“I see the potential that was locked in my people getting unlocked….When I move around my community monitoring progress, I see life.” This is a quote from a Ugandan villager who was among 200 families who were able to return to their ancestral home after having been refugees for many years. These villagers are just a few of millions of refugees worldwide who are working to rebuild their life after being displaced from their homes. As today is World Refugee Day, we want to not only reaffirm our resolve to continue RIJ’s programs across the globe, but also celebrate the organizations working tirelessly to help refugees regain control over their lives as well as the refugees themselves, who remain ever resilient in the face of great adversity.
Contrary to their popular image as helpless and stagnant, most refugees are in fact working to learn new skills and receive more education in the hopes of improving their situation. RIJ works with refugees displaced as a result of war or other conflict, and provides funding for organizations that focus on a specific group of people. The aim is not only to provide immediate physical aid such as food and shelter, but also to improve education for refugees of all ages and create the opportunity to develop life skills that will provide a source of income. Often a training program is set up, available to all local refugees, and when people first arrive at the program few are literate or informed about health care. These basic skills can transform people’s lives as well as increase their self-confidence.
One woman in Pakistan who is receiving general education and learning life skills proudly shared: “Once the owner of our house came and he wanted the rent of a few months at the same time. My husband was jobless at the time and didn’t have the money to pay, so I paid using the money I had earned sewing clothes.”
A major issue that arises amid the difficult conditions of refugee camps is drug and alcohol addiction. The DARE project near the Thailand-Burma border trains local people to assist mainly Burmese refugees who struggle with substance abuse. Many do not have outlets for their feelings of depression and anger, and thus resort to alcohol and drugs. Information about addiction and its harmful physical and mental effects is not readily available, and the DARE center for addiction treatment provides this.
The idea, however, is not for foreigners to come in and “save” people for a short while until they repatriate to their home country. The only way that the treatment center can have a lasting effect is if it is sustainably run by the local Thai and Burmese people, and the most valuable contribution that RIJ can make is to provide training to people who can in turn teach those skills to others in the community. The people receiving the treatment can also encourage their friends and family; as one such person in Thailand says, “for the future I will continue to help other people who need the help.” After fully recovering and being able to help others in need, he also said, “I feel very happy, and surprised myself.”
The DARE project is just one example of the many programs throughout the world that RIJ funds and is committed to further developing. Over the past 35 years, RIJ has been involved in more than 840 projects in over 50 countries throughout Africa, Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe. With all fundraising taking place in Japan, we have raised over 11 million US dollars to date, which has gone directly to NGOs in refugee communities. Although we are celebrating refugees on this specific day, it is important to remember that the refugees and NGOs supporting them should be supported and celebrated every day. In whatever way you decide to become involved in the effort to help these refugees, today is as good a day as any to start.