Category: Philanthropy

Don’t call it the ‘refugee crisis’, it’s a humanitarian crisis

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In recent months across Europe, a dramatic spike in refugee arrivals to Greece and 39 dead bodies of Vietnamese citizens discovered in an abandoned lorry in Essex provoked a return of “the migration crisis” in news coverage. When the almost five-year-long “migration crisis” in Europe began, publications and politicians were tentative about referring to it as such.

The differences between the ways we describe emergencies are incredibly important. Declaring a “humanitarian crisis” shifts responsibility and focus to states and their leaders, whereas placing “migrant” before the crisis, suggests that the fault of the crisis is, at least in part, theirs.

Between 2014 and 2019, at least 17,428 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. Still, people continue to reach Europe, though European policies have radically exacerbated the risks to their lives and health:
– Italy has pursued a series of policies of shutting down ports and arresting those who operate rescue missions. In 2018, less people crossed the Mediterranean than the year before but of those who did, six drowned every day.
– The Greek islands have essentially become open-air holding prisons, as well as collectively being nearly five times over capacity. 
– Even prior to the recent Turkish incursion in Northern Syria, the numbers arriving in Greece had spiked where conditions are infamously inhumane: Fires regularly destroy areas of camps and remaining belongings; coupled with self-harm and suicide attempts, increasingly by children too.

The number of people arriving may have reduced but their suffering has multiplied.  And the fact that arrivals have suddenly increased proves this crisis is far from over.

As many critics posit, Europe may not be responsible for the conflicts that force people from their homes. However, there should absolutely be no doubt as to who is responsible for destroying key humanitarian protections; a Draconian border regime; criminalizing rescue ships; refusing to create safe routes to asylum and in many cases deliberately making life unliveable for vulnerable people.

Labeling it a “refugee” or “migration crisis”, however, indicates that refugees and migrants are different to those we associate with traditional humanitarian emergencies and less deserving of the assumed response.

[The Independent]

Geography professor Dr Scott Warren faces retrial in Arizona, with possible ten-year jail sentence

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Dr Scott Warren, a geography professor and volunteer with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, is charged with “harboring” two migrants after providing them with food, water and clean clothing in his hometown of Ajo, 43 miles from the Mexican border.

Warren, who faces a possible ten-year jail sentence, is being prosecuted for a second time after an earlier trial was declared a mistrial in July.

Amnesty International is calling on the US Department of Justice to drop the spurious criminal charges. Amnesty believes the volunteer activities of Warren and No More Deaths provide vital humanitarian aid directed at upholding the right to life and preventing the deaths of migrants and people seeking asylum in the highly-dangerous Sonoran Desert. Last week, Amnesty wrote to Arizona’s Attorney, Michael Bailey, calling on him to do this.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “The Trump administration’s second attempt to prosecute Scott Warren is a cynical misuse of the justice system, intended to criminalize compassion and lifesaving humanitarian aid. This is a dark hour for the USA when the government is seeking to send a man to prison for ten years simply for providing food, water and clean clothes to people in need.
“The US authorities must stop harassing Dr Warren and other human rights defenders who have simply shown kindness to fellow human beings.”

Arizona has the deadliest border area in the USA, accounting for more than a third (38%) of the 7,242 border deaths recorded by US border authorities over the last 20 years.


Local citizens become frontline aid workers in Syria

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In the past few weeks, Zozan Ayoub has gone from running a small primary school in northeast Syria to recording the names of people fleeing war, coordinating aid deliveries, and tending to the needs of the families now sheltering in her classrooms.

Her transformation from headteacher to citizen aid worker happened fast. Some 22,000 of the 180,000 people the UN says fled the violence, went to Hassakeh. Local authorities sent word to Ayoub, who lives and works in the city, some 80 kilometres from the Turkey-Syria border, to cancel classes and prepare for their arrival.

In a matter of hours, Ayoub and other staff members at the two-floor school had cleaned up and replaced desks with rugs and mattresses. “Students will miss lessons,” Ayoub acknowledged. “But we have to provide for these people.”

Even though aid agencies, both local and international, are on the ground too, many have had to evacuate staff, and all are operating in a precarious situation.

That’s where people like Ayoub come in. Across northeast Syria, local people have become temporary aid workers, collected food and clothes, or opened their homes to those in need.

Despite the efforts of citizens who have stepped up, the lion’s share of aid work in the northeast is still being carried out by established NGOs. But it is the local groups, often partnering with international NGOs, who are actually bringing water, food, and other necessities to people who need it. Read more

More on local citizens becoming frontline aid workers in Syria

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Kadar Sheikhmous, director of Shar for Development, a Syrian NGO that works in the northeast, said regular people in displacement hotspots like Hassakeh or the nearby town of Tel Tamer were the first to step up and help. Before aid agencies had even started their emergency response, residents came out to offer support in any way they could, he added.

In the city of Qamishli, near the border with Turkey, 34-year-old Helin Othman has been doing her part, working overtime to deliver food baskets and diapers to displaced people. Two years ago, the young Kurdish woman set up a Facebook group aimed at helping those affected by Syria’s ongoing conflict. These days, she is rallying the support of almost 50,000 online followers. Many regularly donate money and supplies.

Othman helped 250 displaced families in Qamishli and Hassakeh with food last week. She is reaching out to those who are staying with friends or family, rather than those in shelters like the Hassakeh schools, because even though these people are fortunate to have found a home to stay in, they are often off the radar of aid organizations.

In the Assyrian Christian village of Tel Nasri, some 40 kilometres northwest of Hassakeh, 150 mostly Sunni Muslim families from the border town of Ras al-Ayn have taken refuge in homes abandoned by the area’s persecuted Christian community. According to three sources from the Assyrian community, the owners of the houses, the local council in exile, and Syria’s Assyrian bishop, agreed to temporarily open their doors to those in need.

Sami returned to the Assyrian Christian village after it was emptied out by IS. He welcomes the newly displaced people, mostly Sunni Muslims: “We’ve been helping the families who came… We eat together, keep each other company.”

“Lots and lots of people have invited people into their homes. It has been inspiring; everyone is hosting someone,” said one aid worker familiar with the situation in the northeast who wished to remain anonymous so they could continue working in the area. “People are trying so hard to do anything they can, and that should be commended.”

[The New Humanitarian]

Disaster recovery: Bringing hope and vision

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Disaster recovery is a long and complex process. It’s much more than getting enough food and water to needy families. It’s about bringing hope and vision to devastated parents and children.

I’ve gone tent-to-tent with Food for the Hungry (FH) staff, to visit disaster-battered families in places like Ethiopia, the Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Eyes cast down to the floor will lift, and a new spark lights up when strangers walk in. “I see you, I see your suffering, it matters to me,” is what you say when you visit. You offer someone a hopeful, emotional ladder to climb out of a pit.

“Recovery” gives the idea of restoring a community to what it was before a disaster. Often, your donations to the disaster relief fund help communities strengthen their ability to react rapidly. Or, they help prevent disaster in the first place, as community leaders learn how to identify where they are vulnerable, and how to protect themselves.

Most importantly, however, disaster recovery gives people hope. I will never forget visiting a community in the Philippines that was literally flattened by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. As soon as I climbed out of the car, a man with a broad smile hurried to our group. He literally hugged me. … “You came back!” the man kept saying.

He was a community leader in the city government and had been greeting a parade of humanitarian organizations amidst the piles of debris. FH’s team had been there the day before; I was not among them, but he recognized the logo on my hat. You’re the first group I’ve seen who came back,” he continued, smiling broadly. In the coming back, in the staying, in helping parents, churches, and leaders envision a better future, hope remains, even when the walls have crumbled.

[Excerpts of an article by Beth Allen, a volunteer with Food for the Hungry]

Greta Thunberg: Activism works

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Excerpts from a speech Greta Thunberg delivered upon accepting the Ambassador of Conscience Award:

This award is for all of those millions of people, young people, around the world who together make up the movement called Fridays for Future. All these fearless youth, fighting for their future. A future they should be able to take for granted. But as it looks now, they cannot. 

We are currently on track for a world that could displace billions of people from their homes, taking away even the most basic living conditions for countless people, making areas of the world uninhabitable for humans.

The changes and the politics required to take on the crisis simply doesn’t exist today. That is why every single one of us must push from every possible angle, to hold those responsible accountable and to make the people in power act and to take the measures required.

We, who together are the movement Fridays for Future, we are fighting for our lives. But not only that, we are also fighting for our future children and grandchildren, for future generations, for every single living being on earth, whose biosphere we share, whose biosphere we are stealing, whose biosphere we are ruining.

We are fighting for everyone. For the people living in areas of the world that are already suffering the consequences from the first stages of the climate and ecological emergency. People who breathe toxic air, who drink contaminated water, who have to flee their homes because of climate and environmental-related disasters. Indigenous communities whose lands and waters are being destroyed. People whose food and water supply is being threatened by environmental-related catastrophes, stronger and more frequent droughts, rainfalls, storms, or melting glaciers.

We are still moving in the wrong direction with unimaginable pace. It may seem impossible to pull the emergency brake, and yet that is what we have to do.

But there is an awakening going on. Even though it is slow, the pace is picking up and the debate is shifting. This is thanks to a lot of different reasons, but it is a lot because of countless of activists and especially young activists. Activism works. 

Iman on philanthropy and her refugee past

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“When I was discovered as a model in Kenya, I was a refugee,” says supermodel Iman. “We literally escaped Somalia and came to Kenya as refugees with just the clothes on our backs.”

“I was really inspired by the nongovernmental organizations, the NGOs like CARE, that were on the ground helping us, helping young girls and women by finding them jobs and food. The NGOs also helped girls and women avoid sexual harassment, assault and rape. For a young girl, navigating life as a refugee in another country can be a minefield.”

On Tuesday, CARE — the esteemed anti-poverty and humanitarian organization founded in 1945 — revealed that supermodel, activist and entrepreneur Iman has been appointed its first-ever global advocate. The role was specifically created for Iman, now 64, who will work with CARE to strengthen its ongoing mission to end poverty, with an emphasis on aiding refugee girls and women both domestically and internationally.

“This is the work that moves me. I have been involved with quite a lot of charities, but what moves my heart is women and girls. Since I was a refugee myself and because I’ve known the plight of women and girls myself, through my own journey in life, I was aware of what CARE does and I was aware of their long history,” Iman tells THR of the agency, which originated the “care package” in 1946 during post-World War II relief efforts. “So, we came up with the global advocate role, where it’s about finding out what really impacts women and girls around the world and here at home in America.” 

She adds, “We have to think of refugees collectively as humans. They’re not nameless, they’re not faceless, they’re not just people who come from far away. These are people who are at the U.S.-Mexico border right now. I am one of them. People usually don’t understand who a refugee is. I am the face of a refugee.”

Michelle Nunn, CARE CEO and former U.S Senate candidate, couldn’t think of a better person to partner with. “Iman really represents CARE’s purpose and mission, the strength of women around the world and also the capacity to create change in the world,” Nunn says. “This cause has never been more important if you think about the fact that, for the first time in history since World War II, we have never had more people displaced in the world, including right here in America. We were thrilled that Iman was willing to accept this mantle.”

To “truly understand” CARE’s operations, Iman tells THR that she plans to visit refugees in person. “I have to go on the ground and see it for myself. I want to empower girls and women who are in camps, whether it’s in Syria or at the U.S.-Mexico border,” she says. “I want to see that they are taken care off and feel safe.”

[The Hollywood Reporter]

Salesian missionaries complete rebuilding 10 rural schools after 2015 Nepal earthquake

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Salesian missionaries in Nepal are still hard at work with long-term reconstruction efforts after the devastating 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal in April, 2015, with a second earthquake following just weeks later. The United Nations reported that more than 1,300 schools were destroyed during the earthquakes.

Today, thanks to Salesian missionaries, 10 rural schools have been rebuilt and equipped.

Children and youth from Sankhu, within the district of Lalitpur, were able to return to school at the beginning of the new school year. The school also has a kindergarten so that even the youngest children in Sankhu can access a quality education.

Among those present at the school’s inauguration were the head of the village development committee, Dhurva Ghimire, and the head of the Salesians in Nepal, Father Augusty Pulickal. Salesian missionaries living and working in Nepal for more than 25 years have been engaged in long-term reconstruction efforts, helping communities to rebuild homes and schools as well as offering important training to increase the capacity of communities to deal effectively in the aftermath of disasters.

The Nepal Don Bosco Society entered into an agreement with the government of Nepal for the reconstruction of 12 public schools in areas most affected by the earthquakes, 10 of which have been built. Salesian programs are also helping to train teachers and supply school materials in order to offer quality education for children.


Uganda: A major country of refuge for families and children

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Uganda hosts over 1.29 million registered refugees and asylum seekers, making it the third largest host country in the world, in addition to being the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa.

Of the total 1.29 million refugees and asylum seekers:
– Over 830,000 are from South Sudan, 350,000 are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 41,000 from Burundi, and 60,000 from Somalia, Rwanda and other countries.
– 61 per cent are children.

In Uganda, refugee children have access to universal primary education, pre-primary and secondary education, vocational training, and tertiary institutions. In the first six months of the year, gross enrollment in primary schools among refugees increased to 72 per cent from 58 per cent in late 2017. However, due to limited resources and infrastructure, many children continue to remain out of school.

Refugee children in Uganda continue to face serious protection risks, including family separation, physical, sexual, and gender-based violence, psychosocial distress, and other forms of violence. Among refugee households, 31 per cent reported having at least one orphan, 10 per cent reported at least one unaccompanied minor, and 25 per cent reported at least one separated minor.

The Government of Uganda, with support from UNICEF, vaccinated over 167,000 children against measles, provided Vitamin A supplementation to nearly 450,000 children, psychosocial support services to over 20,000 children, and promoted access to early childhood education for over 44,000 children.

[UN Children’s Fund]

Cherishing our connections to other people and cultures

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We all belong to the world in concentric circles of relationship — some more distant and others close, some with people different from us and others with people more similar.

Our lives and our relationships are well-served when we can lift our unconscious patterns into the light of day, embrace our shared humanity and vulnerability, and allow gratefulness to lead us into new ways of being and relating. …Recognizing that we are in relationship with our larger human family and our Earth in every moment no matter what we are doing, we are called to consider relationships in their widest possible arc.

Gratefulness supports us to experience deep appreciation for the blessings of our vast web of relatedness. …Typically, when we think of being more grateful in relationships, we focus on trying to remember to express gratitude for the things that people do for us or give to us that we appreciate — the unexpected kindnesses, the perfect gesture of support, the thoughtful gift, the fabulous meal. Getting better at offering this kind of gratitude is surely a worthy aspiration.

Cultivating a deeper recognition of gratitude for the existence of the people in our lives, not so much to them for something tangible they have done or given, is a different type of focus. …The people in our lives are true gifts for both us and the world as a whole, impacting us in ways that we can scarcely fathom.

Not taking people for granted is a foundational commitment in how we live gratefully in relationship…We recognize that people are distinct from who we are, individuated by who they are always in a process of becoming.

May our interconnectedness and inextricability keep us compassionate. May perspective keep us humble. And may our capacity to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the true blessings and gifts of all others grow more luminous and generous every day.

[Excerpt of article by Kristi Nelson]