Every day, over five million people around the world struggle with the trauma and terror that comes from living as a refugee. Children often become displaced from their homes when political or ethnic violence occurs, and increasingly as a result of climate change and natural disasters. However it happens, no one chooses to be a refugee.
World Refugee Day (June 20) is a time to take note of the many courageous heroes who are working to take control of their lives and assisting others to emerge from harrowing, debilitating situations.
Take Emmanuel Jal, for instance. One of the most fascinating heroes our organization has ever known, Jal is a former child soldier who survived a civil war that claimed the lives of 2 million people in Sudan, including his mother.
Today, he is a world-famous musician who is best known for fasting in Sudan's refugee camps until he was able to raise enough money to send children to school in southern Sudan. His fast ended in 2010 after The Global Fund for Children gave a small grant that helped Jal reach his fundraising goal of $220,000, allowing his organization to renovate the current primary school's facilities and move on the second phase of fundraising to build the first-ever secondary school in Leer, Sudan.
When children are displaced, an experience fraught with psychological and physical trauma, they are left with little or no access to healthcare, quality education, or a means of sustaining themselves. Having missed out on crucial, formative years of schooling and development, these children also encounter great difficulties when reintegrating into society and demonstrate extreme behavioral problems.
So how do the rest of us help refugees and other vulnerable children living in unfathomable circumstances? The best way to maximize your contribution is by investing in community-based organizations. Local leaders have the dedication, knowledge and ability to ensure that their children receive proper healthcare, education programs and opportunities to reintegrate into society as healthy, caring citizens.
Here are a few examples of the types of community-based groups we look for, invest in, and help strengthen their capacity to reach more children:
Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment (Weave), Chiang Mai, Thailand -- Political and civil unrest in Burma has caused many Burmese families to flee to Thailand in search of safety, economic opportunity and a better life. WEAVE was established in 1990 along the Thailand-Burma border to ensure that refugee Burmese women and children have access to education and the skills they need to be active participants in the future development of their communities. WEAVE Flickr album
Li, Li, Li! (Read, Read, Read!) Port-au-Prince, Haiti -- When the January 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, 80 percent of the schools were destroyed. Many remain unbuilt more than two years later. In February 2010, Li, Li, Li! was established to promote literacy, to help children reduce their anxiety following the natural disaster, and to create jobs. Li, Li, Li! provides daily storybook reading sessions in Creole to children who are now living in tent camps or other transitional settings. Li, Li, Li! Flickr album
Bureau Pour le Volontariat Au Service de L'enfance et de la Sante (BVES) (Office of Volunteerism for Childhood and Health), Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo -- Armed conflict in eastern Congo has fractured thousands of families and led to the use of 30,000 children as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. Created in 1992 as a haven for Tutsi children fleeing the Rwandan genocide, BVES now works to promote the rights of displaced and exploited children and former child soldiers and provides them with medical and psychosocial care, basic education, and vocational training.
These groups all serve people who may be displaced for the time being, but they are certainly not forgotten. Together, refugees and local NGOs are finding creative ways to stretch their resources in order to implement community development projects that are transforming their reality and ensuring that their children do not get left behind. If you look closely, you can see the hope and the heroes who are building a passageway to a brighter future.
Kristin Lindsey has a career spanning 25 years of community change, government service and philanthropy in Chicago, Washington, DC and globally. Prior to joining The Global Fund for Children in 2011, Kristin served as the executive vice president and COO of the Council on Foundations, a DC-based membership association of nearly 2,000 grantmaking foundations and corporations.
As CEO of The Global Fund for Children, Kristin and her team work to ensure that the world's most vulnerable children have opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. To date, GFC has invested $25 million in over 500 grassroots organizations in 78 countries, serving over 7 million children. @GFCnews
Follow Kristin Lindsey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@KLatGFC