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A Progression Away From the Screen

A Progression Away From the Screen

Written by Lukas Gilius

"After five months of accounting behind a screen, it was finally time get some field experience. The first mission was Southern Africa. Of course, there would still be screens involved, but I would also be visiting projects. I was to stay in Johannesburg for a full week to help prepare for an upcoming audit, and then extend my services in Malawi—our location in need of the most financial assistance and our largest education project. My colleagues directed that my first full day would be spent seeing our urban projects in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city.

The morning started off driving through the tail end of rush-hour traffic to our first destination, the skills center. Here, refugees learn how to do manicures, cosmetology, massages, and waxing. I made my rounds to speak with each of the teachers. Some even invited me to sit in their class! I learned the business of working at a nail salon and a little too much about waxing methods. Upon leaving, I had a great impression of the teachers and staff as they effectively bestow a great opportunity upon refugees. 

It was time to get back in the car and conduct home visits. We began at an urban squat where we provided psychosocial support to a 43-year-old man who was paraplegic and contracted HIV because of he was beaten in his time in prison during the apartheid era. Despite his grave situation, he was wearing a sharp sport jacket. Our next stop was with a Congolese refugee who used to play soccer, but suffered from a stroke shortly after arriving to Johannesburg. South African families are traditional, and the man is expected to be the bread winner. This incident threw his whole family, mother and son, off course. The JRS social workers provide counsel to help alleviate stress and help him walk. After this full day, it was time for a typically heavy South African meal, Mogudu, spiced and marinated tripe with a side of pap, or boiled maize. We dug in with our fingers and enjoyed each other’s company while reflecting on the day’s work.

Another week of accounting and verifying transactions went by, but this time with a deeper understanding of and connection with those I am serving. Two full days were spent preparing for my accounting mission in Malawi. I was excited to hop on a plane to Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, to have a sense of rural refugees and see our project concentrated in one place. Upon landing, we were picked up by a UNHCR funded truck and brought to the office to conduct the prepared accounting tasks. Early the next morning, we departed for the camp in Dzaleka, which hosts refugees from the Congo, Ethiopia, and Burundi with a total population of 34,000. The first structure we visited was a digital learning lab where refugees learn front-end coding such as CSS and HTML to earn a living online. This is extremely beneficial to the refugee community as it is illegal for them to work inside the country.

When deeming that something had to be funded, our finance team would make a note to find room in our budget. We also had the opportunity to sit in a primary school class where they were learning how to measure angles and a secondary classroom where they were reading Macbeth. I saw a lot of passion to learn and was happy to reminisce on my school days. However, the primary school is made up of 4,000 students, 82 teachers, and another 4,000 students who want to enroll. After touring all day and learning about the current situation, a nice meal was in order. The camp is well established so it has restaurants and multiple markets in the center. My appetite was satisfied with a full plate of beans and chapatti. Now a new hunger lurks to return to the field and confront the matters of today."In collaboration with LUC's John Felice Rome Center, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) offers an assistantship opportunity available to recent graduates from Loyola University Chicago and/or students who have attended the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC). Lukas Gilius is a recent Loyola Chicago graduate and is currently the international finance assistant at the JRS.