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Alumni Profile: Ann Strandoo ’87 

UPrep alum Ann Strandoo ’87 has worked with refugees for more than 25 years.

UPrep alum shares her career journey that’s taken her around the world

After working with refugees in the U.S., U.K., Middle East, Asia, and Africa for more than 25 years, Ann Strandoo launched Refugees in Schools Everywhere (RISE) last June. This nonprofit organization funds high school, college, and vocational training scholarships in the refugees’ countries of asylum. She’s currently living in Seattle with her husband and 8-year-old twins while they prepare to return to Kenya and open the RISE office in Kenya, Africa. Recently, I talked with Ann about her new career endeavor and how UPrep helped her become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world.

How did UPrep teach you the value of service to others?

At UPrep, the global world started opening up to me. The school motto was “think globally, act locally” and that was pivotal in shaping my world view. My history and literature classes really forged that connection, and service days, like working with homeless people in the U District, really showed me I could make a difference in people’s lives. I realized even kids have some power to do that. There was also a UPrep student who was Cambodian and had been resettled as a refugee in Seattle. That sparked me to learn more about Cambodia and was the first time I became aware of the refugee experience.

Tell me about your work with refugees all over the world.

After college, I started teaching ESL, and then became a case worker who helped refugees with tasks like getting jobs and furnishing apartments. After getting my master’s in social work, I continued working in the resettlement field. This led to a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, where I realized I wanted to work abroad. My first job was in Tanzania for the United Nations Migration Agency, helping prepare refugees for resettlement to the U.S. Since then, I’ve worked in many countries, including Nepal, Jordan, Djibouti, and Kenya.  

Why did you start Refugees in Schools Everywhere?

Through my work for the UN, I realized I wanted to make a more direct change in people’s lives. Everywhere I worked refugees talked about their dreams for a chance at education or training to provide for their families and have a future. Only one percent of the 26 million refugees worldwide ever get the chance to be resettled to a third country, so I saw this huge need to address the lack of opportunity for the 99 percent of refugees who remain in camps and cities in the countries of asylum. From talking with refugees, I learned that the thing they want most is education. They believe education will change their lives. Right now, less than half of all refugee kids go to primary school; less than 25 percent attend high school; and less than three percent go to college. My desire is to provide a pathway for people through education so they can return to their country of origin (if possible) or rebuild in their country of asylum. We cannot rebuild a civil society without an educated population. In my experience, governments often try to solve problems without the input of the people the solutions directly affect. By giving refugees access to education, RISE is investing in people who can work to create solutions for the problems in the camps and in their countries.

How do the educational scholarships work?

Our first seven students traveled from a refugee camp and are now attending an excellent vocational school in Kenya. The students are studying to become auto mechanics or electricians. For the first time, they’re living in a place with amenities, like water and electricity, and support staff to help guide them through this experience—each scholarship covers tuition and all living costs, including meals, transportation, and healthcare. We are fundraising now for our next cohort—young women in high school and vocational college in Kenya.

Why did you start in Kenya?

While I have a natural connection to Kenya from working there with the UN Refugee Agency, Kenya has also passed legislation that says refugees must be included in the national education system. It’s easiest to work in countries where there is a national policy that supports education for refugees. Seven of the 15 largest refugee camps are in Africa, so we are starting there.

You can learn more about RISE and how to offer scholarship support at www.refugeesinschoolseverywhere.org.

By Writer/ Editor Nancy Schatz Alton

Read more alumni profiles on our Puma Profiles page

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