukraine Emergency Appeal and offered a further £50,000 in match funding to employees’ fundraising efforts.

As well as financial support, they are working with UNHCR’s social enterprise brand, MADE51, which helps refugee artisans access global markets to sell their crafts, earn an income, and have the opportunity to rebuild their livelihoods and re-establish their independence.

Thanks to VAF’s commitment to those forced to flee, Sa Nei Tha and many other young refugees are one step closer to reaching their dreams.

To find out more about the partnership, please visit Virgin Atlantic Foundation: Empowering future generations to fulfil their potential through education 

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