There are 25.9 million refugees in our world, according to the United Nations. That’s more than the population of Florida or New York, and nearly as large as Texas. All who have been forced to leave their home country. All hoping for a better, safer life.
They are doctors, accountants and entrepreneurs. Husbands and wives, parents and children. Millions and millions—more than half of all refugees—are children.
Refugees aren’t numbers. They’re people. And they’re people who have a passion for improving not only their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.
That’s the driving principle behind the Community Outreach Program at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services. St. Andrew’s, or StARS, is our partner in Cairo. They reach tens of thousands of refugees each year with education, medical, legal, counseling and housing programs. They can’t reach everyone on their own, though, which is why the Community Outreach Program focuses on strengthening local organizations in refugee communities.
Cairo is a massive, sprawling city. Within it are pockets of people from different backgrounds; for example, people from Somalia. These communities often establish grassroots organizations to build a school, establish a community center, or otherwise bridge gaps in the services available to their population. They are already delivering services when they begin to partner with StARS, but the team at StARS helps them be more effective and efficient. StARS offers organizational management training for leaders within these organizations, focusing on topics including data collection, project management, evaluating project success and proposal writing.
Refugees are leading these community-based organizations, and they’re leading StARS. Most StARS staff, including many members of senior leadership, are refugees. They understand the refugee experience in Cairo, because it’s the same reality that they face day in and day out.
Abadir is one of the StARS team members who focuses on supporting community-based organizations. He’s a refugee from Somalia who arrived in Cairo in 2012 when he was just 16 years old. His journey from Somalia to Cairo took two months that he describes as living in a horror movie. He was alone, having fled from his home and his family because the militant group al-Shabaab was hunting him. On his journey, he learned that you must trust strangers in order to survive, but you have to guard your trust and use it sparingly.
When he arrived in Cairo, Abadir turned to the Somali community for support. He spent a month living with other refugees who had been smuggled with him. He gathered as much information as he could about which organizations would help him. “Try to lift yourself up, and seek the right information, and you will get served by someone who can assist you,” he says. Eventually he got a caseworker in a refugee service provider. That caseworker noticed that Abadir spoke English well, and recommended that he take English classes at StARS. He enrolled, and thus his connection to StARS was born.
A handful of years later, StARS feels like home. He says, “Refugees can be the voice for refugees. That’s the thing that StARS is doing, when it comes to their hiring system or decision making – there are refugees. We as StARS are seeking more ways to enhance that for the future. That’s the thing that I really love, and I’m really encouraged to continue that. I would really love to be part of that, so that’s why I’m in.”
As Christopher Eades, the Executive Director of StARS, will tell you, refugees don’t just deserve a seat at the table. It is their table. They have the brilliance, the drive and the passion to address the challenges that they are facing. StARS and its community partners are simply giving them the space to be brilliant. And here at CWS, we’re proud to be part of that.
(On a related note, check out this blog about how the same principles are woven into our regional advocacy work in Latin America.)